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It didn't take more than a few months in COVID-19 lockdown for a good number of workers to realize they could adequately perform their jobs without having to set foot in their office ever again.

Working remotely has helped people envision an attractive new reality of relocating to a new town, city, or country, all while retaining their current livelihood.

Rather than fighting the rapidly changing tide, Silicon Valley mainstays embraced the new business reality. Facebook recently offered its employees the opportunity to work from home on a permanent basis. Twitter announced it won't reopen its offices until September 2020 at the earliest, and gave employees a choice on whether they come back in once offices open.

Amid the Pandora's box of challenges the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed, the prospect of working full-time remotely is no longer fanciful or challenging. It's potentially a new normal. And it's going to reshape how we look at employment in the post-pandemic world.

To get a better idea of how employee attitudes are changing about the workplace, especially in light of the pandemic, our company conducted a survey of more than a thousand remote workers. The respondents varied by age and job level, and they were from throughout the country.

We found new perceptions emerging about office work. We were surprised, for example, that 42% speculated working remotely will eventually replace working in physical offices.

Employees are concerned about returning to offices

As businesses start to reopen, there is general concern about how safe life in the open-layout workplace will be.

In our poll, 38% claimed they were nervous about returning to work and were waiting anxiously to see what safety modifications would be put in place.

An additional 6% voiced consternation that their bosses would force them to return to the office, even if they wished to continue working remotely.

Working from home can actually be more productive

Fully 39% of our survey respondents found that they are more productive working remotely—without the distractions of an office environment.

This concept isn't really new. Startups have been leveraging the power of remote teams and virtual office workers for decades—all the while banking the cash that would have gone to an office park landlord.

(A side note: it's funny that managers who were happy to embrace open-office layouts and bring-your-own-device policies have been so reluctant to adopt a work-from-your-own-space reality; but, after this experience, it's quite likely to become reality.)

Interestingly enough, among those who reported NOT feeling more productive working from home, blame was placed on having insufficient technical resources and tools (21%) and too many distractions—this time in the form of kids and household chores (17%). Though, theoretically, post-pandemic the kids would be returning to school.

What the office gets right

One clear role the office plays for our survey group is the enabling and fostering of connections among coworkers.

A significant 60% of survey respondents reported finding it difficult to maintain work relationships while working remotely, and 28% said they miss interacting with coworkers on a daily, face-to-face basis.

There appears to be a social aspect that Zoom meetings can't mimic, and it may be a challenge for the next generation of managers to find a way to replicate the value of in-person connection.

* * *

There's no question that the traditional office we once knew will be no more.

In-person office work will continue to have its place in the post COVID world, but the open office and cube farm models will have to undergo significant and costly changes in order to make working conditions safe.

A fusion of remote and in-person work will become the new normal, particularly as businesses reassess the wisdom of carrying expensive leases during an economic downturn.

Does your business have a strategy for workspace options once it's time to reopen?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Brian Byer

Brian Byer is vice-president & general manager at full-service digital marketing agency Blue Fountain Media, a Pactera company.

LinkedIn: Brian Byer