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In a world turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas small businesses are finding their way towards a workplace “new normal” as the coronavirus crisis nears two years.

And whether it is a return to office, work from home (WFH), or hybrid model that combines in-person and remote work, one thing for certain is that there is no going “back to normal”.

“Too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. To me, the problematic word is “back.” There is no going back to pre-COVID times. There is only forward—to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design,” said Amy C Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School.

Information management company Iron Mountain says that like it or not, small business workplaces have been fundamentally transformed by the pandemic.

“You can expect working from home, social distancing in public, and less sharing of office space to continue for the foreseeable future,” says Iron Mountain. “Rather than try to fight it, be prepared to seize the benefits for your small business.”

Texas Leads the Nation in Returning to Workplaces

Texas small businesses are at the forefront of defining the workplace “new normal” as the Lonestar State leads the nation in employees returning to office spaces.

Kastle Back to Work Barometer Weekly Occupancy Report shows a 37.8 percent office occupancy across 10 major U.S. cities, but that rate is highest in Texas for the week ending November 3:

  • Austin metro 52.0 percent
  • Houston metro 51.4 percent
  • Dallas metro 48.5 percent
  • Philadelphia metro 36.6 percent
  • Los Angeles metro 34.3 percent
  • New York metro 33.9 percent
  • Chicago metro 33.8 percent
  • Washington D.C. metro 33.4 percent
  • San Jose metro 28.2 percent
  • San Francisco metro 25.8 percent

Keep in mind that occupancies for all those metro areas in early March 2020 were near 100 percent, but workers are certainly trickling back to work.

“So for sure, the tendency over the remaining part of this year, and next year will be for people to come back to their physical place of work, at least part of the time,” Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said in a virtual town hall meeting held in August. “But it seems in your certainty that there will be substantially more remote work going forward. So that’s going to change the nature of work and the way work gets done, it’s going to change the nature of the workplace, because how often will people be in the workplace and how’s it going to affect different groups of people.”

WFH is Not a Panacea for Post-COVID Workplace

For some the WFH phenomenon happened overnight as Iron Mountain says that before the pandemic lockdowns, 44 percent of employers did not even have work-from-home policies in place.

For the benefits that WFH has offered, it is not a panacea for all post-COVID workplaces and there have been negative effects.

“But while I’m an optimist, I’m also a realist, and believe that both employees and managers should reconsider whether a permanent move to remote work is such a good idea. It risks taking us from the coronavirus pandemic to a loneliness pandemic, with potentially terrible costs,” says Arthur C. Brooks, William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Brooks cites research and studies that show an increase in loneliness in WFH environments that can lead to:

  • Employee burnout
  • Employee turnover
  • Employee disengagement

“While not apparent yet, a permanent work-from-home model may well start a slow-rolling mental health crisis in the American workforce and a resulting HR nightmare. What might look like improvement in convenience and efficiency right now may prove in the end to be a Faustian bargain for managers and employees,” says Brooks.

Still, WFH must be considered as Cisco’s survey of more than 600 small businesses across a diverse set of geographies and industries including retail, finance, healthcare, and professional services found that:

  • Almost 85 percent of small businesses we surveyed reported plans to adopt a “work from anywhere” policy. This trend aligns to the move toward the general hybrid workplace among all businesses, and it’s clear that small businesses certainly plan to be at the forefront.

Hybrid Models, Flexibility Will be Key Going Forward

Flexibility and hybrid work models that combine both in-office collaboration and remote work will be key for many small Texas businesses going forward.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that “flexible work arrangements” are among some trends that are here to stay.

“Flex work—broadly defined as any departure from the standard nine-to-five office routine—encompasses everything from remote work to flexible hours to job sharing,” says the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “In a tight labor market, offering flexible schedules can result in better hires and happier employees. According to ManpowerGroup Solutions, 40 percent of all applicants’ rate job flexibility near the top of their wish lists.”

Prithwiraj Choudhury, Lumry Family Associate Professor at the Harvard Business School agrees that “while adoption of work-from-anywhere in all-remote organizations is likely to increase, as the pandemic winds down, it is likely that hybrid remote arrangements will become the norm at workplaces globally.”

Hybrid work models can also offer small businesses the flexibility of utilizing contract workers and outsourcing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says small businesses and workers alike can take advantage of the “gig economy”.

“Gigs allow workers to supplement existing work or to earn a paycheck while searching for a full-time position. It gives businesses more flexibility to scale their workforce as needed. And, at least in theory, skilled workers can name their own price,” says the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For the in-office return, there will also be changes with Iron Mountain saying the “new normal” could look like the old office with shared spaces in vogue in recent years returning to spaced out work areas to take social distancing into account.

Contact Employer Flexible today to learn how we can help manage your HR needs and reap the benefits of the “new normal.”


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