Offices are opening up, but more of us are homeward bound
Offices are opening up, but more of us are homeward bound
The French already have a word for it.
“La rentrée”—the return—marks the day in September when children head back to school and employees to the workplace after their traditionally long summer vacation. It signals a resumption of normalcy.
Our own post-pandemic return has now officially started, led by the big tech companies. Microsoft, Apple and Google are among the first to have issued reopening announcements for their staff.
The pandemic, however, continues to cast a long shadow over the workplace.
For a start, there’s still uncomfortable polarity between vaccinated workers and those who remain unvaccinated, with attendant headaches for employers tasked with putting in place health policies that will protect and satisfy both groups. There is evidence, though, that fears of being infected by a colleague have lessened. Newly published research finds fewer employees saying they don’t want to return to the workplace because they’re fearful of catching the virus.
They just don’t want to return, period.
One of COVID-19’s most enduring legacies may turn out to be that enforced closures enabled workers, who hadn’t tried it before, to discover they actually liked working from home (WFH). And many aren’t planning to give it up anytime soon.
This study, by the Pew Research Center, reports that well over half of those who say their jobs can mainly be done from home (59%) are currently doing so all or most of the time. But it’s the growing impetus towards WFH that has shifted considerably since 2020, as more and more workers say they are working remotely by choice rather than of necessity.
The Pew study also reports that among those who have a workplace outside of their home, approximately 61% now say they are choosing not to go into their workplace, while 38% say they’re working from home because their workplace is closed or unavailable.
Strikingly, the very opposite was the case earlier in the pandemic: The study showed that 64% said they were working from home because their office was closed, and 36% said they were working from home by choice.
And, as we mentioned, fewer surveyed staff are reporting concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus: 42% now, versus 57% in 2020, say this is a major reason they are currently working from home.
At Gridspace, we’re keenly aware that the organizations we work with require agile support if they’re to stay on top of these radical shifts. Contact centers face the prospect of even higher call volumes as more staff opt out of full-time office attendance. IT problems, pensions and HR support will increasingly be directed to central switchboard operators, rather than addressed face to face as before.
Slow response times to these issues will cause delays for home workers unable to find that lost computer file; inefficient handling and slow rerouting of queries to head office will have a negative impact on remote staff’s morale and productivity.
Retailers, financial services and healthcare providers will likely be fielding more calls from home-based workers who have lost access to informal networks of helpful colleagues who once shared information and practical support.
The snowballing trend toward teleworking is not an all-or-nothing choice, however. Economist Jose Maria Barrero has been studying the shift towards working from home using an ongoing survey of US residents. His most recent report also surfaces the growing adoption of hybrid working, where some days are spent in the office and some at home. He tells us that a hybrid solution was twice as popular among home workers than a fully remote one. Here’s the breakdown of worker preferences:
- 54% currently fully on site
- 31% hybrid
- 15% fully WFH
Barrero believes there are several factors combining to push the needle towards teleworking. Lingering concerns about health risks remains one of them, he says, but more significant is the fact that most workers have now experienced WFH during lockdowns and learnt to overcome any bias against it.
Men, in particular, may have felt a stigma about remaining at home, an option primarily viewed in the past as a concession to mothers of young children, or those with additional responsibilities such as caregiving. Since we’ve all, from the CEO downward, been working from home, it’s managed to shed some of these outdated associations.
The surging trend towards WFH has even prompted the BBC, Britain’s state-funded broadcaster, to ask whether remaining office-based workers will expect to be paid more than their teleworking colleagues.
Whether or not we finally find we’ve had enough of our own four walls, the concept of hybrid working is a powerful one that seems set to resonate in the workplace. It’s certainly a fundamental of Gridspace platforms.
While we’re living in the age of the Great Resignation, there’s increasing pressure on employers to be flexible. Prompted by the pandemic, employers have since made investments in technology and other resources to support effective WFH.
How can a voice bot take a payment or change an address without learning from people how to complete these tasks? Our friendly, pre-trained virtual agents are designed to work alongside human agents so busy contact centers gain the best of both worlds.
We’re not advocates of hybrid workforce models in all circumstances, though. Gridspace intelligent automated solutions are designed to take pressure off overstretched healthcare staff who can all too often find themselves covering routine administrative tasks. Gridspace Grace, our non-human agent, capably triages patient symptoms, fills out payer provider forms and handles calls—routing them deeper into the hospital system when required and enabling nurses to spend more time with their patients. Not all jobs can be done at home.
COVID-19, that enormous driver of change in all areas of our lives, continues to make its influence felt in the workplace. Whatever curveballs your organization is facing, we’re ready to show you how we can help you stay ahead of the game.