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Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?

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Gray haired man working from home
Image: goodluz -
We’ve reached the point in the pandemic response period where those of us fortunate enough to have work we can do at home, a secure home to do it in, and health for ourselves and our loved ones, are asking the question: When? When can we come out? Are we there yet?
The research and polling firm Morning Consult recently asked U.S. adults when they expect to be able to resume certain activities, and when they’d personally feel comfortable doing so. As you’ll see at the link, the common thread among all activities is that people’s comfort level with resuming things like restaurant visits and trips to the gym exceeds their expectations of when they’ll actually be able to do them. Which shows an admirable restraint and self-awareness: People realize that while they’re eager to resume their normal lives, this may not be possible as quickly as they’d like.
The poll was taken April 6-9, and when you look at what respondents said about how comfortable they are in doing things within one month’s time—i.e., by early May—you can see how far we have to go. Just 9% of people surveyed said they’d be comfortable going to a restaurant within a month; just 8% would be comfortable going to a shopping mall; and 6% would be comfortable going to a party or social event. For each of the 14 activities surveyed, at least 20% said it would be more than six months before they’d feel comfortable taking part.
Though Morning Consult didn’t ask specifically about going back to work in an office, it’s hard to imagine there’d be any more enthusiasm for showing up at a workplace, among those who have been able to telecommute. That means IT, Facilities/Real Estate, and HR professionals have a window of time to re-adjust their strategies and best practices, and to gauge how durable the transition to remote work really will be.
For IT, the mandate is likely to be one of “hardening” remote access—surveying how the newly-remote workers are connecting, and where the security gaps are likely to be. Presumably the enterprise already had a VPN or other network-layer security in place, so the focus will be on raising awareness about social engineering attacks and making sure that physical access devices in workers’ homes are secure.
For Real Estate/Facilities, the popularity and cost-effectiveness of work-at-home is likely to cause real disruption. Offices won’t be at all appealing if employees don’t feel assured that they’ll be safe and healthy going there every day. So retrofitting is the immediate challenge, and justifying each office’s existence (or figuring out how to close offices down) will be the next hurdle.
HR of course will have its hands full overseeing the human elements of work-from-home, and shepherding employees’ transition back into the office, if and when that occurs.
Various jurisdictions are weighing their plans for coming out of lockdown, but it seems that, however antsy people may be feeling at home, the vast majority still appreciate the need to stay put for awhile longer. This interim period needs to be a busy time for workplace leaders. The one thing they can’t afford is to assume things will pick up where they left off. That old world is gone for good.