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Man teleworking from home after coronavirus pandemic

Five Possibly Unexpected Ways the Post-COVID Office Will Change

We’ll all know more about remote working than we ever thought we would

A number of experts have spent their quarantine thinking about how work life will change when we do finally go back. But here’s a selection from the management literature of stop-and-think-how-this-affects-your-business predictions:

1. At Fast Company: Attending meetings by video conference won’t be seen as second rate any more:

Jeff Richards, partner at the venture capital firm GGV Capital: … In the past, if you joined via video, you were thought of as “mailing it in.” Now it’s become an accepted form of participation. Net/net, I still think we’ll see corporate travel [come back], as nothing is better than an in-person meeting with a customer or exec hire candidate. But for routine meetings, I think we are going to see a lot more video. I also think Zoom has crossed the rubicon from “corporate” to “consumer” as everyone in my family age 5-75 now knows how to use it. That’s a game-changer.

Mark Sullivan, “All the things COVID-19 will change forever, according to 30 top experts” at Fast Company

2. The routinely maligned gig economy may look different now. People who work from home tend to be affected by COVID shutdowns mainly insofar as those shutdowns affect others. That is, if you are used to working on contract, receiving your specifications by e-mail, and interacting with colleagues by phone or videoconference, you are not experiencing the quarantines, social distancing, and layoffs as directly as is the office-bound, salaried employee. One analyst notes,

Jobs are steadily becoming more transient, remote, and virtual. People want meaningful connection in their work, and they are getting it more from their colleagues, long term career narrative, and the groups of people they attach themselves to, such as professional assocations and online communities related to their work… The gig economy has matured and is making significant inroads into the enterprise, offering far more flexible employement on both sides of the equation… Now that Gen Z has become the largest percentage of the workforce, at about 40% this year, it will drive many of the largest policy and strategy decisions when it comes to key elements of employee experience. Gen Z’s top driver, for the first time in employment history, is not salary but control over work/life balance.

Dion Hinchcliffe, “2020 Predictions for the Future of Work” at Constellation Research

COVID-19 will probably broaden and accelerate this trend by spotlighting the now-empty downtown towers of the formal office structure that was ill-prepared to cope with the pandemic.

3. At Fast Company, again: The open office, once the Ultimate Cool, is coming to be seen as Microbe Central:

Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies: … I believe that this could signal the death of open space work environments. The experience with COVID-19 will for years make people more aware of working in shoulder-to-shoulder open offices where it is easy for viruses to spread.

Mark Sullivan, “All the things COVID-19 will change forever, according to 30 top experts” at Fast Company

People can see a private cube as a prison but, alternatively, it is a protective shell. Count on more people who must work in group settings to see it the latter way. Future office (and market) settings will probably be designed with social distance in mind.

4. The new workplace tests the value of trust. From consulting firm Gartner:

“Remote-work success depends heavily on whether you trust employees to do their work even if you can’t see them,” says Aaron McEwan, Vice President, Gartner. Managers often worry about the lack of visibility into the workflows and routines of their direct reports when they work remotely.

In our snap poll, 76% of HR leaders reported the top employee complaint during the coronavirus outbreak as “concerns from managers about the productivity or engagement of their teams when remote. “But worries about employee productivity are often overblown,” says McEwan.

Jackie Wiles, “With Coronavirus in Mind, Is Your Organization Ready for Remote Work?” at Smarter with Gartner

Perhaps it’s overblown but perhaps some managers misunderstand the issues. The remote worker is typically working in an environment where she is the person in charge if something affects her work. If, for example, the water supply to an office building were shut off for the day during street repairs, a manager would likely co-ordinate. But if the water supply to the remote worker’s home is shut off for the same reason, she must decide for herself how best to deal with it, while remaining productive. A level playing field for assessing productivity would recognize overall, long-term output vs. costs in either case.

Lastly,

5. New protocols will develop for “formal informal” communications. From Techradar:

Companies need to create an atmosphere where employees feel at ease reaching out to colleagues through a video call or a chat function to talk about non-work topics – it’s the key to establishing real workplace friendships and building trust with newly remote co-workers. Managers can also use tactics such as an always-on video conference room per team, where team members can come and go as they want—this helps people get used to remote which can seem unnatural at first.

Darren Murph, “Could remote working be the future of work?” at TechRadar

Longtime self-employed professionals will be familiar with the following kind of situation: You want to tell your client something but you don’t want to make a huge noise about it. Let’s say your client provides products to educators. You attended a school board meeting last night where you heard something that affects the client’s business. But you don’t want to convene a meeting, apparently criticize anyone, or pretend to be an expert. You just want to pass on what you heard said there to someone in a position to decide if a response is justified. Remote work arrangements need to be flexible and personal enough to allow for that kind of communication without creating a new set of risks, given that there may now be a record of all your communications with the client.

For better or worse, COVID-19 has put us on track to the long-predicted new economy that depends on the internet. We weren’t ready. But one advantage of that situation is that we sometimes learn more deeply from situations we weren’t ready for than from the ones we has spent a lot of time preparing for. For one thing, we know for sure what happens when we don’t do it.

Further reading:

We will never go back to the pre-COVID-19 workplace: The virus forced us to realize: Staying together apart has never been so easy. (Jonathan Bartlett)

and

Will the COVID-19 pandemic promote mass automation? Caution! Robots don’t file for benefits but that’s not all we need to know about them. (Brendan Dixon)


Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist'€™s Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Five Possibly Unexpected Ways the Post-COVID Office Will Change