Work from home is here to stay after coronavirus

FIS Risk Director Greg Montana


We asked experts in various fields for their best predictions on what the world will look like when the coronavirus pandemic finally recedes. In this segment of our series, “The next normal” we examine what happens when office life reopens and what becomes of working at a distance.

While President Trump is pushing states to allow companies to reopen, tech, financial services, insurance and other industries that can operate successfully on the Internet choose to keep their employees at home.

Long journeys have been replaced by heavy use of Zoom, and workers in big cities are in no rush to sit on crowded subways and buses during rush hour.

Business leaders wait for a reliable combination of mass testing, therapy, contact tracing, and possibly even a vaccine, before considering it a worthwhile risk of sending employees back to the traditional workplace. Another consideration is childcare, and with schools closed across much of the country and summer camps unlikely to go as planned, children are likely to be at home during the day at least. for the next few months.

Facebook said last week that most of its employees will be allowed to work from home until the end of 2020. Google’s parent company Alphabet plans to open offices for up to 15% of workers as early as June , but the majority of people who can work from home will continue to do so, perhaps until the end of the year.

“We are going to see it come back more slowly than you expected,” said Liz Fealy, who heads the global workforce advisory group for consulting firm EY. “Especially in organizations where people think that employees can be just as productive at home.”

A spread back

Fealy said she hears companies talk about different ways to start firing employees when they think it’s safe.

A general theme is a staggered return, with people coming to the office in waves according to individual risk levels, and increasing in number as contact tracing improves.

Another approach could be to “group employees into teams”, so if there is an infection, it is easier to identify who is most at risk and should be quarantined. Businesses are already looking to use phone contact tracing to help track nearby workers at the office, and then use this information to notify workers who may have been exposed and ask them to self-quarantine .

In the 198 global offices of Fidelity National Information Services, a financial technology company, approximately 95% of employees work from home. Risk manager Greg Montana doesn’t see it going on forever, but says there is no going back to the pre-coronavirus era of crowded buildings.

Since moving to Jacksonville, Florida, Montana has told CNBC that the first phase of a return to the office will be for employees who can’t wait to return, either because they feel isolated in their current confines and yearn for human contact, either because they find it hard to be productive. Even this small initial wave shouldn’t start until the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth, Montana said.

“We are really focused on the health and well-being of our employees,” said Montana, who is part of a 40-person crisis management team that meets twice a week to work on the reintegration plan. of the company.

Montana said the FIS wants to make sure employees get temperature controls, masks are readily available, and deep cleaning processes are in place for meeting rooms. The company is also implementing travel procedures so that employees can go to a website, type in the desired destination, and determine if it is advisable to take the trip.

In the meantime, the company has issued virtual private network licenses to employees so that they can access the network remotely and offer wireless access points to those who do not have a reliable home Wi-Fi connection. .

“If you can be productive at home, we want to provide you with what you need to be productive,” said Montana.

Employees of the Rubbermaid factory

Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

At consumer product giant Newell Brands, the parent company of Sharpie, Coleman, Rubbermaid and Crock-Pot, Samantha Charleston leads the Return to Work task force.

Charleston, vice president of human resources, told CNBC by email that she was working with local leaders in each of Newell’s regions to determine how and when to begin the return process, taking into account government recommendations, to office readiness and employee contributions gathered weekly. investigations.

Like the FIS, Newell just takes his time, as the Covid-19 escapes continue to emerge in various parts of the United States.

“Right now, Newell Brands is continuing our remote work structure for the majority of the office population,” wrote Charleston. “The repatriation process to the office will be slow to ensure that we take all security considerations on behalf of our employees.”

Remote tools explode

Experts say that even when the coronavirus is in the rear view mirror, many of us will continue to work from home.

Now that so many companies have been forced to operate remotely and adopt technologies that allow remote collaboration, they have already made the necessary investments and they know they can save money on them. office and property costs. According to Global analysis of the workplace, employers can save $ 11,000 a year for each employee who works remotely half the time.

In addition to Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams, products like Figma design software and the Guru knowledge sharing tool have seen growth accelerate as companies build a suite of work at home products. Alex Konanykhin said that his business, TransparentBusiness, which helps customers securely manage staff remotely, has seen an 800% increase in subscriptions since March 1.

Some companies also pay for remote mental health services and online learning sites for employees. And they have seen positive results.

“In some cases, productivity has accelerated,” said Charleston. “One advantage of the new situation is that it has given employees an outlet to try new things, think differently, share ideas and find solutions.”

Chris Bedi, chief information officer, computer automation software provider ServiceNow, says the terms remote work and homework will disappear.

“There is only work, and it is work from anywhere,” Bedi said in an interview last week.

Bedi said the talent war will also change fundamentally, as employers will quickly realize that they can start hiring anywhere and attract a new set of prospects. And even if there is a level of fatigue linked to the zoom that is installed from non-stop video calls, the travel market is forever changed, he predicts.

“The concept of getting on a plane for six hours for a two hour meeting and being jet lagged, people are going to go – why?” Said Bedi.

“Zero pressure”

Jeff Snyder, the founder of Inspira Marketing Group, said his company has approved the purchase of external monitors so that the 90 office workers can easily be operational at home. Inspira has more than 300 additional employees working in the field and doing event-based marketing, a business he says has been “crushed”.

Snyder said his human resources team has been actively reconfiguring the Connecticut, New York and Chicago offices to allow for social distancing and limit the number of people who can be present at a time when they start coming back. The company also ordered 10,000 masks.

Despite all the safety measures available, Snyder does not expect many employees to rush out the door at their first opportunity.

“We know it’s not a light switch where suddenly it’s the game,” he said. “There will be no pressure to force people back.”

WATCH: Finding a way out of the coronavirus crisis

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