Are you killing your firm’s WFH productivity?

Are you killing your firm’s WFH productivity?

WFH during COVID did result in the falling of productivity that many feared. Surveys showed that productivity remained the same and, in some cases, increased. However, a new study of more than 10,000 employees at an Asian technology company from April 2019 to August 2020 provides a different picture. Using software installed on employees’ computers that tracked what the employee was doing, the research confirmed that the employees worked hard. Total hours worked were 30% higher than pre-COVID, including an 18% increase in working outside regular hours. But this additional effort failed to translate into an increase in output. 

This research confirms early survey evidence where both employers and employees felt they were producing as much as before. However, the correct measure of productivity is output per working hour, not hours worked. Using this measure of productivity, productivity fell by 20%.

The research further analyzed the time the employees spent in:

  • “collaboration hours,” time spent in various types of meetings, and
  • “focus hours,” time where they could concentrate on their tasks and weren’t interrupted, even by email. 

The data showed that despite working additional hours, the employees had less focus time than before the pandemic as meetings consumed the extra time. The study supports Bartleby’s law which states that “80% of the time of 80% of the people in meetings is wasted.”

Why were there so many meetings?

  1. Managers can check on their team’s performance as they are less sure of the team’s commitment.
  2. Managers call many to validate their existence when they are not in the office. 
  3. The increased difficulty of co-ordinating employees who are working remotely. 

The latter suggests that WFM is inefficient, not to mention that remote employees also spend less time being evaluated, trained, and coached.

So, while workers saved commuting time, they didn’t hourly pay fell. However, WFH did not impact all employees similarly.

  • Those who the longest tenure with the company were the most productive, suggesting they could use well-formed relationships to work more effectively. Simon Sinek explained this in a recent video
  • Employees with children worked around 20 minutes a day more than those without, implying an even more significant fall in their productivity, presumably because they were distracted by child-care duties.

The researchers point out that the firm’s staff are nearly all college-educated whose roles “involve significant cognitive work, developing new software or hardware applications or solutions, collaborating with teams of professionals, working with clients, and engaging in innovation and continuous improvement.” The impact on other types of employees could be very different.

WFH expectedly resulted in teething and coordination problems as it was imposed suddenly. However, since the study stopped last August, there is a question of whether employee productivity has increased since. Most important from the research is that employees achieved the same output with slightly less ‘focus time’ than at the office. The real culprit of inefficiency was the time spent in meetings. 

Conclusion

So, to increase your firm’s productivity, don’t have as many meetings and keep them short. Ensure that the behaviors you accept and expect as part of your firm’s culture are not encouraging non-productive meetings. Also, with a move for more WFH, start building behaviors that will encourage meeting efficiency. Finally, there are a number of ways to improve meeting productivity as I mentioned in Not Another **** Meeting.

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Working From Home – What Have We Learned?

Working From Home – What Have We Learned?

Well, we have been working from home now for nearly five months and probably will continue to do so for another year.

So what is the verdict? 

 

The Good News

Many leaders anticipated that employee performance would significantly deteriorate. Given that numerous studies over the years had shown that falls in productivity accompanied a significant change, their expectations were not unfounded. However, a Harvard Business School survey indicated that workers adjusted to working virtually far quicker than expected. In many cases, workers felt they were as productive as they were before. According to one employee, “I’m able to get everything accomplished just like before, and I think everyone else is finding they can too.” This quick return to productivity is remarkable.

Not to say the changes didn’t cause problems. Job satisfaction and engagement fell sharply after two weeks of working virtually. However, by the end of the second month, both measures had recovered dramatically. As another employee put it, “It took some time to get used to it and for things to go right. It was a learning process.”

The improvements in satisfaction and engagement resulted from organizations finding the right balance between meeting and work time. There were issues with too many virtual meetings, leaving no time to do the actual work. Also, people had to get comfortable with communicating over Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc. 

 

Work-Life Balance

The biggest issue was figuring out how to manage work-life balance, basically turning off work at home. According to research, managers who cannot “see” their direct reports often struggle to trust that their employees are working. With such doubts, managers sometimes start to develop the unreasonable expectations that team members be available at all times, ultimately disrupting their work-home balance and causing more job stress.

Data provided by Humanyze from email, chat, and calendar systems across a global technology company supported the HBR survey results. The data revealed that the workday significantly increased at the beginning of all-virtual work. Immediately after the lockdown began, about 50% of employees could maintain at workday of 10 hours or less, compared to 80% pre-COVID. While workday time has started to trend back to pre-lockdown levels, workdays are still 10% to 20% longer on average.

Furthermore, since all-virtual work began, employee stress, negative emotions, and task-related conflict have all been steadily falling; each is down at least 10%. Also, employees have experienced an approximately 10% improvement in self-efficacy and their capacity to pay attention to their work. Employees now say they are “falling into a consistent routine,” “forming a pattern [of work time and breaks] with my coworkers,” and “learning what makes me the most productive and how I can best manage my time and energy.”

From CEOs down, many saw benefits from working from home, including a reduction in travel. One CEO hoped that this had put an end to the ‘fly across the country for a one-hour meeting’ expectation forever.” Overall employees reported that they had:

  • More focus time
  • Shorter meetings
  • More flexible time with family; and
  • No loss over missing the daily commute.

 

Challenges for Managers

While the research has shown an increase in the workday and performance returning or above pre lockdown levels, not all management attitudes reflect this. Different HBR research suggested that of managers:

  • 56% are not confident in their ability to manage remotely. Their beliefs about remote employees’ performance reflect their lack of confidence in their ability to manage their reports.
  • 60% agreed or were uncertain that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work in an office. 
  • 58% questioned whether remote workers could remain motivated over time.

The research further shows that:

  • Men are more likely to have negative attitudes to remote working and mistrust their own employees’ competence.
  • Those in non-managerial/non-professional roles had lower self-efficacy for managing remote workers, more negative attitudes, and greater mistrust. 
  • Younger managers are more likely to lack self-efficacy for leading remote workers.

With COVID, many employees are facing increased stress, especially for those with compromised finances or families requiring care. Thus some are struggling to perform at their pre lockdown levels. The concern is that this will create a negative feedback loop in which manager mistrust leads to micromanagement, which then leads to drops in employee motivation, further impairing productivity.

Therefore, managers at all levels need support and training, so that management quality will improve, which will improve remote workers’ wellbeing and performance. This support for managers must be a critical focus of senior leadership if employee performance is to remain high as companies move forward with possibly another year of work from home. 

 

What Else Could Go Wrong

With Google now saying that employees can remain virtual till summer 2021 and others following suit, should we all go virtual were we can?

A key issue with a virtual workforce is the loss of unplanned interactions that lead to significant outcomes. In physical offices, people who don’t usually work with each other to connect accidentally, and that interaction sparks new ideas. While the HBR study found employees increased their communication with close collaborators by 40%, contact with other colleagues fell by 10%. Also there less schmoozing and small talk among virtual workers, which has shown to lead to lower levels of trust.

In addition to a lack of spontaneity, three other issues face organizations in a virtual world that undermine organizational health.

Onboarding new employees
Research has shown that great onboarding involves two sets of activities:

  • Exposing new employees to “how things are done around here” by indoctrinating them into the company’s vision, history, processes, and culture; and
  • Allowing them to apply their signature strengths and express their genuine selves.

While the first has been adapted relatively well to a virtual world, the second is much harder. To achieve the second requires numerous in-depth interactions, and existing employees are accustomed to having those in person.

Weak Ties
These are the shallow or peripheral relationships among members of an organization who don’t work closely with each other but have nonetheless connected over time. Weak ties play an important role in organizational performance, including innovation, raising or maintaining product and service quality, and attaining project milestones. If people cannot interact face to face and just connecting through Zoom and document sharing, weak ties are under threat.

Fostering relationships
It is hard to foster relationships in a virtual environment outside your direct team. Furthermore, with everyone working from home, companies are finding more-limited value in rotational programs, cohort-based training programs, or even cross-functional staffing assignments. While the return from such programs is hard to identify at present, it is an investment that has a significant ROI in the long term. Long-term relationships that once sprang from such shared experiences are undoubtedly at risk and weaken the organization. 

 

What Happens as Some Return

A possible reason identified for the continued performance of virtual employees is that everyone experienced simultaneously, while in prior studies, only some had been working from home. If this is right, then the problem may return when office work resumes.

Presently, those who have returned to the office are a minority, comprising those who find it most challenging to work at home. However, as more people go back to the office for various reasons, those who remain at home may start to feel isolated, affecting performance.

A key reason for employees to return is paranoia. The pandemic has helped managers identity those who are indispensable and who are not. For those deemed non-indispensable, there is the concern that lack of sight will result in termination or offers of early retirement. As more people reason the same way, the pressures to return will grow. Once those back at work reaches a critical mass, the rest may be obliged to follow suit.

For the moment, it is waiting and see.

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A Coming Fall in Productivity

A Coming Fall in Productivity

Due to the move to Work from Home, which began in China on January 23, in Italy on March 9, much of Europe by March 15, and the US, with California, on March 16. By the end of March, 77% of work was performed remotely in North America, the most significant amount of any continent.

Aternity, through its Global Remote Work Productivity Tracker, has analyzed data to determine if employees have become more productive Working from Home. Overall North American productivity increased 23%; however that this was due to Canada. The United States experienced a 7.2% decrease in productivity.

However, while productivity has fallen, what I am hearing from clients and colleagues is that they are working harder and longer than ever before. These stories are not just hearsay. According to data from NordVPN, U.S. homebound employees are logging three hours more per day on the job than before the city and state-wide lockdown. As a result, we are working longer and are less productive. That is because we are overworked, stressed.

While companies sent employees home, the companies had not prepared for employees working from home. The employees did not have the tools they needed, e.g., workspace, VPN access, Internet bandwidth, let alone employees having the space, lack of distractions, and stress to perform. Lines of responsibility got confused. Many leaders did not rise to the occasion, and many who were previously not considered leaders, did, further confusing the traditional environment. Many situations did not have solutions that prior experience provided, increasing confusion. Finally, many companies didn’t have an appropriate culture and were not checking in to see how employees were doing personally and what they needed to succeed.

The bosses at the Canadian federal agency Parks Canada put it succinctly in a Tweet. The Tweet had an accompanying set of principles for working remotely under Covid-19, namely:

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your personal physical, mental, and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. You will kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Your team’s success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

Enough companies have not articulated these principals.

At the beginning of the crisis, the adrenalin rush energized many. As an HBR article noted, a CEO said that the crisis allowed unusual freedom of movement, both strategically and as a leader. The relief from budget constraints, the suspension of market expectations, and the welcome escape from the conformity of the daily routine all contributed to his unexpected reaction to working during the pandemic. However, the adrenaline-fueled pace of the initial crisis response spluttered. Problems were more complicated and exhausting. The glory faded. Fuses were short.

As Jay Forte recently said to my Vistage Groups, ask yourself about your leadership approach, and your employees about your response that affected engagement and retention:

  • What Worked?

  • What Didn’t Work?

I expect many of us would learn a lot from this that could lead to improved performance.

As we open up and people return to work, I expect we will see a further fall in productivity. Some business leaders are pushing for a return to the office because they believe productivity will increase; it may result in the long term, but not immediately. Many have been working long hours under lots of stress, not just work stress, and the pace is unsustainable. Were are entering a “Regression Phase” where people get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things like eat or drink — or they eat and drink too much. Even with opening up, many of the stresses will not disappear, and the regression phase will continue. Many people are depressed and not even aware of it. Robert Klitzman, at Columbia University, estimates that about 50 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing depressive symptoms. If CEOs and business leaders don’t start paying attention to the condition of their employees, productivity will fall even further.

One client informed me that they are now encouraging employees to be furloughed for a week or two just to turn off and relax. By being furlough, they still get insurance benefits, can claim unemployment, including the federal government’s $600 weekly payment, and have not used up vacation days. Cisco has realized the issue and gave its 75,000 employees the day off on Friday to recharge over a now four day weekend.

Also, when everyone is back, look at:

  • Disrupting the team, change players, reassign roles. I have often reorganized my office and home because a reorganization makes it feel new. Disrupting the team does the same thing and provides new energy.

  • Calibrate your team’s emotions. Understand where they are concerning “safety,” “stress,” and “family pressure.”

  • Aim for the future. Think about where you are going to provide a new purpose more than just surviving.

Therefore, it up to CEOs and business leaders to look at their workforce and determine what is working, what isn’t, and how to recharge them and reduce their stress. Empathy is the greatest tool you have in your toolbox, and use effectively will lead to much much more significant results. As I have said before, how you behave during this period will define your organization for the next decade. That will affect who you can recruit and retain. So remember the moral of the tortoise and hare, “you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly.”

Copyright (c) 2020. Marc A. Borrelli

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As the Federal Government has gone effectively AWOL, it is up to the States to determine when to open the economy and start letting people go back to work due to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, most States are going their ways, as described by FastCompany and Wired. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that employers need to have specific plans in place for how to return workers to the office or shop floor safely. Gottlieb suggested, “In an office, you could split your employees — have half of them work at home, half of them come into the office on alternating days. . . . You should continue to encourage telework where you can.”

Even as things open up, many are following Gottlieb’s advice and teleworking. Amol Sarva, CEO Knotel, says that Uber is planning to get its staff back to their offices in San Francisco, but only 20 percent of personnel allowed in the building on a given day. Google and other large tech companies have announced that their workers should prepare to work remotely through the Fall and possibly the end of the year. But the office won’t disappear, it is here to stay as many challenges come with working from home, and people are social creatures.

 

Working from Home

However, regardless of the States opening up, many employees will not return to the office, or at least not full time. According to an MIT report of Americans who previously commuted to work, 34 percent were working from home by the first week of April. Before lockdown, only 4 percent were working from home. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that 30 percent of people will work from home multiple days per week within a couple of years.

According to Travis Vance, at Fisher Phillips, “I think some people may never want to go back to an office setting.” Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, told Recode, “[Remote work] had been proven before this, but a lot of company management and leaders showed great skepticism . . . That skepticism will go away because companies recognize that remote work does work.”

With employees working from home, it was quickly apparent was that the better-prepared companies were those whose employees had already worked from home. Data shows that the most frequent employee expenses in the first half of March were computer monitors, desks, office supplies, mice, and keyboards — a departure from the norm.  According to a recent PWC study, about half of businesses expect productivity to fall during the pandemic due to a lack of remote work capabilities. Also, more formalization and company policies around remote work are necessary for the shift to be successful.

Many employees are finding that their home environments are not well suited to work, and so are spending money to create better home offices. Katie Storey, principal at Storey Design, says “there’s now a real focus on where can we convert a closet or add a room under the steps or where can we reconfigure parts of the house to be more functional work-from-home space.”

 

Initially On Return

Companies are going to have to implement systems that make workers feel safe before they will return. Many companies will adopt quick changes that have limited costs, like:

  • Providing face masks and deeper office cleaning;

  • Adding foot-pulls to the bottom of doors for hands-free access;

  • Developing hand signs or space markers for co-workers to remind others to keep their distance;

  • Seating may be roped off or removed from conference rooms to cut occupancy in half.

  • Doors may be taken off hinges or propped open so employees can avoid touching handles;

  • Signs are likely to point people in one-way traffic flows through hallways to help employees avoid passing each other close by — even if that means taking the long way to the bathroom;

  • Well-spaced desks with large dividers between them. “In the immediate future, “we’ll see physical, hard things that create separation,” according to Cavataio, President and COO of the Cuningham Group;

  • In common areas like meeting rooms and kitchens, expect to see fewer chairs and posted documentation of cleaning reports;

 IBM is eliminating buffets and shared serving tools in its cafeterias and taking out furniture in other spaces to ease social distancing concerns in conference rooms. Lunchtimes could be staggered as employers try to thin crowds in campus cafeterias. “It’s like in school, where you have lunch starting at 10:45 and going until 2 p.m. You’ll see a lot more of that,” says Vance.

 

The Future of the Office

The modern office was initially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which emphasized natural light and space between desks. However, we have lost that vision as today’s open offices are used to cram more employees into smaller spaces. For years, the amount of privacy allotted to each person working in an office has steadily decreased as companies of all type adopted the often loathed open office plan. After the 2008 recession as office jobs increased, companies have been packing more and more people into open space offices, a practice known as “densification.” The effect has been a more distracted workforce, and surveys have shown that face-to-face communication declined by 70 percent, while electronic communication increased.

Well, that model is gone!

So what is the future? We’ve already seen a little of the future, as many organizations implemented greetings policy changes before sending employees home. Handshakes are out, and new greetings have emerged. Earlier this year, billboards in Beijing promoted clasping one’s own hands. The UAE and Qatar asked citizens to avoid nose-to-nose greetings, and the French government frowned on greetings with a kiss. It is likely handshakes, and French embrace will not return.

Here are the things we can expect.

 

Design

Offices still need personal space, natural lighting, and quiet enough to concentrate on being fully productive. As Cavataio notes, “Over time, we will start to design differently to create space versus how tight we can get it. Can we get our generous six feet of physical distance and still create a company environment people want to be in, knowing you have safety inherently based in the design?” Rather than desks facing each other or next to each other, workstations may be back to back with more distance between them. Conference rooms may have their seating cut in half. Also, an increase in private spaces and personal offices for individuals may return. Communal areas like kitchens and lobbies will have their seating areas reduced with more space.

Beyond desk arrangements, designers and public health researchers will have to address all spaces people move through offices, i.e., elevators, corridors, hallways, etc. Plans to address COVID, may become a regular feature in office design in the future, i.e.

  • restroom entrances without doors, like in airports;

  • corridors wider than the current five feet;

  • voice-activated elevators or touchless elevator controls;

  • Antimicrobial materials in new construction; and

  • Videoconferencing even within the office to avoid the conference rooms.

While meeting rooms will still be necessary, companies will reconsider what types of meeting rooms they want, and what kinds of meetings will require in-person attendance. Expect new meeting rooms geared towards group projects and collaboration.

In response to a flexible workforce, companies will require adaptive energy systems. Currently, office design accommodates a certain number of employees on any given day. If only half of the employees are now in the space, the energy usage is unlikely to change much, but the rooms may end up being colder than usual.

Expect increased automation and voice technology throughout the office. Voice technology, like Amazon Alexa for Business, could become a new interface and remove the need for physically pushing a button or touching a surface in an office. According to Bret Kinsella, founder & CEO Voicebot.ai, “There is voice tech in warehouses today but very little in office settings. That will absolutely change.”

An example of the future is already here in Bee’ ah new headquarters in Sharjah, UAE. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the building has “contactless pathways,” enabling employees to touch the building with their hands rarely. Office doors open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition, while lifts – and even a coffee – can be ordered from a smartphone.

Cushman Wakefield, over the past month, has helped 10,000 organizations in China move nearly 1 million people back to work after the country reopened its. Managing 800 million sq. ft. of office building space in China has enabled Cushman & Wakefield to get ahead of the learning curve. According to Despina Katsikakis, of Cushman’s occupier business performance, Cushman used its learnings, World Health Organization data, and medical specialists’ advice to develop a concept called the Six Feet Office. It has already applied inside its Amsterdam headquarters.

CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD – THE 6 FEET OFFICE CONCEPT CONSISTS OF SIX ELEMENTS:

  • 6 Feet Quick Scan: A concise but thorough analysis of the current working environment in the field of virus safety and any other opportunities for improvement.

  • 6 Feet Rules: A set of simple and clear workable agreements and rules of conduct that put the safety of everyone first.

  • 6 Feet Routing: A visually displayed and unique routing for each office, making traffic flows completely safe.

  • 6 Feet Workstation: An adapted and fully equipped workplace at which the user can work safely.

  • 6 Feet Facility: A trained employee who advises on and operationally ensures an optimally functioning and safe facility environment.

  • 6 Feet Certificate: A certificate stating that measures have been taken to implement a virus-safe working environment.

Some companies are looking into mandating thermal scanners, according to Tom Puthiyamadam, leader of PwC’s U.S. Digital practice. “Not every enterprise is going to command and control mode, but I think right now some of these practices are warranted. I don’t think many employees are going to say no because a lot of [them] are actually scared to come back in,” said Puthiyamadam. Goldman Sachs is leading this as it considers installing infrared body temperature scanners to some offices, and ensuring that, once they are available, virus and antibody testing kits for employees are in offices.

 

Hoteling

Kay Sargent, of HOK, thinks more companies will turn to shared desks, known as “hotelling” or “hot desking.” “Perhaps you divide the workplace in half, and half the office can come in on Monday and Wednesday, half of the office can come in on Tuesday and Thursday,” said Gable Clarke, of the architecture firm SGA. Alternating days would come with alternating desks or non-designated desks. As shared workstations have long been a hotbed of disease transmission, designers expect the disappearance of shared keyboards and for companies to introduce clean desk policies. “Janitorial staff often cannot clean desks with personal items on them, as it’s a liability,” said Armen Vartanian of Okta. “It will likely be more sanitary to have open desks and workstations — equipped with the latest technology — that employees can pick each day and  cleaned afterward.” All nonessential items stored in cabinets and drawers rather than on the desk to ensure proper cleaning and sanitation.

 

Sanitation

First, get ready for the “health cop,” as companies will have to deputize someone to enforce the new social distancing rules. “Enforcement becomes important because it’s human nature to sort of want to congregate together,” said Clarke.

However, sanitation efforts could be tremendous. According to Cavataio, regular offices will look to health care design as every surface; door handles, light switches, countertops, copy machine buttons, AV equipment, coffee makers, and many more, have to be cleaned. Like healthcare, businesses may require:

  • copper fixtures;

  • fabrics that retain fewer germs and cleaned easily;

  • more space in kitchens and bathrooms;

  • as well as more attention paid to how far liquids can splash;

  • UV lighting to disinfect offices at night or meeting rooms in between uses;

  • increased cleaning rotations;

  • virus-killing ultraviolet light to sterilize surfaces;

  •  install air filters; and

  • touch-free technology, such as automatic doors and sinks.

Designers say they are receiving inquiries about disinfecting UV lights and easier to clean materials. Nicole Keeler, of Nelson Worldwide, said companies and building owners are enquiring about easy-to-clean materials. “There’s surfaces that are antimicrobial, just like you would see in a healthcare system or in a laboratory,” which may become a new norm for workstation surfaces, she said.

Many expect upgrades to office HVAC systems to stop the spread of infection, i.e., Purgenix. The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) is working with other specialized groups for cleaning and ventilation systems to create guidelines and protocols for building operators around the world. While proper ventilation is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, a big trend could be merely opening a window. However, many offices are currently sealed, controlled units requiring a significant renovation. Where filtered air is the only option, high-end office climate control systems may be the best solution. Due to China’s poor air quality, such systems were already popular; however, these systems may have assisted the return of office workers so quickly.

 

Tracing Tools

While there appears to be general resistance to tracing tools issued by the government, companies are free to require them. Such tools would be either a new app or an updated business app that workers already have on their phones, which runs in the background. Using Bluetooth or WiFi signals, they would catalog other co-workers’ phones that come near. When an employee tests positive to COVID, managers would quickly identify and notify any colleagues the employee had been in contact with to help limit a broader outbreak. The advantages are that such tools avoid the lengthy interviewing process of employees, asking them to recall their interactions.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is launching a new contact tracing tool for businesses in early May, and more than 50 clients have shown interest. PWC’s tracing works only on corporate properties, doesn’t collect location data, and can only be accessed by authorized managers. Over the last four to five years, companies have increasingly used motion- or WiFi-detecting sensors installed on ceilings or desks to whether spaces are underutilized. Now they are going to be used for the opposite purpose, are spaces appropriately utilized. Is the right spacing? Are there pinch points where there’s overcrowding? Sensors will be able to tell when people vacate a seat and alert cleaners to clean it again before the next employee uses it.

 

Coworking Spaces

Many large companies were increasingly taking advantage of the flexible terms of coworking space rather than taking on long-term leases. Aside from the pre-COVID collapse of WeWork, the issue now is, “are companies going to want to put their entire team in one place, where they’re closely mingling with other businesses?” While some form of coworking spaces may remain, they will be very different – the bars, hang out areas will all be gone, and the models will revert to move of a “Regus” system.

 

The Commercial Real Estate Market

What will be the impact on the commercial office market? COVID is having a considerable effect, but the net outcome is hard to measure right now. Employees working from home have effectively expanded the supply of office space significantly. As a result, the amount of space needed by companies should fall. However, with the increase in space required for social distancing, more space will be required for each employee. “In short, it is too early to tell if companies will lease less space,” Julie Whelan, head of occupier research for America at CBRE, told Recode. “While they may need less space because some people may conduct some of their work remotely, they may also need more space to provide the social distancing that employees may feel they need to be comfortable.” These two trends may cancel each other out.”

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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According to Esther Perel, “The quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships . . . which are basically a reflection of your sense of decency, your ability to think of others, your generosity.” Therefore at times like this, the quality of our relationships takes on greater meaning. Having been through the big “D”, I hope that none of you will experience it, but thought that the following might help.

A tragedy, or crisis, is an accelerant for relationships. If the relationship wasn’t healthy, it is like to deteriorate under the stress of COVID-19 and lockdown. Being trapped in an enclosed space with someone for an extended period could lead to disdain – especially if you were having problems before it started.

Being cooped up and experiencing the monotony and boredom, repetition, lack of variety, the feelings of anxiety and fear, and the social proximity, put us on a par with astronauts on the space station and others in isolated extreme environments according to Nathan Smith, at Manchester University. However, while astronauts are trained to deal with this environment and its challenges, we are unprepared – both mentally and in our supply of toilet paper. As a result, we are likely to feel a similar amount of fear as an astronaut going into space, but we need to adapt much more quickly to deal with it. “Preparedness is a big contributor to whether things like this are a success,” says Smith.

Furthermore, Sarita Robinson, a cognitive psychology lecturer at Central Lancashire, says, “If you’re with [your isolation partner] for a long enough time, things will eventually get too close.” However, she noted, “You get social support from the people that you’re close to. They provide you with a social buffer, and if you’re worried or anxious or upset, they help you deal with it.” So, if you’re down, lean on your partner for support, but be aware that complaining too much puts additional stress on the relationship. Also, a person’s mood is contagious.

Different people respond to partner support in different ways. Research has shown that men find isolation with a partner quite lovely, and women go a little nuts.

John Gottman, a psychology researcher, has defined certain behaviors, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” that lead to the dissolution of romantic relationships, namely:

  1. Criticism. An attack on your partner’s character, as distinct from offering a critique or voicing a specific complaint. While you might not saying anything about your partner’s flaws to avoid conflict but bottled up, anger and frustration will turn to resentment.
  2. Contempt. An insult to your partner. People might do this verbally using sarcasm, or only by rolling their eyes.
  3. Defensiveness. A counterattack, most often in response to perceived criticism. Such a strategy is used to people when they are feeling victimized. They assign their partner the responsibility of causing them pain.
  4. Stonewalling. Elaborate maneuvers to avoid interacting with a partner. People who stonewall will often stop communicating with their partner, except for negative non-verbal gestures.

In addition to avoiding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, here are some other things to consider.

  • Grief. The is “Grief” from what is happening and “Anticipatory Grief” from what we know is coming. Both are grief and are affecting us and those with whom we are isolated. We all know that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, our response to this is not always linear, and we can move back and forth through these stages. For many, they are still in denial; others have moved to anger, and those in suffering in New York, Detroit, and Chicago maybe somewhere among the last three. Those in the bargaining stage are organizing themselves in practicalities, rather than acknowledging our vulnerabilities. Thus many are working hard, but productivity is not increasing in proportion.

  • Stress. At the moment, we are suffering acute stress from either economic anxiety (loss of income) or health care stress (loved ones are sick) or a combination of both. We all have different styles of coping with stress. To maintain our relationships, we need to acknowledge our anxiety and that of our partners. Be patient, and be kind. We may look like our usual selves, but realize that underneath we all are stressed and scared. Because you are so close to those close to you, acknowledge the positive in them. In thanking them and showing gratitude, we need to focus on the person more than the task. Finally, monitor the balance between positive and negative interactions with your partner. Aim for a ratio of 5:1

  • Personal space. One of the best ways to manage conflict is to physically remove yourself from the presence of the person who’s annoying you. Thus find a personal space that you can retreat to that has a door. A couple on the Diamond Princess suggested a closet. Also, there is that time when you need to withdraw from everyone. In that case, retreat, but before doing so, articulate your feelings, make a commitment to return, withdraw, and return.

  • Emotional Issues. Don’t rationalize away emotional issues or pretend it is business as usual, acknowledge them. If you don’t you don’t provide a place for acceptance, and this can lead to worse behaviors. Listen to your partner’s feelings and validate their response to these stresses as being OK. Become defensive and attacking your partner for how they feel or act will not help. Reassure your partner and your children of their safety. Have a conversation about what security means and how you plan to keep yourselves and other members the household safe. In the US, where everything is about “self,” COVID-19 is showing us that we cannot survive on our own. An emotional connection is essential for survival and mental wellness. Don’t ignore your children. Talk to them about it and acknowledge it because they know it not typical.

  • Conflicts. Some partners have come up with a code phrase, i.e., “Cuban Missile Crisis” so that they can call a truce on little arguments without actually having to apologize or be kind to each other. Choose one that works for you, but it is helpful to have one that is a reminder things could be a lot worse.

  • Routine. You need to have a fixed routine in this “new” world. That routine will include work, but should also allow for family commitments at home, especially some couple time. Also, the schedule must consist of time apart. Please take it in turns looking after the kids or other family members at home, and allow each additional time to work on individual hobbies. As part of this routine, you can practice healthier h
    abits, i.e., eating well, sleeping, exercising, practicing mindfulness, meditation, or learning a new skill. These things improve mental well-being and can help build intimacy if done together.

  • Rituals and After. During this time, create new routines. Many have noted that as a result of the lockdown, we are improving our relationships with our second-degree connections. It is a great time to have a virtual happy hour, virtual book club meetings, and virtual dinners. Such events create more significant relationships with those people too. Finally, make plans with your partner for when the crisis is over. While you need to accept reality, it is essential to recognize that the situation is not permanent. Planning something fun or different can help keep you positive and motivated to stay safe.

Hopefully, you will not be singing,

I’m goin’ through the Big D and don’t mean Dallas.
I can’t believe what the judge had to tell us.
I got the jeep and she got the palace.

Songwriters: Ronnie Rogers, Mark Wright, and my colleague from another time, Jon Scott Wright.

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