ESOP Association Blog

How the Workplace May Change in Light of COVID-19

Working From Home, ESOP

The recent shifts experienced in the workplace have come with shocking speed and intensity. Even companies that had no prior interest in teleworking now have employees regularly logging workdays from home offices and dining room tables.

What does this unexpected and unprecedented recent past suggest about the future of the American workplace? Here are some thoughts, observations, and guesses.


Remote Work May Be More Tolerable

For many businesses, remote work has been a technical and practical possibility for years—stemming in part from the fact that at home many employees have computers and Internet connections that are at least equal to the ones they use at work.

Of course, hardware is only one requirement for telework, and many companies have traditionally placed reasonable restrictions on who can work from home. Typically, remote work is not offered to new employees, those whose jobs requires them to be physically on site, those who fail to meet minimum performance standards, and those whom supervisors deem should not work from home.

This last point places a lot of authority in the hands of supervisors, some of whom may have been reluctant to let employees out of their sight, concerned that telework would result in too much wasted time and too little work getting done.

The COVID-19 health crises, however, made telework a necessity for most businesses, and previous objections and restrictions no longer applied.

As a result, businesses had to rush to provide technology and guidance so that massive numbers of employees could work from home. This rapid forced-march transition to remote work has created situations—such as a lack of training and technology support—that have negatively affected productivity. The closure of schools and childcare facilities has put additional burdens on many employees, further decreasing productivity. And the challenge of getting food and other supplies while minimizing the chances of infection have been major stressors for just about everyone.

Despite those challenges, though, some employees report they are working longer and harder when they are at home. And even at companies where productivity has been lower during the pandemic, due certainly to a combination of the factors listed above, remote work has enabled companies to keep functioning when no other viable alternative existed.

Ultimately, this experience raises key questions your ESOP company should seek to answer:

  1. Are your employee owners productive working from home?
  2. Are your supervisors more in favor of telecommuting now?
  3. Is your organization more willing to allow telework in the future than it was two months ago?

The COVID-19 crisis has forced companies to gain a great deal of new experience and information regarding telework. That exposure may make it easier for companies to embrace remote work again—especially since it is possible that a second wave of the COVID-19 disease may sweep our nation in the future, potentially necessitating additional social distancing and remote work.


No More Hoteling?

Hoteling—in which employees telecommute or work part-time according to a structured schedule so they can share workspaces with other employees—helps businesses reduce real estate costs. But shared office spaces in the era of COVID-19 bring new risks of infection, and new concerns for employees.

As a result, businesses that have used hoteling likely will face new challenges related to this practice.

At the very least, businesses will face additional costs to disinfect desks, chairs, and work spaces after one employee uses them and before another takes a seat. Even then, safety concerns from employees may reduce their desire to come to work—or their productivity while they are there.

As companies weigh the pros and cons of resuming on-site work, the health and safety of employees must be a primary concern. Practices that increase the risk of exposure and transmission may need to be altered or eliminated.


Third Shifts?

Adding a third shift typically increases costs, which is something manufacturers and other businesses typically want to avoid. But, as businesses mull their options for returning to work, adding a shift may be something worth considering.

If government mandated social distancing continues, companies may not have a large enough footprint to bring in all their employee owners at the same time. Adding time—in the form of an extra shift—may be one way to continue to get work done while providing the physical distance needed to keep employee owners safe. For retailers in particular, adding a third shift can provide a way for employees to restock shelves while keeping aisles clearer during the day for customers and employees alike.

Will the extra cost be worth it? That will depend on the specific situation facing each business. But a third shift does provide an option for overcoming the limits of a business’ floor plan.

For their part, employees often aren’t excited about working a late shift. But for many, working late at night may be preferable to not working in crowded spaces, or not working at all.