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How will COVID-19 affect office working?

Posted in society

Friday, May 15th, 2020

We’ve all made changes to the way we live, work and play due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing regulations, and office jobs have been some of the most significantly affected.

In recent years there has already been a trend towards working from home. Employment law has required that employers give serious consideration to employee requests for flexible working conditions, but these may have been dismissed in the past for various reasons.

The Coronavirus pandemic shifted the balance. It’s no longer a case of employers considering whether to make an exception for individual requests to work from home – instead, entire workforces were ordered by the government to stay in their homes if at all possible.

As we move through the pandemic and into the period that lies beyond it, it’s going to be much more difficult for employers to legitimately reject working from home requests from any employee, whether they have a ‘need’ for flexible working or not.

Working in pyjamas

We’re in a state of flux right now, but looking to the long term, will we all be working in pyjamas in the years to come?

It depends in part on how quickly we return to ‘normal’ social distancing conditions. At present, and for the foreseeable future, there will be a need to keep two metres apart wherever possible, including in the workplace.

That is simply impossible in most offices. Remember that two-metre exclusion zone applies in all directions – face-to-face, workers seated side by side, facing each other across a desk, in meetings, at the water cooler or coffee machine, and so on.

While it could be achieved in some workplaces by constant self-awareness and changes to working practices, it’s much easier for many companies just to let their employees stay home and dial in over the internet.

Keeping in touch

This raises the question of communication and collaboration. There are plenty of tools that allow teams to collaborate remotely, such as online platforms to enable multiple users to edit a document at the same time, and of course video conferencing apps.

At the moment many of those tools and applications are being offered for free, or for a significantly reduced price, but it could be hard for companies to find free or low-cost alternatives once the usual subscription models are reinstated.

By then, many employees will likely be reluctant to return to the daily commute and formal office attire, having had a taste of working from the kitchen table with their own preferred brand of coffee on tap.

Applying for office jobs in COVID-19

The truth is, nobody really knows which parts of the old system will return and which of the many significant and sudden changes will become part of the ‘new normal’.

When applying for office jobs during COVID-19, it’s worth asking the interviewer how much they have been impacted and what temporary and permanent changes they have introduced.

At the very least, this shows you have a long-term interest in working for their company, while giving you some insight into how quickly – and to what extent – they hope to return to their previous practices regarding flexible working conditions, once the Coronavirus emergency begins to ease.

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