The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Amplified The Debate Over The Future Of Work

The COVID-19 crisis might be a catalyst for a healthier future relationship between employees and their workplaces.

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By Medhat Alzayer


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The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, moving rapidly, in which some of the perspectives in this article may fall out of date swiftly. A global, novel virus that is keeping us contained in our homes, maybe for months or even years, is already recreating our relationships to our health, to the outside world, and even to each other.

When the coronavirus outbreak was confirmed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, spreading to more than 180 countries and claiming the lives of more than ـ200,000 people, tumbling many global industries into a paralysis, global companies have been forced to adapt new measure to survive. The coronavirus quarantine has attacked industries that have already proven to be vulnerable to disruption, potentially changing the global social order in irreversible ways, once consumers adjust to new ways of living.

Setting aside the serious health implications of the outbreak, the coronavirus epidemic has, in an unorthodox way, also amplified a debate over the future of work. With millions of people around the world working from home as a result of the outbreak, whether through quarantine or as companies precaution, the question is being asked by business owners around the world: are we seeing the end of the traditional office typology?

Let's be clear here that the coronavirus pandemic will not directly and irreversibly destroy the concept of working in traditional office buildings, but it has indeed forced a major global "work-from-home" exercise that, when businesses return to normality, may cause a reflection on the benefits of working from home, or at the very least, a change in the traditional office typology. This exercise is on a scale like no other, as millions of people have been working from home since early February, and the number is growing rapidly.

Many global public companies have encouraged and ultimately asked their employees to work from home, and promoted "work from home" atmosphere throughout the ecosystem. The coronavirus pandemic may also have caused a spike in the number of remote employees, giving companies the flexibility to acquire exceptional talent with few geographic limits, while avoiding the significant overhead cost associated with office buildings and supplies.

Related: Rethinking Business: A Look At How Some Enterprises In Dubai Are Transforming Themselves In Response To the COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent study conducted by Stanford University showed that working from home boosted employees productivity, reduced sick-leave days, and improved job satisfaction. The study also showed that employees spend less time and money commuting, have better work-life balance, and quieter, more productive atmospheres. The idea of remote working is surging in popularity with environmentalists as well, since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces energy usage and wastage.

The Global Workplace Analytics noting that 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to work remotely, at least part-time. The same organization estimates that if those in compatible jobs that wanted to work from home did so part-time, it would save $700 billion across the United States between businesses and employees, while the savings in greenhouse gases would be the equivalent of taking the entire workforce of New York State off the road permanently.

These changes in attitudes and habits should be of great interest to office designers. While the traditional office concept will no doubt remain, the architecture/designers within will be heavily influenced by trends such as remote working. In a future where many employees might spend the majority of their time working remotely, traditional office spaces will become increasingly flexible, adopting more residential tones to create a "home away from home."

As this epidemic prolongs, the next architectural revolution in office design may see the mass removal of employees from their traditional workplace, whether through automation or through remote working. That being said, this globally forced condition in working-from-home due to the coronavirus, as tragic as it is, may ironically be a catalyst for a healthier future relationship between employees and their workplaces.

Related: Despair Not, Entrepreneurs, For The COVID-19 Crisis Is Just A Test Of Our Resolve

Medhat Alzayer
Medhat Alzayer is a freelance writer from Saudi Arabia. He was previously the Country Head at Regus, the world’s largest provider of serviced offices and coworking spaces, and an executive banker, both locally and internationally. 

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