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Let’s start with the obvious: Right now we’re all in flux as the global Covid-19 pandemic unfolds. Everything is changing, none more so than relationships with our families, our friends, our government, and our work. Life isn’t ‘business as usual’ and for the majority of us, learning how to invent a ‘new normal’ is unnerving at the very least.
But during times of great adversity, so too other changes often arrive. Some great, some not so and Covid-19 is forcing change on us whether we like it or not. This means we are faced with one strategy: we have to adapt.
This is acutely true when we look at the way we work because the changes we’re experiencing are unprecedented. It also begs the questions: will things ever be the same again? And what might the future landscape of work look like when we’re eventually living in post-Coronavirus times?
The most obvious change is that vast numbers of us are now working from home, carving out a special ‘office’ space in that nook under the stairs, or commandeering the kitchen table (that also doubles as the kid’s classroom).
Yet this isn’t altogether new. To get a handle on where we’re going, we need to understand what came before us. Even though millions of people across the UK and the world are experiencing new ways of working from home and remotely for the first time, this change has been progressing for a while.
The way we work evolves over the years, but then come big jumps often caused by seismic global events.
In 2008 it was the financial crash and subsequent recession. Back then, working from home was driven by the economy and saving money; simply not having as many people in an office created huge cost savings. The result? Distributed workforces made better financial sense.
This time it’s Covid-19 that’s supercharging the transition, coupled with digital tools that are enabling true collaborative and remote working. Solutions such as Slack, Zoom and Trello are leading the way, but Microsoft Teams and Google’s G Suite are also big hitters. (To give you an idea of the recent exponential growth of these technologies, shares in Zoom – a video conferencing company – have soared 107% since the start of 2020 when the pandemic started to take hold).
But let’s also not forget that pre-pandemic, there were an estimated five million people self-employed in the UK with a vast majority already used to working remotely.
Flexible working. Stronger workforce. Like it or not, Covid-19 has thrust many into a world of flexible working. Not only are parents having to hold down their jobs from home, but millions are also having to home-school their children.
This means there has never been a better testbed for flexible working than right now. But it’s not just parents who are going to demand more of this in the future: increasingly young people also value flexible working and companies are going to need to continually adapt to attract the best talent.
Flexible working also means your talent pools get a lot wider: you’re not forcing people to make a choice on re-locating. You’re opening up opportunities to more people. As companies reap the benefits of a new way of working due to the virus, I believe these approaches and strategies will stick around for a long time after.
For climate’s sake. Trying to turn the climate emergency tide is a very strong reason to shift the way we work. And the self-isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is really hitting this home. We’re already seeing a huge positive impact on pollution as millions of commuters abandon using their car, taking a far shorter commute to their home office instead.
As the data and evidence around this grows, it’ll become even more clear how business can make a real difference on efforts to curb climate disaster. As a knock on, their efforts will, I believe, be a driver not only for engaging customers, but also attracting talent and building a workforce.
Human-centric companies. In thinking about how else the workplace will change, it’s not just in terms of hardware and location. It’s also about behaviours.
Are we learning to be more human because our collective experience is levelling us? Over the past week, I’ve seen many video messages of support from CEOs and senior leaders for their employees. All have been recorded from their homes.
Gone is the glossy, corporate sheen. Instead, we are seeing an uptake in honest, heartfelt statements.
Might this be a trend that we see continue post-virus: more transparency and greater accountability from our business leaders? I believe these behaviours will pave the way for more human-centric workplaces with an emphasis on empathy and emotional intelligence, especially from the C+ level.
Co-working, collaborating and up-skilling. While co-working spaces have temporarily closed due to social isolating, their true potential is yet to come. Some will undoubtedly crumble, but perhaps we’ll see a growth in niche spaces – and industries – which accommodate people on a local level.
I also see a growth in co-working or collaboration spaces as we adapt to a more fluid career path, or ‘jigsaw career’ as I call it. Technology is not only going to impact the way we work it’s also going to change what work we do. Many of these jobs are yet to be imagined, but they are on their way. So how do we adapt? By making sure we’re continuously up-skilling – and that in itself will become a huge industry.
Planning and strategy. I anticipate – and hope – we’ll see greater planning and strategising on how to operate not only during a period of mass disruption, but also after the event. From freelancers to global corporations, we all play a crucial role in keeping the cogs running and if nothing else, the last few weeks have hit home hard why being prepared matters. None of us can be complacent.
So what does all this add up to? Given the above, my overall prediction is that during, and as a result of, these unprecedented times the biggest changes we’ll see is in our behaviours, with positive new work habits and attitudes forming, developing and accelerating. I hope to see more fluid approaches to work as companies opt for a mix of home/remote and office-based roles while creating workplaces and policies that are truly human-centric.
Because if nothing else, this era we’re living through is showing us just how important, and precious, we are to each other.
Lizzie Hodgson is the founder of ThinkNation, where she tackles big tech questions and challenges, empowering young people to explore the world they are inheriting. She is also the host of The Z-X Spectrum podcast with Brandon Relph, and a Katerva Gender Equality Global Expert Panel Member.