COVID-19 and what does the future of work look like

COVID-19 and what does the future of work look like

Sudanti Sapru

Are we accelerating towards the digital future we once imagined? Will it be the new normal? The outbreak of the coronavirus worldwide has fundamentally shaken up the business landscape and changed the way we work. While we were already preparing for the digital future of work driven by mobile connectivity, cognitive tools and cloud, COVID-19 accelerated the transformation – pushing enterprises to enable remote working for 100 per cent of their workforce and increase business resiliency by embracing virtual collaboration platforms at unprecedented speed – all exclusively remotely. 

Although it cannot be foreseen when all of this would be over, whenever that happens commuting to the office and interacting face-to-face with our co-workers may not be the same. As we ponder, some companies are reportedly making a big move and considering permanent work from home for the majority of their workforce.

From Work From Home to Flexible Work

Our definition of the word “office” and “workday” has changed a lot since the beginning of the year for the ones able to WFH. It has gone from our desk in the office to kitchen tables and couches, from 9-to-5 to a highly fluid and flexible continuum – especially for parents – where “workday” has become whatever slot you can fit in.

WFH

Many organizations embarked into a massive experiment of sending its complete teams into WFH (when it was possible), in the majority of the cases without a security net of any advanced planning…. And considering the conditions, the results for the majority don’t look too bad: The classic fear of some managers that this flexibility will lead to reduced productivity has been proven (in general) wrong. A recent study1 says that working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on workers’ productivity, according to 54% of respondents. 

Reason

The reasons for this, they said, were time saved from commuting (71%), fewer distractions from co-workers (61%) and fewer meetings (39%). Another research says that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. Managers need to understand the results of their experiences in WFH, both benefits and potentials risks, improving their capabilities in managing their new remote employees the best way possible. COVID has proven WFH can potentially work, we need to find the right “Flexible Work” balance for our organization. 

Communication-Communication-Communication

Leaders should ensure that people feel safe, engaged, informed and useful. But actions are just the first step. It is equally important that managers communicate and connect with their teams and teams also need to trust managers in a challenging situation where they are afraid and not in the office. 

There is no magic formula for this, but the most successful organizations we see amongst our clients are using two elements, transparency and authenticity: Prior to COVID-19, organizations were already facing increased employee demands for transparency. The current situation, where employees are afraid not only about their job security but their own and their families’ health, is only making this demand stronger.

On the other hand, authenticity in relationships, especially with the younger members of the teams (and clients), has been demonstrated to be very useful to bridge the communication gap that a WFH situation creates. 

The term “business casual” has taken on a new meaning, as we’ve literally seen into each other’s homes and met each other’s partners, pets, and children. What used to be “unprofessional”, now is “just another day at the office.” This has led to workplace interactions that are more authentic and relaxed. 

But transparency and authenticity are more than this. Without water coolers or lunch breaks, employees may feel as though they only hear from bosses and colleagues when something is needed.

Transparency and authenticity are also shown when managers encourage more meaningful connections, not only based on to-do lists but genuinely caring about the teams, their situation and challenges. 

One aspect that might be more likely to change is international travel—particularly short business trips for meetings or events. This period of isolation coincides with continuing improvements in technology for collaboration and communication and faster internet connections across much of the world. Coupled with increasing concerns about the impact of air travel on the environment, this might represent a tipping point that will lead to more significant and longer-term change.

How the COVID-19 pandemic affects us

It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic affects our ways of working in the long term. It’s clear that we are all on a steep learning curve that might lead to increased capabilities and efficiencies in the future. It would be naive not to expect some long-term change as a result of this but the extent of this is yet to be seen. I would recommend that organisations weigh up the benefits of different approaches outside the current situation and develop their people strategies accordingly.

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