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How the Pandemic Changed Our Commute

June 15, 2021 - -
Portrait of modern woman at home teleconferencing with colleagues while cuddling her cat during pandemic

For those of us who have spent the last year working from home, the pandemic has re-written the book for our typical 9-to-5 existence. Our morning commute is much shorter (perhaps from one end of the house to the other), business casual took on a different meaning, and Zoom-fatigue became embedded into our common language. As we move into a phase of vaccination and hope, the future of work-from-home (WFH) still figures heavily in with transitioning back to office space. In fact, this shift begs the question, “Will we be back in the office full time?”

In an interview conducted last year for Business Horizons, UofL marketing professors Dr. David Faulds and Dr. PS Raju spoke with Brian Kropp of Gartner Research. Kropp’s work has explored WFH’s evolution in the business world pre-COVID. The research explores WFH’s impact on work coming out of this pandemic. 

Navigating the highway or the hallway

The elephant in the room may be the inevitable transition back to the office, but such a shift will not happen with the flick of a switch. Given the nature of how our initial transition to WFH took place, there are many variables to consider in our return entry.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic did was bring about the largest test market in the history of HR practices by forcing businesses to adopt a work-from-home-policy. This forced policy brought about a number of important and interesting outcomes that we will be adjusting to over the next several years,” says Kropp.

Gartner Research also points to a future where “20% of the workforce will work full-time from home, and another segment will work full-time in the office.” The additional variable — those employees who have a hybrid schedule of remote/in-office work.

Who returns post-pandemic?

One surprising aspect of the WFH/in-office conversation relates to the physical make-up of the workforce. Gartner Research found that in return-to-workplace surveys, men were typically more interested in returning to the office than women.

“Typically, it is the people who are onsite and physically present who exert more influence than those individuals who are working from home and appear only on video. Therefore, the people in the room are more likely to get recognized for the work that they do and are more likely to get promoted than people who are working from home,” says Kropp.

“There are all sorts of questions associated with how employers can maintain workplace diversity in this changing environment and build an organizational culture that is inclusive and avoids that trap of ‘survival of the fittest.’”

A question of agility

Having flexibility will be among the more significant challenges companies face as they decide whether their staff will utilize WFH, onsite, or hybrid scheduling. There may be a degree of hybridization involved in any transition with more significant concerns about safety issues associated with COVID and vaccinations. Kropp offers what a blended schedule may look like for businesses.

“Given this hybrid reality, organizations need to make sure they are creating a seamless experience for their employees that enables them to move back and forth from remote to in-person without having the experience feel disruptive or inconsistent or without jeopardizing workplace diversity or advancement opportunities.”

The crossroads of our pandemic commute

While those in leadership weigh the best strategies for transitioning their workforce into this next stage of the pandemic — and their decisions may be beyond our control — it’s essential to be mindful of our own realities and our workflow strategies as well. It means taking stock of what we can control and being aware and proactive in those spaces. The period of adjustment isn’t just a product of work-mode mentality; it is also how our lives have adapted over the last year. Be it learning how to share bandwidth (both internet and emotional energy) with those under one roof or our experiences with COVID-19 itself, any transition must include awareness for those mental, emotional, and physical aspects. The more we think ahead about what that work reality may be for us, the more equipped we will be when it comes to our work-space future, regardless of our commute.