Someday, hopefully soon, when vaccination rates are high enough and the coronavirus slows its energy down, the world will return to normal. But in its wake, something as massive and meaningful as a global pandemic will leave many things different, including how we work.
In particular, knowledge workers will likely see the biggest changes, from our physical locations to the technology we use to the ways in which our productivity is measured. In turn, how we work impacts everything from our own personal satisfaction to new inventions to the broader economy and society as a whole.
These changes represent a chance to remake work as we know it and to learn from the mistakes of our working past — if we’re thoughtful about how we enact them.
We’re exploring in a 2-parts post 10 ways in which office work will never be the same. Here’s our first five!
Working from home is here to stay
Even after the pandemic is no longer forcing us to work from home, many people will continue to do so. That’s because working from home has worked surprisingly well for both employers and employees. People were productive and employers saw a future in which they were less tethered to expensive office real estate. And, going forward, many of the things that aren’t working — having to homeschool while working, for example, or feeling like work never ends because you never leave your house — will be alleviated when we’re not in the middle of a global health crisis that’s adding extra hurdles and stress to working from home.
At the height of the pandemic, more than half of the US workforce worked from home, up from the single digits previously. When the pandemic is over, those who can work from home will likely do so two or three days a week, according to research by Bloom and his co-authors.
And we all know this by now, there are measurable benefits to working from home! Working from home allows people to skip their commute and can give them more flexibility in the hours they work. Along with this, Envoy found that nearly half of employees said they’d leave their job if it didn’t offer a hybrid work model after the pandemic.
In short, the ability to work from home is no longer a perk; not allowing it is a dealbreaker.
Flexibility is a double-edged sword
For years, workers have clamoured for more flexibility in their work to accommodate their lives. And working from home will give them that. Sure, there’s a flip side to it: all this flexibility is an increased feeling that work never ends. People are logging longer hours, attending more meetings, and complaining of just generally being always on. It’s tough to find a work-life balance when the lines between the two are blurred.
Time spent in meetings is more than double what it was early last year, according to a new report from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index. Working from home requires more context than people would grasp naturally in an office, and people have created more meetings to fill the void.
People spend an additional hour — for a total of 10 hours — connected to Slack than they did pre-pandemic. That means more time with Slack in the background and the foreground of our lives. All of this can hamper productivity and generally leave people feeling worn out, and this is where we all need to understand we need to establish so don’t-cross lines.
Some populations will benefit from working from home while others struggle
The benefits of working from home will not be evenly felt. While some groups have enjoyed working from home, the arrangement has been challenging for others.
Many presumed young people, who are more familiar with technologies like video calls, had an easier time with the transition to working from home than their older and less tech-savvy peers. But even though this has been the case pretty much everywhere, employees over the age of 40 were more likely to say they would prefer to continue working remotely, while employees younger than 40 were more likely to want to return to the office, according to one study of teleworkers done by Bucknell University.
Young people know the value of social capital and the need to interact with others, and it’s clear they are the ones that are most likely feeling they’re missing out on some social opportunities.
And this is the same reason why managers feel like WfH has improved their time-management skills: fewer interactions, more secure careers, and bigger home office spaces offer the chance to work better and more efficiently.
As everywhere else, the key here is to find the right balance meeting the needs of the most different people, which will become the #1 challenge for employers in Q3 of 2021.
The office will still exist, but you’ll use it differently
While many companies are downsizing their office footprints, most are not getting rid of offices. Indeed, the office will still play an important – though different – role in people’s work.
More time in the office will be geared toward collaborative work that’s more challenging at home. In fact, companies are starting to think about the office as a tool in their toolkit for getting certain kinds of work done. People can get into the office a couple of times a week with the goal of planning collaboration in person, then get back home to do the actual work.
Here, the right configuration of shared spaces, hot desks, and better technology and internal comms systems will be key to win over the long run.
Expect more AI, automation, and freelancers
Every time there’s an economic downturn there’s a push toward automation since it cuts down on the very expensive cost of human labor. It’s no secret that companies these days are hoping to be more agile, and they may even start outsourcing more work to contract and freelance workers.
It’s easier to imagine that this dynamic might encompass a higher number of automated processes, aiming to remove more barriers so work can be done quicker, more intelligently, and possibly even more creatively.
For instance, workplace software like Zoom and Teams already lets people transcribe meetings. What if future versions trimmed those meetings down to shorter videos or text? It’ll all be about saving time for everybody!
Here are our first 5 ways office work will never be the same, don’t forget to tune in last week while we explore the other 5!