The current pandemic created new ways of working. And as Ergonomics Consultants, we want to optimize how people are working—no matter where they work. Today, I’m going to walk you through the latest research release from the World Economic Forum about returning to work post-pandemic. We’re starting by looking at the statistics of whether employees are looking forward to returning to the office or if they'd rather just stay at home. We're also going to look at the differences amongst people (i.e. employees with young children) with how productive they've felt over the last year. Lastly, I’m going to share what these trends mean to us as Ergonomics Consultants and how we can leverage local data to develop a "Business Case" for our services.

The Future of Work

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WEF brings together its membership of political and business leaders on a yearly basis to discuss major issues concerning the world political economy. They recently published an article that discusses some emerging trends with working from the office, working from home, and working from hybrid places. It’s a very insightful article, and it sheds some light on the changing work environment that’s happening right now. 

As Ergonomic Consultants, it's very important to stay informed about these trends because we’re the firsthand information for many employers about how to set up an ergonomically optimized workspace, how to work best, and how to prevent work-related injuries. What I’m going to be talking about below falls into the realm of proactive ergonomics. You can use this valuable information and share with your clients what the experts are saying about the future of work and where they should focus their resources. 

As the pandemic eases, many companies started to set up their plans for returning employees to their workplaces. One thing that I noticed following the return-to-the-office announcements is that employers realized that some workers were reluctant to go back to their workplace. This is because worker priorities have evolved over the past year. An Ipsos survey for the WEF among 12,500 workers in 29 countries shows that most employed people want to retain flexible working set-up after the pandemic has passed. So how do we help employers manage that?

The Trends

There have been a number of predictions about the effects of working from home. Several experts have warned that remote employees would miss their co-workers, be less productive, and become burned out. However, the survey shows only little support for these views. Interestingly, only half of those questioned in the survey were missing their colleagues, 64% said they were more productive with a flexible work schedule, and only a third complained of burnout. 

Flexible working

Even prior to the pandemic, the workforce valued flexibility and had already started to make a gradual change in the way we work. Looking at the statistics, it seems that the pandemic has greatly accelerated this shift. Since many people had a positive experience working away from the office over the past year, a majority (66%) said employers should give employees the option to keep a flexible work schedule in the future. According to the survey in the article, support for more flexibility was strongest among women, parents of school age children, adults under 35, and those with higher levels of education and income. 

This shift in favor towards more flexible work is due to the fact that it provides key benefits for the employers, including better work-life balance, greater schedule control, and not having those distractions that you would typically have in the office. For many occupations out there, it's not a matter of clocking in for a 9-to-5 work shift. Rather, it's far more important to have the results and impact of that day. With a flexible working schedule, you can choose to schedule specific hours in a day for deep work according to your situation. For instance, if you know that you can do your best deep work in the mid-afternoon, then you can change your schedule accordingly. It’s also interesting to point out that the percentage of those who want more flexible work was roughly the same as those people with children aged under 17 (68%) and those with no children (63%).

Working nine-to-five in the office

There are many enhancements to remote working that no one predicted, whether it has to do with commuting, productivity, or the ability to do deep work without distraction. While working from home has its advantages, the research shows that a quarter of people reported a desire to return to work in the office five days a week as soon as the pandemic is over. According to the survey, it has the strongest support in countries like Mexico (40%), Peru (37%), United States (34%), and Canada (22%). These numbers tell us one important thing: while remote work is here to stay, physical workplaces offer irreplaceable value to workers. 

Build a “Business Case” for Your Ergonomic Services

For both employees and employers managing the shift from office to remote work, there's been this idea that remote working is only going to last for a short time, and they’ll be back in the office eventually. However, the research is saying that remote working has had a positive impact on employee satisfaction and productivity. This means that we need to start paying close attention to how people are getting their work done from home. There’s a huge opportunity for us here. Providing workers with a comfortable setup to work from home is vital for productivity. Working without the right equipment can easily result in aches and pains and might eventually lead to a workers’ compensation claim. Although the article didn't get into the types of equipment people are using from home or the causes of workers’ compensation claims, based on my background and experience, it really is just a matter of time before an injury happens. 

I encourage you to reach out to the information officers for Workers’ Compensation Boards in your area and ask what are the trends with working from home, if they notice more claims coming in, and how has it impacted your community at large. It's important to do our own due diligence because it will help us build a case as to why employers should be looking at enhancing how their employees are working from home. If we know that there's an increase of aches, discomfort, and injury from remote working, we can recommend suitable equipment for them or help set themselves up correctly.

In Conclusion

There you have it! The current trends in the world of work already provide interesting insight into how the future of work will operate.  The research says that remote work is here to stay. As ergonomic professionals, it's our role to limit the risk factors that remote workers are exposed to. I highly encourage you to start building up the statistics and cases, so you’ll have a better understanding of how to best help remote employees improve their work setup, enhance their productivity, as well as limit the costs of those companies. Once you have this information, share it with your clients. 

If you're looking to add ergonomics to your expertise, the Accelerate program has that collaboration opportunity and community to support. On top of that, the Accelerate offers monthly curated literature reviews so you can stay up to date with the latest trends and where the industry is going. If you are interested to see articles like this, the Accelerate program could work for you, sign up to the waitlist here.


Referenced Articles: 

Home or office? Survey shows opinions about work after COVID-19
What is a ‘third space’ venue - and could it be the future of hybrid working?

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