Has COVID Killed these Three Working Norms?

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We’re about a year into the pandemic and for many people, it’s probably difficult to remember what life was like before COVID. Workplace culture as we knew it has changed, bringing with it new habits that shape how we work. In this blog, we look back at some of the practices we’ve left behind, how they have paved the way for new (and often more efficient) ways of working and some potential pitfalls to look out for.

1.     Going into the office every day:

Home working and remote working were already commonplace before COVID. However, this option tended to be available to more senior employees and in certain sectors and job roles. The pandemic meant that businesses quickly needed to adapt to new ways of working and enable all office employees to work from home, regardless of seniority. Often this meant quickly putting in the IT infrastructure to make this possible.

Many jobs that employers had previously considered to be unsuitable for home or remote working have now been proven to successfully work remotely, offering employees greater flexibility.

This has thrown up a lot of questions for employers, including:

  • What impact is remote working having on employee wellbeing and how can this be managed?
  • How is employee productivity being affected by remote working?
  • How can company culture be maintained?
  • Do employees have dedicated workspaces at home?
  • What provisions are in place for suitable equipment, to allow employees to perform their job properly from home and how much should employers contribute to this? E.g. desk, ergonomic chair, monitor arm etc.
  • Whether the business still needs their exiting office space at all? If yes, how much office space is actually necessary?
  • How should the office space be used? Do any layout changes need to be made?
  • These are just a few of the many questions employers are asking themselves as business models continue to evolve.
2.     Face-to-face collaboration:

The way we collaborate with colleagues within the same team and across other departments has had to adapt from pre-COVID times. Whereas a person would have once grabbed another colleague for an impromptu meeting, office workers have been forced into a situation where there is less spontaneity and more planning required. Now, meetings are more likely to be scheduled in advance and conducted over video conferencing software.

A positive aspect to this is that interactions become more meaningful and efficiency is likely to improve, with less time being wasted than in a face-to-face meeting. Another benefit of being more reliant on video conferencing is that more people now use this feature in situations where they once would have just picked up a phone, allowing them to see the person at the other end. In many ways, this has been a positive step for building relationships.

One potential pitfall of remote working is the feeling of isolation. When colleagues are sitting in an open plan office, they tend to pick up on what is happening in other parts of the business. When everyone works remotely, information can easily fall through the cracks. This could leave employees feeling isolated and less engaged, unless steps are taken to address it. There is also a risk that departments could end up working in silos if communication is not maintained.

A survey we conducted in 2020 of office workers showed that majority of people would choose a balance of remote and office work, if given the option. It also found that the social aspects of going into a workplace were the most important reason to visit their workplace in the future. (e.g. meetings, collaboration and socialising).

It looks likely that video conferencing will continue to thrive as it offers efficiency and reduces travel time and costs for businesses. However, many people would argue we can never truly substitute face-to-face contact with online meetings.

And last but not least…

3.     The handshake!

Prior to COVID, shaking hands with a business associate or client was a practice that has been used around the world since at least the 5th Century B.C. (although many Asian countries have favoured bowing). A firm handshake signified confidence and trust. So, what replaces the handshake?

Three alternatives that have become more commonplace over the last 12 months, including the Fist Bump, the Elbow Touch and a Japanese-style bow. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine a time when hand shaking could become the norm again.

The only certainty is change!

In summary, work culture continues to evolve and businesses and employees are finding new ways to achieve their goals. Many of the changes we have witnessed are positive. This includes flexible working options being available to more people, rapid adoption of new technologies (and the efficiency this brings), and a better work-life balance for many.

However, the impact of remote working also carries the risk of leading to isolation and lack of engagement from employees. Employers must ensure they take steps to support the mental health of their employees and communicate with them regularly.

Humans are sociable creatures and although we may have waved goodbye to many working practices we once knew, there will always be a place for shared workspaces in the future.

If you would like any further advice or information about providing ergonomic home office equipment for your employees or making your office more COVID secure, please get in touch. And, if you found this blog helpful, please feel free to share it with your social networks!

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