COVID-19 and the Future of Work: Where Do We Go From Here?

As the old saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.” And boy, were they right. In the last few months, our entire world has been forced to face change head-on, whether we like it or not.

Aside from heightened health concerns and economic turmoil, COVID-19 has propelled the entire world into the biggest work-from-home (WFH) experiment we’ve ever seen. Oh, and business continuity and contingency planning? What better way to test your policies and plans than a real-life crash course?

This pandemic will be a defining moment for our generation. As we move forward, it will be crucial to reflect and figure out where we go from here – as businesses, and as individuals.

Looking back on our experiences so far, a few observations come to mind:

  • Extroverts talking to their animals, themselves, their plants, inanimate objects… just about anything.
  • Introverts feeling okay until they realize this is the SEVENTH time today Netflix confirmed that they are, indeed, still there.
  • The realization that the TV show Hoarders doesn’t seem so crazy anymore, and you find yourself slipping into daydreams about 48-packs of toilet paper and a lifetime supply of Clorox Wipes.
  • There are two extremes of quarantining – one side just learned a new language, renovated their kitchen, and scrubbed every baseboard in their home, while the other is throwing a virtual Zoom party to celebrate showering before noon…it’s the little things in life.
  • The surge in home-schooling has resulted in immense appreciation and respect for teachers, and a boom in wine and alcohol sales.

On a more serious note, though, this is an incredibly frightening time. Anxiety, uncertainty, and exhaustion surround us all, both personally and professionally. Companies were thrown into something totally unanticipated and unplanned for, and as we learn and grow we need to be asking ourselves: What does this mean for the future of work?  

So again, here are some of my observations but a little more serious this time:


Teleworking is not only about an individual employee working effectively, but entire interdepartmental workflows working effectively. Simply providing a plug-in for web conferencing is not enough. We will need to build frameworks that include technology to support IT, HR, Finance, Real Estate, and Operations seamlessly working together – anytime, anywhere. In support of this shift, we will most likely see investments in new technologies and a good hard look at how to best utilize existing technology.

The effects of COVID-19 be in the workplace

Will COVID-19 create a pendulum effect on our thoughts and behaviors? Over the last 5-10 years, tenants have increased their use of coworking and shared spaces while decreasing the average square footage per employee. Will we now see a demand for more space per person and more private workspaces? Ironically, social media and technology made us more anti-social than ever. After so much social distancing and isolation, will humanity crave more interaction and real conversation How will this impact real estate strategy?

How landlords will be affected during COVID-19

The concern for hygiene, sanitation, medical testing, and social distancing will not go away. Landlords and tenants will need to keep up with increased demands from employees, and we will most likely see new technologies and service providers emerge as a result.

Look and feel of the office once we return

By beefing up WFH capabilities, we will also need to be more intentional about our office and physical spaces. What role does the office serve? Although office space won’t technically be required to effectively get the job done, it will be required for social interaction, collaboration, providing a sense of community, and bolstering creativity. How can we adapt our strategy to best serve our workforce?

Being prepared before re-entering

  • Flexibility is key. While we may see increased square footage per person, the need to move quickly, and the demand for short term leases won’t go away. Companies will need to create strategies that combine traditional leases, coworking, flex space, and work from home policies.
  • Contingency planning will evolve so companies are considering the entire ecosystem of vendors and partners. Your success as a business depends on their success in delivering the goods and services you need to get the job done.
  • Companies will refocus energy on driving down costs and conserving capital. When dealing with unanticipated crises, cash flow is critical to a company’s survival. We will likely see this tie into a push toward more agile real estate footprints.

So there you have it, let’s touch base in another month to see how much has changed again. Until then, I’ll be talking to my plants and watching Netflix!

This article was written by Maggie McDermott Fernandez, the CORT Strategic Account Manager serving National Accounts, on April 7, 2020. Looking for ways to help your office evolve during COVID-19? Follow Maggie on LinkedIn for more tips on how CORT’s Furniture as a Service can be a solution in your workplace.