By Dorothy York, President and CEO of North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS)
Working from home during the pandemic has forced managers to reimagine the office space requirements and reorganize for the transition to an increasingly digital environment.
Gone are the days of the big filing cabinets filled with papers that can easily be stored online as digital documents. Many office supplies are becoming obsolete, such as paper, paper clips, thumb tacks, bulletin boards, scissors, notebooks, memo pads, staplers, tape dispensers, hole punchers, 3-ring binders, rulers, calculators, paper cutters, pens, pencils, highlighters, file folders, standing file holders, pencil sharpeners, labels, envelopes, time clocks, and so much more. To de-clutter, we have given away a lot to schools, including old computers, as we upgrade, but even those don’t really need office supplies as much any more.
Sending people to work from home has been as simple as packing up a computer, power strip, keyboard and mouse. As long as people have a comfortable chair and a tabletop, they are ready for work. They don’t need cables, because everything is wireless. They don’t need a printer because documents can be read, edited, stored, sent, and even signed electronically.
In a virtual environment, people can work in the comfort of their own homes, with their own favorite beverages, foods, kitchen and bathroom supplies, furniture and decorations.
Office security such as locks, cameras, firewalls and software have been replaced by home security options, which may help prevent hackers from getting onto networks, because each home is an island.
Mail can be forwarded to a P. O. box or, with paperless options, accessed online. Phones can be forwarded to home phones or cell phones or people can dial in remotely to receive messages. Virtual conference calls and meetings can be done with free software.
Servers can be put into a co-location facility, with either a cage for private equipment, or in the cloud, for people to access from any location, on any device.
There is no need for the cost of parking spaces and commuting. The commute has been eliminated, which will save the cost of down time due to public transportation delays, and illness from airborne diseases or contact spread viruses, including not only Coronavirus, but also the flu, the common cold, and possibly bacterial infections such as bronchitis or strep.
Do we even need an office at all, even after the pandemic is no longer a threat? For in person meetings, conference rooms can be rented at hourly rates or restaurants can offer private dining facilities. Hotels offer space for meetings of all sizes.
As I look around New York City, it has become a ghost town. Huge office buildings are almost entirely empty. New construction of space continues, and yet, even though some new buildings are half leased in advance of occupancy, tenants are trying to get out of their leases because nearly all employees are happier, healthier, working more productively, and cost-effectively, at home.
Nobody feels sorry for the landlords, but I do. Even with relief from the government, they are struggling with a lifestyle change that has left their spaces mostly empty and that is not likely to change anytime in the near future.
Forward looking thinkers are envisioning the possibility that office space will be rezoned and converted to residential space, which will provide more affordable options for young people just entering the work force, many of which have had to share with roommates and live in cramped conditions.
Attracting and retaining top talent may require employers to allow for WFH options to continue. Having an expensive space may seem wasteful, to some, who would prefer that management allocates the budget toward benefits, rather than unnecessary offices that cut into their potential rewards. The highly coveted work-life balance is more easily accomplished from a home environment.
Managing and engaging remotely is a challenge that has been overcome by various software options. There is an element of trust, which is necessary, since nobody is watching people every minute. Even when in the office, the potential for squandering time is unavoidable, unless draconian policies are instituted, which may be repugnant to most employees, who want to be free to do work without having big brother always watching.
As long as goals are measurable and attainable, and the job gets done, flexibility in the work schedule should be expected, and can more easily be achieved in a WFH environment. If people have a work schedule conflict due to a personal commitment, they can more easily get back to work, when it is done if there is no need to commute.
Many companies already had a WFH policy in effect, before the pandemic, for certain time periods, such as summer Fridays, extended maternity leave, or when someone is not feeling well enough to come in but can work at home, or snow days. The infrastructure for WFH has already been in place and is now being used to a much greater extent, due to the pandemic, with surprising long-term benefits that are beginning to become the norm.
I look forward to a time when we can completely liberate our staff from the rigid restrictions that an office space requires and be able to offer higher take-home compensation, as a result of the cost savings, and increased performance, from giving up some, or all of our space, when the lease expires. We will be able to grow our staff and do a better job of making the world a better place to live and work in as we evolve into the modern era.