Tactical Applications on Returning to the Office After the Covid-19 Crisis

Return to Work

Insight from Applied Psychology and the pulse of Employees

By Cynthia Milota, Director of Workplace Strategy, Ware Malcomb; and Dr. Sally Augustin, Principal, Design With Science

As unprecedented disruption and change ripple across the business landscape due to the global Covid- 19 pandemic, what are the impacts on the future state of workplace? Corporate America sending their workforces home during the shelter in place orders has tested the limits of technology and social networks. Now that employees are improvising at home, settled in for an unknown time period, employers are contemplating whats next. There is much speculation on what the post Covid workplaces will look like, when and how employees will be asked to return, how workplaces will be operated, cleaned, managed and what new protocols will be instituted.

Covid-19 Tactical Applications on Returning to the Workplace

Employees will be returning to the office in phases, with increased safety protocols, for building entry to housekeeping. Transparent communications will continue. Social distancing may require modifying the capacity of workstation areas and conference rooms. Food service spaces will go pre-packaged cash-less, as health and safety underpin every decision.

Employee Behavior and Organizational Outcomes

It is the investigation of the human side of employees working from home during this Covid-19 crisis that particularly intrigued the Ware Malcomb Workplace Strategy team. Since people are a business most important asset, how are people adapting and coping in this massive forced social experiment?

Rather than speculate, we invited a dozen clients to explore how their employees are maintaining social connections, how employee engagement is fairing and implications for the return to the office. The Ware Malcomb Workplace Strategy team worked with environmental psychologist, Dr. Sally Augustin to conduct structured interviews with select clients. The goal was to examine human behaviors while working from home and to speculate on the implications of the data collected for the return to the workplace.

Grounded in applied psychology, this study explored the implications of the Work from Home period on employee behavior and organizational outcomes. The three fundamental human needs identified by self-determination theory include competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These needs were considered during the development of the research methodology and the analysis of data collected. Competence is being skilled at what one does, autonomy is being in control of ones actions, and relatedness is the feeling of social connectedness. Self-determination theory has been a linchpin of applied psychology for several decades, and successfully utilized in a variety of settings and contexts.

Prior to the Covid-19 event, working from home was ostensibly not allowed in 9 of the 11 organizations that were interviewed. Yet, during the shelter in place period approximately 89% of the employees from the organizations in our data set were working from home. While just nine were considered essential businesses, their corporate office staff was not working on the front lines or on the production lines and were therefore instructed to work from home.

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