What to Expect When Returning Back to Work Post-Pandemic

As more people in the U.S. are vaccinated, a burning question among many is, “What will work look like after the pandemic is over?” This question is tough to answer partly because no one quite knows when the pandemic will end.

A large share of the American workforce has been working remotely since COVID-19 struck, and many employees have enjoyed it. Companies have been surprised by how effective remote work is, but firms are still eager to get employees back into the office.

So, there’s no simple answer to what a new workplace normal will look like. Vaccinations are increasing by the day, pushing the U.S. closer to herd immunity, but many scientists have warned that COVID-19 will never really go away. Instead, we may see seasonal waves of coronavirus because of virus mutations, just like we do with influenza.

Some companies may shift permanently to remote work, as large corporations like Facebook and Twitter have already told certain employees they can work from home indefinitely. Other companies will embrace a hybrid model, where employees work remotely and in the office a few days per week.

Workers can expect several variations in how companies deal with the post-pandemic future, and it’ll depend on different factors.

Hybrid work will be the ‘new normal’

Splitting time working from home and the office is expected to become the new normal for knowledge workers, according to a PwC report. And many surveys indicate employers are more concerned about getting workers back into the office than their employees are.

Either way, it appears the days of working full-time in the office may not be coming back anytime soon. Part of this is because of the nature of the coronavirus, which is still not entirely under control yet. The other part is because many employees have become accustomed to the flexibility of remote work.

President Biden recently set the goal for the nation to have a “normal” 4th of July where people can more normally gather together. Executives and employers also have their sights set on getting employees back to the office by July 2021. About 75% of executives expect half their workforce to be back in the office by July, according to the same PwC survey.

But even if workers return to the office, they probably won’t be there every day of the week. Nearly 30% of executives think employees should be in the office three days per week to maintain company culture. And while employees have enjoyed working remotely, surveys indicate many are eager to get back to the office at least part-time to socialize with co-workers and because it’s more conducive to teamwork.

Several key factors will determine which workers spend more time in the office. Generation Z employees (the youngest in the workforce) have indicated in surveys they prefer being in the office, mainly because they like the social aspect and they’re new into their careers. PwC reports this younger generation of employees also feels less productive when working remotely.

Another factor is the nature of an employees’ work. Teamwork and the ability to collaborate are significant benefits of working on-site, so employees who work closely with others may expect to be in the office more. On the flip side, workers with more autonomy and individualized tasks may work remotely more.

The office will look different

The post-pandemic future of work and the office will undoubtedly be a mixed bag, and hybrid work will be a popular solution. But once you get into the office, what will the office look like? It’ll be way different from what you remember.

Safety concerns are on top of every executives’ mind because of COVID-19, which has led to office renovations for the pandemic era. The main goal is to make offices more spread out and less dense, leading to the removal of desks, more open floor plans, and the addition of “flex desks” where employees can share workspaces. After all, if you’re only in the office part-time, why would you need a permanent cubicle or desk anymore?

About 56% of companies surveyed by Willis Tower Watson said they’ve already reconfigured or renovated their offices because of the pandemic. More outdoor space has been emphasized to make offices safe as possible, and there’s increased focus on hygiene, such as mask mandates, temperature checks, and more hand-sanitizing stations.

Larger companies are also moving away from the idea of having one big headquarters office and instead of building several satellite offices. Satellite offices allow employees to still work in person as a team while eliminating the safety and health concerns of a large HQ packed with people.

No going back to pre-pandemic

The workplace may never be the same because of the pandemic, and changes to the nature of work and the office itself are already underway. It’s hard to tell what work will look like post-pandemic because, well, we still don’t know when the pandemic will end. For now, it appears that splitting time between remote work and in the office will be the new normal.

Offices will look much different because of the pandemic, too. With more remote workers, companies won’t need as much space. In the drive to improve health and safety, offices will also be designed to decrease density.

Some companies may insist on getting all workers back full-time into the office, but they’ll probably be few and far between. Companies that offer more flexible and remote work options will be more attractive to job candidates.

We may never go back to what the office and workplace were like before the pandemic hit in March 2020. Less than one in five executives told PwC in a recent survey they don’t want the office to return to what it was like pre-pandemic, and they’re probably right. The world has changed, and the workplace has changed with it.

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