How COVID-19 could permanently change the way we work

Companies have started thinking about subsidizing resources for employees and possibly killing the traditional 9-to-5 workweek as they consider hybrid models of working from home and coming into the office, says a human resources expert. 

In the past couple of weeks, Google (GOOG), Twitter (TWTR), Shopify (SHOP), and other major organizations announced plans to not reopen offices and have more of their employees work from home. 

Shopify’s CEO Tobias Lütke tweeted that most of its employees will permanently work remotely and that “office centricity is over.”

He indicated that the dynamics of the workplace have dramatically changed now, offering the chance for Shopify to think about more of its employees working from home and what the office space means. 

Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, said in an interview that because of COVID-19, companies are saving 20 per cent of real estate cost from an employee. That includes paying rent, electricity associated with the employee being there, cost of supplies, and resources. 

“Even if [workers] are five per cent less productive [when working from home]…they’re 20 per cent cheaper, so the [return-on-investment] is completely there for having people work remotely,” he said. 

Kropp said that in some instances, some workers may be working even more hours, or having more online meetings, so employers are starting to think about incentives to offer a better employee experience.

“Some CEOs and CFOs are starting to say ‘well we should start to pay for internet access.’ Some companies have let people expense babysitters if they’ve got them coming over to help.

“Accenture has recently announced that for some of their more senior employees…you can expense to pay for childcare,” he said. 

Kropp said companies are likely to reconfigure the office spaces they do keep. 

He added companies will still have a space for meetings with clients or a place to socialize, which can be challenging in a virtual setting. 

Other experts in the human resources industry also don’t expect office real estate to be killed off entirely and indicate that it is more likely that companies will shrink spaces. 

In a tweet thread, Shopify’s Lütke said the workplace will become more “decentralized,” which Kropp said is a natural transition as the COVID-19 period has allowed companies to trust their employees to be responsible and get work done remotely.

“As you’re shifting into a much more remote decentralized way, you have to shift your management strategy and your manager tactics from focusing on managing process and making sure people are following the right process [to] focusing much more on outcomes,” Kropp said.

Kropp added that companies are also becoming more flexible when setting work schedules for employees.

“The biggest shift that is to occur is potentially the end of the Monday through Friday 8:30 to 5:30 as a time signature of when people work and what work look like from a time perspective,” he said. 

Kropp explained that companies are noticing that every employee has different work habits. Some might work better in the morning, while others might want a four day week with longer hours.

“Companies are asking questions about how to stagger this and adjust as some people get back to work [in the office],” he said. 

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