Punctuated equilibrium is the theory that the human race tends to experience a significant amount of evolutionary change in short, stressful bursts of time. The impact of COVID- 19 once again demonstrates this. Environment, health, and safety (EHS) must adapt to this unique set of circumstances.
The fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) was already underway when the pandemic appeared as a catalyst to hasten its progress. To the revolution that was being built on 21st century technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the internet of things (IoT), COVID-19 added a unique atmosphere, unlike any industrial transformation in the past. It required creating a safety infrastructure to help fight an infectious virus.
2021 is going to be a very unusual year for this reason. Here are 3 ways that many market experts predict new EHS trends will play out:
The percentage of workers who permanently work from home (WFH) will likely double in 2021. In fact, by 2025, 36.2 million Americans are expected to be working remotely, which is an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels.
This is one area where the EHS response to COVID-19 has pushed the country to experiment with a work model that is largely proving successful. Productivity, for example, increased markedly during 2020, according to an Enterprise Technology Research (ETR) survey. Statistics gathered from over 180 countries show that remote workers also tend to earn higher wages than traditional office goers. Additionally, recruiting from a wider pool of applicants not restricted by geographical boundaries helps helps to hire the perfect candidate.
Employers will save money on extensive renovation, too. Many commercial office spaces would fail CDC guidelines for safe social distancing without remodeling their current set-up, if all employees were to work onsite. And there is the risk of cross-infection among staff members. This could potentially result in class action suits if employees perceive the safety measures taken by employers to be insufficient.
Last but not least, the environment will benefit from the WFH culture of 2021. By removing the need to commute, we will drastically reduce pollution from vehicular emissions and save billions of kilowatt-hours of energy each year. According to TelCoa, we could reduce carbon footprint by nearly 10% if 32 million Americans telecommuted just one day a week.
Working from home, full-time or part time, invariably leads to the topic of ergonomics. This EHS trend will become more relevant than ever in 2021. The aim of ergonomics is to increase efficiency and productivity while managing health issues related to repetitive/continuous working posture.
According to OSHA, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of pain and disability in American workplaces, accounting for 33% of all workers’ compensation costs. Direct costs exceed $20 billion annually. Total expenses (including lost productivity) amount to over $50 billion a year for American employers.
Now, imagine how high these numbers could potentially be if increased by poor ergonomic work conditions. Some employees may be doing their jobs off kitchen tables, on sofas, or even beds.
The popularity of ergonomic home offices will be at an all-time high. Many companies will be reimbursing their staff for equipment (such as monitor arms, vertical mice, standing desks, etc.). Such items reduce possibilities of computer vision syndrome, carpal tunnel, musculoskeletal disorders, etc. and keep them healthy and productive, no matter what their living conditions are.
A hybrid model allows non-essential employees to work remotely while companies alter physical office spaces to reduce chances of contamination among onsite workers.
A substantial number of staff members will be working remotely. This means the existing open plan offices will probably remain, with fewer occupants operating from safely distanced workstations. Open plan offices are easier to clean and sanitize as well. They have fewer doors, door handles, and cubicle openings that are necessary to touch.
Other EHS modifications we can expect to see in 2021 hybrid offices include:
- Modified HVAC and climate control systems to ventilate offices and restrict spread of Covid-19 and other pathogens
- Touch-free technology such as motion lights, motion sensors, automatic doors, and smartphone-controlled elevators and AV systems
- Floor stickers, emblems, and decals to remind occupants to maintain social distance in high traffic areas
- Staggered lunch breaks, smaller in-person meetings, and reduced in-person interactions
- Wearing necessary PPE at all times