Emerging trends that are reshaping the office functionality post Covid-19 pandemic | Economic Times

Economic Times

“As we understand that the pandemic is not going to be over soon, so changing the way of working in the organisations is the way forward,” says Dinesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO of IndiaMART InterMESH.

The coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected the entire world in myriads of ways. With no respite in sight, it looks like a bleak time for societies as well as businesses. The global health crisis has put the governments in a catch-22 situation as they do not only need to impose restrictions on movement but also work out a feasible solution to further revive economic activities.

With the progressive easing of restrictions over the next few months, business activities will start operating again at full capacity, but at the same time, one of the major concerns will be protecting the employees from contracting the virus. Businesses, not only in India but across the world, will involve slight changes in workspace functionality as well as environment to keep employees secure while allaying fears and busting myths regarding the spread of the disease.

Some of the industries will start transition to a new normal, wherein over 90% of the workforce will be enabled to work from home, ensuring compliance with security and safety protocols. Organisations may also issue guidelines for the employees to work remotely. To increase the remote work, hiring managers should now prioritize digital dexterity and digital collaboration skills. HR must consider the context of remote work shifts performance management, particularly the setting up of goals and the evaluation of employees.

However, a large number of businesses would require office environment to work at optimal levels and that would require a large number of employees working from offices. Therefore, in order to be fully efficient, a large number of companies around the world are implementing a variety of measures that are reshaping the office functionally.

Surge in skills-based hiring and expansion of contingent workers

Companies may follow a surge in skills-based hiring for better outsource of routine tasks. Companies will be focusing on exclusive human skills of creativity & critical thinking and recruiting candidates with the capabilities they need rather than the degree pedigree.

Organisations may also replace full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. Utilization of gig workers will provide the employers with larger workforce management flexibility. However, new trends will also need to include the performance management systems that have applied to contingent workers as well as questions about whether contingent workers would be eligible for the same benefits as their full-time peers.

More webinars and online learning

This new trend of working will drive new ways of online learning. Research and Markets have also forecasted the e-learning market to increase three-fold by 2025 to reach $325 billion. The estimation will only be increased as companies would have no choice apart from launching a radical transformation of corporate learning.

The leaders may disrupt the old practices which are heavily dependent on face-to-face learning and pivot to developing proof of concepts for learning on-the-job through the latest consumer technologies.

Furthermore, while having the new trends, there will be impacts on various industries like segregation of critical skills and critical roles in which leaders will redefine the critical meaning. It would include employees in critical strategic roles, employees with critical skills and employees in critical workflow roles.

Separation of skills from roles diverts the focus to develop skills that potentially open many approaches, rather than focusing on the preparation for a particular next role. Organisations may also rearrange the succession plans and may enlarge the range of roles contemplated as a way of the development for a given role’s potential future successors.

Rethinking human resources management

The understanding of how the task workers can be engaged in the team culture and create a culture of inclusiveness will now become even more important. Delivering on the employee experience, in the new working trend, HR needs to associate across the organisation while working with managers to assist employees to navigate the different regulations and expectations associated with shifts.

As companies are in a persistent mode to reinvent every procedure, norm, policy and guideline practically to enhance work efficiency, organisations will discover new ways to become more productive with fewer resources in the current scenario work trend. Enhanced work with fewer resources will be the objective in the post-Coronavirus world.

Furthermore, employers are also becoming sensitive towards employee wellbeing and are taking responsibility of ensuring employees’ health and safety concerns at work, while making amendments to create a better and motivating working environment.

Sanitized work floors

In a shared working ambience, there are more chances of transmission of diseases at a faster pace. It is, hence, important that companies bring out a new set of desk policies wherein nonessential items can be stored in cabinets and drawers rather than on the desk to ensure proper cleanliness and sanitation. There will also be a need of sanitization of the clothes and medicated spray while the employee enters and exit the office.

Disinfecting UV lights, which can clean not only equipment like keyboards but also an entire room overnight, will be ideal in the current scenario. To ensure cleanliness is not compromised, environmental sensors should be used in order to help filter and destroy bacteria and viruses from the indoor environment.

Overall, better sanitation norms and policies will have to be implemented, and automated hand sanitizers will need to be made available widely at relevant places or spots within the office premises.

Using digital technology for ensuring safety measures

To let the employees know how much their organisation is doing in terms of maintaining hygiene and taking care of them in such a difficult time, it is necessary to immediately implement the measure of indoor air quality or environmental cleanliness at multiple points in their buildings with environmental control sensors. Displays can also be installed in every work floor, lobbies or at other interface points, such as in the elevators to make people aware of air quality index. The information could also be pushed out through an app that employees download to their phones. Perhaps, indoor environments should be planned to have a better and healthier atmosphere in the future.

Utilization of sensors may also become a solution to identify the surface that needs frequent cleaning and sanitation. For frequently used common places like washrooms, the cleaning staff can be regularly updated via app notifications to clean the area after a certain number of people have used the facilities.

Creating separated office workspace design

Office space will need to be redesigned to ensure least face-to-face personal connection and collaborations take place. Organisations are coming up with the new distant office design concept. The new concept or trend is known as the Six Feet Office, a way of transforming existing offices into places with the six feet distance rule.

The design of the office workspace would have to create elements of separation to maintain social distancing. Use of partitioned workspaces and cubicle would come back into vogue. Office desks could expand in lengths in order to maintain safe distance. It is also possible that companies come up with an idea to diminish the desk system and allot small cabins to every employee ensuring no personal contact. The office furniture may also be radically reshaped due to the pandemic.

In place of face-to-face meetings, video-based interaction will take precedence. Apps and messaging tools for internal communication with colleagues are set to become the norm. There would also be less movement of people in galleys and hallways, leading to better utilization of these additional spaces.

Organisations should also create more specialized spaces in the office for plethora of functions that may be used for large gatherings like cafeterias, meeting rooms, training rooms etc and ensure that social distancing norms are maintained as much as possible.

Biophilic design features in office spaces

To make the office environment healthier, bringing plant life indoors becomes extremely important. This can be part of a wider effort towards adding neutrality to the workplace, known as biophilia. Proponents of this approach maintain that biophilia designs can reduce stress, promote creativity and also boost recovery from any kind of sickness. It can also result in better productivity and financial benefits, such as a reduction in use of sick days by keeping the air quality healthy.

As we understand that the pandemic is not going to be over soon, so changing the way of working in the organisations is the way forward. Not only the HR policies, but also other functionalities will be reshaped due to the immediate and long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, it is vital to adapt to the new ways of working, improvise the approach and implement right ways to ensure the survival of the organisation, at the same time maintain a healthy and efficient workforce in this situation.

The author, Dinesh Agarwal, is Founder and CEO of IndiaMART InterMESH.