How is COVID-19 reshaping the future of living and working?

VIDEO: How is COVID-19 reshaping the future of living and working?

BOSTON — As Massachusetts slowly re-opens, many workers will start to return to work in the coming weeks. But that doesn’t mean we’re getting back to business as usual.

Many of the changes that were abruptly instituted as the pandemic spread are now prompting long-term changes in the way we work.

The hashtag #WFH is now part of the way we communicate on social media. It’s a sign that working from home isn’t going away.

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“Working remotely will take a much larger place in the workforce,” explained Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a firm which specializes in human resource issues. “I think organizations will become better at managing a remote work force and remote workers will become better at documenting the work they do and the contributions that they make.”

Workers will also need to continue to become more adept on platforms like Zoom, added Varelas.

“Just phone calls won’t be sufficient," she said. "You will have to show who you are. You will have to show your face on video. You will have to stand and present.”

David Gerzof Richard, president of Big Fish Communication, a Boston-based PR firm, agrees that technology has changed in the time people have been quarantined.

“I mean, just think how funny it would be for someone to come to you and say, ‘let’s schedule a conference call.’ People would be like, 'Where are you from, 2019?”. Nobody does conference calls anymore," Richard said.

The high price of commercial real estate will be another force pushing companies to keep workers at home, now that they know they can, according to Varelas.

“Companies would love to lower their rental footprints in terms of real estate," Varelas said. "The costs of that in major cities is astronomical. I think you’ll see quite a bit of that.”

Worker safety could also be the catalyst for big changes in the way offices are designed.

“There has been a strong trend toward high density work places, those large, open work spaces that have quite a lot of folks in close proximity,” said Phil Casey, a principal at CBT Architects in Boston. “Maybe now we’re designing smaller alcoves, smaller settings within the common spaces that allow smaller groups of people to still have that interaction.”

In some ways, these changes may tarnish the future of bustling downtown districts, in Boston and other major cities.

Mark Melnik, Ph.D., is with the Donahue Institute of UMass and says the situation today does “raise these interesting questions about what is the need for density, what is the need for proximity, can we be spread out more? In some ways, that improves quality of life for people who are wasting less time in the car.”

Another big change will be in business travel. Varelas believes the days of hopping on a shuttle to New York or Washington to attend a meeting will be seen as inefficient and hard to justify, now that pretty much everyone has become more comfortable with Zoom.

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