What impact is COVID-19 having on the traditional workplace?

The dramatic changes to the workforce brought about by organisational responses to COVID-19 will likely accelerate the shift to smart cities, according to UNSW Sydney.

The coronavirus pandemic is permanently reshaping the nature of how work is done in a number of ways. Organisations have had to contend with large swathes of their employees working from home, and it looks like this seismic shift will be permanent in many ways. Many organisations have wrestled with flexible working, work-life balance and virtual teamwork for many years. But when push came to shove in 2020, employees appear to have adapted remarkably well to the process of working from home.

comprehensive study conducted by Iva Durakovic, interior architect and Associate Lecturer at UNSW Built Environment together with architectural design firm Davenport Campbell, indicated that 83 per cent of employees are satisfied with remote working, 75 per cent feel the same (or more) productive, 87 per cent feel trusted by their organisation and 79 per cent feel a strong sense of ownership over their work.

The research also found there is a startling alignment between how employees feel and organisational challenges – the top ones being maintaining culture (37 per cent for employees and 39 per cent for organisations), workplace health and safety (31 per cent for employees and 39 per cent for organisations) as well as productivity (23 per cent for employees and 39 per cent for organisations).

It is important to note that the physical workplace does not exist in isolation. As the researchers above noted, its design is a complex web of people (culture), place and technology in a symbiotic relationship to ultimately foster behaviours that result in productive work outputs.

“We need to reimagine how workplaces can look like and how they best serve work and add value,” says Frederik Anseel, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Management at UNSW Business School.

Prof Anseel believes the workplace of the future will probably be more flexible with people jointly arranging with their employers when to work from home and when going to the workplace. “Having people getting stuck in traffic for an hour to arrive at a workplace where they do exactly the same work as they could do at home but much more efficiently, needs to change,” he says. “This has been an eye-opener for a lot of companies, but also for managers who were suspicious that it couldn’t be done. It can and it should.”

Durakovic also points to the obvious benefit is the hours saved each day on commuting and a shift towards hubs in which people come together. “If we can at least reduce the number of times that we need to go into the office, if not completely, it will free up productive time that we could [use] working without having that stress of the commute, [or] that we can get back for ourselves so that we have more of a work-life balance,” she says.

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