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With the North American announcements regarding the lifting of Pandemic restrictions, many workers are feeling anxious about the reality of returning to the office in the Fall. 

mannyManny Mandrusiak CD.
Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant
Vancouver Island Works Project

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Back to the Office…Maybe

Building For The Future: Touchless Technology For Operational ResiliencyBuilding For The Future: Touchless Technology For Operational Resiliency

With the North American announcements regarding the lifting of Pandemic restrictions, many workers are feeling anxious about the reality of returning to the office in the Fall. 

After a year and a half of "learning to adapt to working from home," it seems that governments in North America are anxious to get workers back into the office for a variety of reasons.  The issue that I see is one of the evolutions of the definition of the term "work". 

If the last year has taught us anything it is that our cultures are evolving in many ways.  The pandemic has provided society with the ability to explore ideas and concepts that are new, and more accepted by the mainstream.  Working from home is one of those concepts.

Work / Life Balance

One of the tragic consequences of the pandemic was the huge loss of jobs in some industries.  Now that restrictions are easing, a serious demand for workers is increasing.  Anyone who understands business understands the rule of supply and demand.  In this case, the pandemic has now created a huge demand for a supply of workers at all levels so that businesses can look at recouping profits lost during the last year and a half.

This sudden demand for workers has suddenly tipped the scales into a prospective employee's favor.  Potential employees can now negotiate working terms and benefits like never before and are willing to shop around for jobs that align better with their lifestyle.  Remote working conditions are preferred in jobs so that employees can control how much time they spend in the office.  The pandemic proved that productivity is more important than the location of the employee.

Commuting – Rising fossil fuel costs

In keeping with the "supply and demand" theme, the recent year and a half have seen a decrease in employees commuting to and from their place of work. That has led to a decrease in the demand for fuel and other petroleum-based products.  Now that restrictions are lifting, and people are expected to be back in the office for September, we see the price of fuel rising dramatically for the summer.

This rise in costs is going to have some employees seriously considering looking for jobs that will provide them with the opportunity to continue working from home.  Decisions like this come down to dollars, and when people start looking at the rising cost of fuel versus the take-home paycheck, the scales start to become unbalanced. 

There is also the consideration of "dead time", or the unproductive time that commuting sometimes causes for employees.  For the last year and a half people have been able to structure their time so that when they are working, they are at their most productive.  Now that employees are looking at the fact of going back to potentially spending an hour commuting to and from work, it will be a struggle for them to want to maintain the same level of productivity that they had working from home. This will mainly be due to the "resentment" that commuters will feel when they start their journey to work.  If I know that I have to get on a crowded train every day to get to my office on time, just so that I can do the same work that I was doing from home a week ago, I may become a little bitter about the process.  I also personally know that when I have to start filling up my gas tank again to go to work that I will start feeling the economic pinch of those rising fuel costs at the end of the month.  Nothing feeds negative thoughts like a hit in the pocketbook.

 I believe that the factors above could lead to negative feelings about being back in the office and that productivity will more than likely take a hit.  I also believe that it may lead to many people leaving their jobs to pursue a side hustle or home-based work opportunity.

I say these things as I recently had a short-term "in the office" contract to assist a business with improving its workflows and sales processes.  I was in the office every day for a month and once the initial novelty wore off, I started questioning why I was in the office, and not my home office, where I felt that I could be more productive.  I could not control my working environment at the office, and that was the biggest issue that popped up for me.  I could not put Law & Order on in the background while I worked, nor could I take some time to practice a little yoga when I wanted to.  I was controlled by the corporate clock again and was essentially "told" when I could take a break, and when I could take lunch.  I could not wait for the contract to end so that I could get back to my "normal" where I could control my time.

I am waiting to see if others have the same feeling when they go back to the office in September after all the restrictions are lifted.  Over the past year and a half, we have become used to having more control over our time, and workspace, and I do not doubt that these will be issues that management will have to face in the coming months as they deal with unhappy employees.

Building HVAC Systems- Is the office a safe place to be?

I have friends who are completely freaked out about going back to a traditional office workspace because they are concerned about the recycled air that they will be breathing for 8 hours a day.  They are concerned that building HVAC systems are not protecting them from potential future outbreaks of new COVID variants. 

If people return to a more traditional 9-5 workday where they find themselves in close environments with other unmasked people, what happens when someone hears a sniffle or cough? To many in the workplace, these familiar sounds can lead to extreme anxiety, and even fear, about the possibility of contracting a new COVID variant. 

I am not sure how this potential problem will impact productivity, but I am going to assume that it may lead to more sick leave days or mental health issues in the workplace. Employees have an expectation of safety in the workplace, and I am wondering what the cost to management will be if they are forced to make costly modifications to buildings' air circulation systems to provide employees with a level of security from future COVID variant breakouts? 

What is the new definition of normal work?

I am pretty sure that no one knows exactly what the future holds, but I have seen that there is more to life than just a grind at work. There is a balance that has tipped the advantage to the employee for the time being about how they earn an income.  In North America, corporate life has typically meant getting a 20-minute lunch break and trying to get a couple of coffees in between meetings.  I'm thinking that a September return to work will be more employee-centric, and involve more collaboration towards increased productivity.

The pandemic was a horrible thing that will have an impact on the global community for years to come, but it has also shown us that life is not always about how many hours we put in at the office, but how much work/life balance we can find with what we do.


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