It is not always easy to decouple employers’ response to the ongoing Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis from their long-term planning in case the situation aggravates. However, many employers are putting in place three main measures, or combinations thereof, to be insulated from the direct effects of a potential second wave of the virus and the aftermath of the current one.
Firstly, flexible working practices are being broadly introduced. Twitter projects that all staff will be allowed to work from home ‘forever’, Facebook expects half of its employees to work remotely by 2030 or earlier, and many other corporate giants may follow suit, just to give some examples. Equally, the lockdown restrictions forced many large public sector institutions to temporarily broaden the scope of flexible working thus rolling out homeworking at an unprecedented scale.
In many of them, such as in the European Parliament, awareness and employee access to these policies have also significantly expanded, auguring their broader take up in future. The requirement for face-to-face contact has been removed even in contexts which have so far heavily relied on it; think of the Japanese government which proposed to change the centuries-old tradition of hanko, an ink-to-paper personal stamp used as signature, to be replaced with a digital version.
Secondly, the need for human involvement in a range of services is now being reconsidered. For instance, automated deliveries have been rolled out much faster and much more effectively than expected by e-commerce businesses such as Alibaba and JD.com. Californian start-up Zipline is also planning to deliver medicines in some rural parts of the US by the use of drones alone.
Lastly, employers are implementing a spatial redesign of their operations to cushion the potential impact of the next wave of infections, along with accommodating current hardships.
Some organisations, notably in the banking sector, have been rethinking the amount of space needed to conduct their operations, while others such as real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield, have introduced carpet colour-coding to signal the no-go areas to their employees. Some of the pre-pandemic office designs come in handy too: a newly developed eco-friendly building in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be entirely contactless, complete with facial recognition sensors managing office doors and smart lifts operated from a smartphone.
No matter how we look at the changes that have been implemented, the world of work before Coronavirus will not be the same again, and most organisations are well aware of this.
Dr Michal Izak is a researcher in Business and Management at University of Roehampton Business School.