Empathy must be at the core of the return to work

The pandemic has been a traumatic time for all of us. Companies need to be more human going forward.

Offices, going forward, will have to be tech-rich active environments whose shape and form are derived from function.

The pandemic is abating. Vaccination rates are soaring. Offices are reopening and employees are starting to return to work.

But what sort of workplaces are employees returning to?

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the whole gamut of the day-to-day human experience. More than anything in history, it also reshaped the future of work.

Companies had to scramble overnight to equip their employees to work from home. With the situation easing, companies are finding it challenging to get employees back to the office. The fact is, the way employees perceive work has changed. Therefore, while many aspects of our day-to-day lives, like socialising, eating out and so on might return to normal, the future of work has been reshaped. There will be no turning back the clock, and the finest talent will flock to the organisations that recognise and adapt to the post-pandemic reality.

But is it possible to define the post-pandemic workplace?

Unfortunately not. From the survey by Godrej Interio titled ‘Home, Office and Beyond’, the future of work is expected to be hybrid. The study stated that only 19% prefer at least three days of ‘Work From Home,’ while 32% prefer at least three days of ‘Work From Office.’ But it’s impossible to define a one-size-fits-all approach. Different companies have varied needs, they operate in different sectors and will accordingly have to adapt to the new normal in the way that works best for them. But one thing is for certain, the post-pandemic offices can no longer be the same old cubicle-style layouts. Offices, going forward, will have to be tech-rich active environments whose shape and form are derived from function.

Companies must get used to the fact that while some employees will be working from the office, some will be working from home. Spaces, like meeting rooms need to be designed in a way that makes those joining in from their homes feel included.

At the same time, for those in the office, architecture needs to be redesigned to make it more inviting. Workspaces need to be activity-based, giving employees a choice of set-up based on what they are working on. These could be focus rooms helping employees harness a burst of productivity, large spaces for brainstorming sessions or even meditation rooms for employees to de-stress. This also includes a choice of workstation set-ups, from the conventional sit-down desk to standing desks or moveable sit-stand desks such as the Move-up desk by Godrej Interio.

But over and above all, companies must place empathy at the core of return to work. Employees are prepared to take action in the pursuit of flexible work options, with 39 percent willing to negotiate with employers and 24 percent willing to switch jobs.

The pandemic has been a traumatic time for all of us. Companies need to be more human going forward. This approach could include hiring a full-time wellness officer, providing counselling sessions to employees free of cost, or even something as simple as supporting remote work by helping employees set up work stations, giving them tech support and educating them on the correct postures to adopt while they work from home.

The most crucial is to be adaptable. We are just emerging from arguably the most life-altering experience any of us has ever known. Nobody will have all the answers as we emerge from it. But, with empathy at its core, companies must keep an open mind and flexible approach when it comes to the future of work.

(By Dr. Reena Valecha, Principal Ergonomist – Workplace & Ergonomics Research Cell , Godrej Interio)

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