Before COVID-19, the most severe pandemic in recent history was the 1918 influenza virus, often called “the Spanish Flu”. In the United States, a quarter of the population caught the virus, 675,000 died and life expectancy dropped by 12 years. With no vaccine to protect against the virus, people were urged to isolate, quarantine, practice good personal hygiene and limit social interaction. We bounce forward 102 years and find ourselves back battling all the same social issues. There have been over 8.7 million total cases and more than 225,000 total deaths in the United States.
On February 1, 2020, the City of Boston announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The disease quickly spread and by March, Massachusetts ranked 5th in the U.S. in COVID-19 cases, compelling Governor Baker on March 5th, to declare a state of emergency that made it mandatory for all non-essential workers to work remotely; it would remain in effect for the next 4 months.
The Work from Home Experiment
Due to COVID-19, the biggest remote working experiment ever is underway. Millions of people have been thrusted into an involuntary remote working trial. The stay at home directive made it mandatory for all non-essential workers to work remotely. Before the coronavirus pandemic, 17% of U.S. employees worked from home full time. Now, that number is up to 44% working full time and roughly 66% of employees are presently working remotely at least once per week (per PR Newswire). While some employees are enjoying the flexibility of remote work, many are finding the situation stressful and psychologically taxing. There is ample data supporting the downside of remote work:
In Massachusetts, over 2 million have filed for unemployment.
The drastic increase in job losses have employees stressed about losing their jobs. In response, employees have started working longer days, turning the normal 8-hour workday into more than 11 hours on average, which makes the U.S. average workday the longest in the World. (Per NordVPN)
LinkedIn’s latest survey shows that the blurred lines between work and home life have only become more complicated. It shows that 41% of professionals believe that working from home is hampering their personal growth despite putting in more effort.
People are not only working longer hours during the week, but during the weekend as well. For Example, Microsoft Team chats have seen an increase of over 200% on the weekends.
86% of office workers feel the need to prove to their superiors they deserve to keep their jobs by working longer days, per LinkedIn’s latest survey.
A Vocon survey in early September found that 40% of Business leaders have started to see decreases in productivity. Meanwhile, a quarter of them added that their employees were feeling exhausted working from home every day. That runs counter to what these leaders told Vocon early in the pandemic, when 56 percent in April rated productivity as “excellent.”
Google CFO, Ruth Porat, and Stanford Economist, Nicholas Bloom, both fear that limits in-office face time will lead to a slump in innovation if WFH becomes a permanent business model. They feel that the new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-term growth.
It had been speculated that the pandemic would give the corporate leadership an opportunity to develop a “successful” business model, where the majority of the workforce is productively working from home. Unfortunately, this is not proving to be the dream experience that many employees had anticipated. While some people are benefitting from working from home, the vast majority find it mentally taxing.
Employers should be concerned about the psychological toll of the pandemic. We’ve seen that lower job motivation and productivity accompanies lower mental health satisfaction during COVID.
Nick Bloom, a senior fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, who has researched the impact of homeworking on productivity, says “forcing everybody home, often around kids, in shared rooms or bedrooms and no escape socially in non-work time will be generating major mental stress”. “This typically leads to loneliness and depression,” he adds, “which is mentally costly and often leads to physical health declines too.”
(Per The Denver Post)
According the CDC’s report in June, more than 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse due to COVID-19. Even more alarming is that 31% of adults reported that they have had symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Roughly 1 in 3 Americans are drinking alcohol while working from home during the pandemic. Of the respondents, 36% of men and 26% of women said they’re drinking while on the clock. (Per Alcohol.org)
Isolation has prompted a rise in domestic violence cases. A charity helping those affected has reported a 700% rise in calls to its helpline in one day.
Distress calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have increased by 65%.
A survey done by the Institute for Employment Studies, found:
33% are not eating as healthy
60% are exercising less
64% have issues sleeping due to anxiety
Finally, the implications of Covid-19 have yet to be determined and will continue to disrupt our lives for the weeks and months to come. Nonetheless, employers are doing what they can to support their workers through this difficult time. The pandemic has led to high levels of employee anxiety and stress, so employers are making it easier for employees to get help across all aspects of the wellbeing spectrum.
What are companies and landlords doing to make employees feel safe?
While remote work is resulting in longer hours and worse mental state for many employees, they are also cautious about returning to an office setting. For those who want to return to an office but are unsure if it is safe, it’s worth highlighting the important changes landlords can take to optimize for health:
Technology improvements, such as the use of thermal cameras, facial and voice-activated systems, along with non-touch sinks and elevators to name a few.
Enhancing air quality and HVAC systems- ventilation is the most effective way to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so the focus is improving general ventilation through fresh air or mechanical systems.
Post-Covid Office Environment - Landlords and property managers are racing to address indoor air quality.
Improving air quality in the workplace is the # 1 goal. This includes installing humidity controls monitors, boosting the amount of outside air flowing into buildings and improving ventilation in high traffic areas such as bathrooms and cafeterias.
Adoption of technology that measures air quality, including airborne particle monitoring (waterborne droplets)
Retro-Commissioning: This method entails a full systematic evaluation of a building’s HVAC and other systems that can help identify different areas where the air quality can be improved
The biggest challenge ahead is communicating to tenants & businesses all of the new safety and hygiene rules that will be essential in assuring employees they are safe. The first step is developing a plan that maintains safety, rebuilds morale, and keeps employees’ comfort and well-being in mind, while determining how to make the office safe for them.
WRA View of Future
Webster Realty Advisors (WRA) believes that many companies will implement a new “hybrid” working business model to their workforce, made up of employees working both remote and in-office. According to consulting firm, Mercer, 73% of companies plan to implement a “Hybrid” office model when their workforce returns. A hybrid workforce will require a flexible work environment that can take on many different looks. This often includes office spaces designed around flexible work arrangements where employees come and go from the office based on preference and as project work dictates. It generally grants more autonomy to employees to fit work around the rest of their lives, rather than structuring other parts of a weekday around hours logged in an office. Ideally, it is the best of both worlds: structure and sociability on one hand, and independence and flexibility on the other.
According to a new Barclay’s analysis, less than 10% of Americans want to work remotely all the time.
82% of executives surveyed a plan to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time.
With ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, no one knows precisely what returning to work will look like post COVID-19. Some companies will remain fully remote, while others will return their entire staff to the office. Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm that specializes in remote work trends, predicts that 25–30% of U.S. employees will work from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021, up from 3.6% of employees who cited working from home multiple days per week prior to the health crisis. Consequently, the vast majority of organizations will use a Business Model that lies somewhere in between those two extremes.
While WFH was a global health necessity originally, as companies plan for life post-pandemic a full-time work from home model is simply not sustainable for many companies. Employee morale, productivity, mental health, etc. are all glaring problems that are now coming to the forefront. We think it is safe to say, employees are excited to be able to get back to the office and have more structure in their lives.
For the vast majority, the coronavirus has proved to be the most significant and, quite possibly, the most traumatic worldwide experience in our lifetime. There is no doubt that it will have a significant impact on us as individuals, as a society and as a workforce. Although it may be hard to envision at this time, the coronavirus pandemic will end, and there will be a new normal for what work looks like. Our hope is that following this hardship companies, landlords and employees will have situations that are better suited for collaboration, work-life integration, and well-being.