Most people didn’t have a dedicated home office before COVID-19 swept through the world, creating a complicated — and sometimes uncomfortable — situation for many at their house or apartment.

A report by YouGov, LinkedIn and USA TODAY shows only 46% of people reserved space at home for an office. With as many as 74% of people ages 18 to 74 working remotely, that left a large portion without an at-home setup.

So, where did the rest work?

For almost the past year, people worked from their kitchen tables, sofas, or bedrooms with little or no ergonomic support to help curb the aches and pains of computer work.

“It gets old fast to be working from your couch, and setting up a home office can be expensive,” said Hailley Griffis, head of public relations at Buffer, in an article.

By some estimates, up to one-third of companies plan to step in to help, deciding to cover the costs for their employees’ new home office, with some offering as much as $1,000 for furniture, lighting and technology expenses. Twitter, Shopify, Basecamp, Google, and others foot the bill for keyboards, monitors, desks and chairs in an effort to keep employees as comfortable and productive as possible during the pandemic.

More and more, organizations of all kinds see that the pandemic — while most likely not permanent — will have a lasting impact on the way business gets done. The future of work, or more commonly known as “the new normal,” is a hybrid workforce. A portion of workers will remain at home for work while others begin transitioning back to the office, which will take months.

In the meantime, employers must help their workforce adapt and thrive in this next phase of COVID-era work. When employees are comfortable and have the tools they need, productivity will remain high. If not, their work gets disrupted and productivity falters.

As many as 32% of remote workers experience issues during meetings because of a poor WiFi connection alone. That’s not to mention the time lost or frustration that results from gaps in software, devices or even office furniture.

As an employer, read about the main ways you can help your workforce stay connected, productive and comfortable while they continue working from home.

Employees Must Stay Connected — Near or Far

In order to stay productive and successful while working from home, employees must have the right tools to complete their day-to-day tasks.

The bedrock of a work-from-home kit is a strong internet connection.

The dramatic increase in Zoom and Teams calls left some home-internet solutions strained, resulting in a large portion of the workforce experiencing disruptions. Simply, the lack of reliable WiFi inhibits remote workers’ ability to stay productive, which adds stress and frustration to an already chaotic time.

Stable internet lays the foundation for a well-functioning home office, but staying connected takes many forms, including:

  • Docking stations to organize laptops, external monitors, keyboards and more.
  • The appropriate cables, adapters and chargers to keep the engine (laptop) running.
  • IT-sanctioned software that enables remote access.

For IT professionals helping to outfit their organizations with work-from-home kits, start by surveying the workforce about their most common needs. Is it an extra charger? Or, do they need external monitors? What about a nice headset for the endless Zoom calls? Once those questions are answered, it becomes clearer how to determine the best way to support remote employees long term.

Help Workers Combat Fatigue and Strain with Office Furniture

Although sitting on the couch all day for work might sound like a good idea, it’s likely to end with a negative impact to posture. After months, the strain to one’s neck, back, wrists and more will compound and make for an ironically uncomfortable experience.

But, can’t the soreness that builds between the shoulders after an eight-hour shift stem from desk work too? Yes, if the workstation isn’t set up properly or ergonomic.

“Working at a desk is a common cause of back and neck pain, often because you accommodate your workstation rather than the other way around,” writes Jill M. Henderzahs-Mason P.T. for the Mayo Clinic. “For instance, many people strain to see a computer monitor that is too far away, too low, too high, too small or too dim.”

Here’s what full-time remote workers need to stay comfortable while at home:

  • A sturdy desk. A desk will improve comfort by providing a dedicated space to mount monitors and use other devices like a mouse or keyboard without strain. Looking for bonus points? A height-adjustable desk would provide the most value to remote workers by allowing them to shift positions and stretch their legs throughout the day.
  • A comfortable chair. Arguably even more important than the desk is the chair. A comfortable office chair that supports remote workers’ back and height will go a long way to keep people focused on the tasks at hand — rather than shifting in their seat to get comfortable.
  • A bright lamp. For those in an apartment or place with minimal natural light, a desk lamp will help reduce eye strain brought on by looking at a screen for long hours. It’ll also provide a better image for video calls.

Whenever possible, it’s best to rely on the thoughtful design of ergonomic keyboards, mice, and other components to reduce strain and accommodate the workstation to users. As an employer, consider providing your workforce with a stipend to invest in office furnishings and equipment to stay comfortable.

The ‘New Normal’ Is Hybrid Collaboration

Video conferencing software providers like Zoom, Cisco and Microsoft achieved major milestones during the pandemic, given the rapid increase in demand for remote collaboration solutions. In October 2020, Microsoft reported Teams surpassed 115 million daily active users.

“When the pandemic first instigated a global shift to remote work, video conferencing emerged as an immediate solution to work-from-home restrictions,” writes Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, in a statement. “But as the initial era of ‘remote everything’ has given way to durable, hybrid models of work and learning, we’ve entered a new digital age that is completely transforming how we work and learn — today and for the next decade.”

While the luxury of staying home and skipping the commute continues to prove favorable, most want to return to the office at least some of the time. Research by Gensler shows only 12% of people want to stay remote full time. And some will remain at home permanently. However, most will split their time between their home office and the workplace, with 73% expecting increased time at home than before the pandemic.

That’s the new normal. It’s a hybrid approach to work.

The requirements to stay productive include software platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and others, as well as the components to complement the software. At home, that could be a sharp webcam and a noise-canceling headset. At the workplace, it’s a unified collaboration-connected meeting room equipped with the necessary video conferencing software.

To support a hybrid workforce effectively, consider these measures for remote and in-office workers:

  • Video conferencing-equipped meeting rooms. Remote workers spend most of their days balancing their actual work with a series of Zoom or Teams calls. What will that look like when they begin returning to the office? It’s likely the whole workforce won’t return all at once — and some will stay home permanently — it’s important to make sure meeting rooms allow hybrid workers to collaborate just as easily as they would from their laptops or mobile devices.
  • Software for collaboration and security. IT departments went into overdrive at the beginning of the pandemic if they weren’t prepared to transition their workforces to remote work. Tools like two-factor authentication, VPNs, and more were a must for remote work so employees could maintain access. Where are the gaps in software today? Video solutions have been in play, but what challenges are remote workers experiencing that software could fix? Survey user groups to find out.
  • Webcams, headsets and additional components.Audio issues are a common disruption at work — and it’s probably the same way at home. An upgrade from standard ear buds would go a long way to improve audio for those working remotely, as would a sharp webcam or set of desk speakers.

Employers Can Provide Much-Needed Support During the Pandemic

The hybrid model of work is here to stay, and most employers realize it. Only, not all have taken the necessary precautions to prepare their offices and workforces for the next phase of work.

In order to remain competitive, while fostering efficient collaboration, employers should equip their offices and workforces with home office equipment that enables on-site workers to connect with their off-site counterparts without hassle. On the other side, remote workers should enjoy the more premium experience of being in the office while they’re under instruction to stay home.

If you’re an employer who needs help preparing your office or workforce for hybrid work, contact an expert at Hillman AV. As a systems integrator, Hillman AV specializes in developing meeting rooms for hybrid collaboration, video conferencing and more.

Learn more here.

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