With Covid-19 infections falling considerably in most parts of Asia, more countries are exploring reopening their economies. Thailand, for example, last week recorded single-digit daily increases and even one day of no cases, prompting authorities to allow the long-awaited reopening of shopping malls and other activities, albeit with some restrictions.
Vietnam, far and away the best performer in Asean, has logged no new local infections for nearly 30 days and no deaths. It has essentially lifted all restrictions aimed at containing Covid-19, while allowing millions of children to return to school after a three-month virus break.
But as businesses start rolling out back-to-work strategies, telling all staff to come to the office does not seem a good idea, especially when remote working has proved to be quite successful. Some employees are still nervous about returning to work in the middle of a pandemic.
For some companies, keeping more people working from home may suit them while they redesign their office spaces to cater to social distancing guidelines until experts agree it's safe to go back to work.
Not all managers and executives might find this new normal pattern 100% optimal, but business have been running smoothly and without disruption for the most part. This is vital in order to reduce the health risk to everyone.
This is not just my opinion; many experts share the same view. Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester, suggested business leaders need to decide who they absolutely must have in the office. "You bring people back in shifts, you stagger it. You certainly don't bring everybody together," he said.
A survey by Glassdoor, a forum where employees review employers, showed that 67% of respondents would support a decision by their employer to mandate that they "work from home indefinitely".
Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) believes that even after the virus is finally corralled, many workers won't be returning to the office. "Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021," said GWA president Kate Lister.
Some leading tech companies have made the move to put staff safety first. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last week told employees that they'd be allowed to work from home permanently, even after the lockdown passes. Some jobs that require a physical presence, such as maintaining servers, will still require employees to come in.
"If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen," Jennifer Christie, Twitter's vice-president of people, was quoted as saying by CNN Business. "If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it's safe to return."
A growing number of Silicon Valley companies, once known for lavish office perks and sprawling campuses, now appear to be competing against one another to offer the longest timeline for telecommuting.
Facebook and Google also told their staff to continue to work from home through the end of the year while Amazon is allowing employees to work from home until at least early October. Zillow, the online real-estate company, said its people could work from home until 2021. Sagicor, a major Caribbean insurance provider, said the same.
One of the biggest perceived impediments to remote work is a lack of trust. Some managers simply don't trust their people to work untethered. They are used to seeing them sitting in the office, rather than judging them on the results of their work. That's not good managing. Just seeing the back of someone's head does not tell a manager that a person is actually working.
And while Covid-19 has created a more positive view of remote working, both staff and managers have to uplift their skills, maintain productivity, and get accustomed to virtual meetings. While system security cannot be compromised, ways of working can be adjusted for the majority of employees who can perform their jobs from home if they choose to do so.
This is an evolving situation and entails creating a constructive work philosophy so that employees and their families can make important decisions about returning to work safely.
After the pandemic is finally over, work may never be the same. Working from home may go from being an exception, as more people and their bosses discover that they really can thrive that way.