As we watch the COVID-19 curve begin to flatten and re-openings slowly begin, many are beginning to wonder what workplaces will look like post-pandemic.

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As we watch the COVID-19 curve begin to flatten and re-openings slowly begin, many are beginning to wonder what workplaces will look like post-pandemic.

Canadian staffing service Robert Half surveyed professionals, the majority working from home, on what they’d learned from at-home work and what they’d do in the future.

No such thing as ‘business as usual’ anymore... (CNW Group/Robert Half Canada)</p>

No such thing as ‘business as usual’ anymore... (CNW Group/Robert Half Canada)

What they found was a majority hope remote work becomes a reality of the future — 74 per cent said they would like to work remotely more often than before the virus, something Winnipeg Robert Half branch manager Brent Rein said was unsurprising to him, especially considering his own interactions with staff.

"I do see that companies are going to have to pivot because people’s perceptions, coming out post-pandemic, will have changed, in what they want in a workplace," he said.

"You can’t turn on the TV or read the newspaper without seeing that work is doable from home. So employees are going to want that more, and employers are going to have to offer that."

Should workers return to the office, the survey implies office culture will have fundamentally changed — 72 per cent of those surveyed say they will rethink handshakes, 73 per cent think their company needs to take more extensive cleaning measures, and 73 per cent will plan fewer in-person meetings.

Partner with recruitment company Legacy Bowes Group and human resources expert Barbara Bowes said she felt work-life balance was the key to creating a productive post-pandemic professional future. While 55 per cent of parents surveyed were 20 per cent more likely to say their work-life balance had improved, Bowes said she had seen otherwise.

She said her company holds weekly Zoom calls with 75 to 100 people about how they are handling the life-work balance through the pandemic, and she had seen instances of parenting and homeschooling affecting that balance, including a recent instance where a staff member had to leave a meeting to attend a Zoom meeting with her child’s teacher.

"You’re busy talking to the teacher, you’re getting assignments by email and helping the kids do assignments and at the same time your employer is expecting the same level of productivity, which isn’t really fair," she said.

Not all of the surveyed responses were entirely in support of a future working at home — 59 per cent worry more remote work will negatively affect their ability to build relationships with their co-workers, something Bowes said she had seen reflected in concerns from people she had worked with.

"I do know some people who are really struggling, and it has nothing to do with kids," she said. "It’s just darn lonely."

The future, Bowes said, would have to focus on employers being lenient and accommodating to the needs of staff — the 60 per cent of those surveyed who said they realized their job was doable from home in the past several weeks may become more permanent at-home workers.

"It’s been quite a shock to many of the clients we know that say ‘hey, this is working, this could work,’" she said. "So I do think that work at home will become more operable from the employers’ side for sure."

She said this possibility comes with a possible end to the standard work day — rather than standard structured hours, you are asked to attend brief meetings and instead agree to provide a set amount of hours throughout the day with flexibility.

"Leaders and managers have to learn to do better project management, better supervision, where they’re focusing more on that productivity output, the project output, the outcome, rather than focusing on the nine-to-five or the work hours," she said.

"Basically, I don’t care when you do the work, but I want this project done."

It’s a different management style, but one she said should have been utilized more pre-pandemic.

"What I see changing in the future, too, is when we’re recruiting new managers, we’re going to be looking for different characteristics," she said. "Much more strong on technology, much stronger on remote supervision."

What do we lose when we consider a future where the rat race takes place in the home? Possibly productivity, founder and CEO of "on-demand office" co-working space Launch, Jason Abbott suggested.

"There are many distractions that limit productivity — kids being home, pets, your refrigerator’s always there, your kitchen’s always there, you can clean or do laundry — there’s always distractions," he said.

The membership-based meeting space allows people working remotely to work in a professional setting and host meetings. The concept has seen success in Winnipeg — Launch recently opened a second location and had plans for a third that have been put on hold — and Abbott said he believes workers will end up incurring additional costs as most homes aren’t set up as a normal workspace, listing Wi-Fi usage and office supplies as examples.

"You are starting to see people who are becoming fatigued as a result of improper ergonomics, because their screen is in the wrong place, or because they’re doing work from their couch, or whatever the case may be," he said.

He said he believes co-working spaces will not only survive but see a spike in demand when long-term social-distancing guidelines are placed in offices, as people will still want work-specific spaces.

"Current headquarters in Winnipeg or in Manitoba, they were built to a specific density. And that density no longer complies with health and safety requirements," he said.

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Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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