The Future of Work: Corporate Life Will Never Be The Same – It Will Be Better
Wars, economic collapses and pandemics create adverse conditions that set the stage for fundamental and lasting change. There are countless examples of companies that have risen to fame during and after catastrophic events. While nobody would wish for such an event, the silver lining is the inevitable rebound, punctuated by a period of rapid growth and innovation.
This moment in time will be marked as the period when we radically altered the where, when and how we work. Coronavirus was the catalyst for speeding up the change that was already happening. Working remotely and using technology to connect are not exactly new concepts, but the fact that the entire workforce has embraced them en masse, is something that has forced the hand of inevitable change.
Here’s what I can GUARANTEE will happen as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
- The virus will be with us for the next 5 to 10 years and it the impact on public health will be significant.
- The virus will be with us for the next 10 to 20 years and its impact on public health be moderately significant.
- The way we work will NEVER be the same
Vaccines help, but they don’t eliminate a virus like this. We’ll need to learn to live with the enemy.
After speaking to a range of senior leaders across every industry, the pain points at present are:
- Technology. Communication is too slow, intermittent as a result of technology constraints or it’s not being used effectively. This is creating massive time delays and lost productivity.
- The Four Walls. They are closing in around us. Every day. Same location.
- Sleeping at the Office – You never leave the office, because you live there. There’s no “separation” from work and home.
- Comradery and Collaboration – Workers are losing their sense of “team” and are feeling isolated. They miss having their “work friends” to connect with at a social level.
- Creativity – Without face to face interaction, it’s harder (although not impossible) to be creative.
- Motivation – It’s increasingly difficult to remain motivated when there’s not much to look forward to and workers can’t feed off the collective energy of the business.
Here’s how I predict the workforce will change over the next 10 years:
The Nomadic Life
Workers will be much more mobile, opting to work from home, the office, cafes, parks and beaches all over the world, depending on what suits them. That’s right. No longer bound to our desks, we will be free to work wherever we want, but not whenever we want. Work hours will still be bound by the time zone of the head office. Anyone who works for a business based in another country will know the pain of early morning or late night phone calls and Zoom meetings all too well. Will the bleary eye tradeoff be worth it? Time will tell.
Going to the Office Will Be an Event
Getting employees to come into the office will be harder. Public transport safety upgrades will take some time to be implemented and employees will want to know that their time will be used effectively. As a result, companies will need to arrange more structured events. Many of the days when the bulk of staff are scheduled to return will need to be based on a strategic agenda of activities.
Think of the old “offsite” as the new “onsite”. You’ll use these days to strategise, collaborate and perform the less functional elements of your role. You’ll also use these days to train and develop your people. You’ll weave in social elements as well. Your people will be excited and energised about going into the office if you do it right. If you make your events as dull and drab as they used to be, then be prepared to face serious resistance and eventually, resignations.
Companies Will Realise That the “A and B Team Strategy” is a Waste of Time
So the “A Team” comes into the office Mondays and Wednesdays and the “B Team” comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every second Friday. Why are they coming in at all? What’s the point of forcing people to come in at all and forcing them to abide by the same days each week? So, if my “come to work” day is a Tuesday, but my clients are only able to meet on a Monday, what do I do? Why not come in when they need to? Also, if I’m in “Team A” and I need to meet with someone in “Team B”… how does that work? Come to think of it… How do I get to know anyone in “Team B”? I give this idea less than 12 months before it’s scrapped.
Say Goodbye to Open Plan Offices and Hot Desking
Open plan offices will be ditched and employees will work within enclosed work spaces, that only they will use. This will happen for two reasons:
- To slow the spread of disease.
- Because we will be more acclimatised to working in the distraction-free* solitude of the home office and we’ll want environments that foster some interaction, but allow us to shut the door when we need to.
*For those of you currently battling with home schooling… I know your environment is far from ‘Distraction free’ – But this, hopefully, will be temporary.
Companies Will Lure Employees to the Office
Now employees have a real choice, companies will re-think how their office space is used and how they can encourage employees to come into the office as part of their daily routine. What? Now I have to “lure” people into my office??? Sorry, but yes. The world has changed. Deal with it, Boomer! The most successful companies in the world already do this – Facebook, Apple, Google (the list goes on). It only sounds like a pipedream to you, because you are so far behind already. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Your office needs to be a “hub” for your workers, not a “cell”. Think about your design. If it’s not more inviting than their home office, there’s a slim chance they’ll trade their environment for yours. People will invest a lot in their home offices.
I Need a Break From My Family
And then there are the people who, in spite of having a fondness for their spouse and offspring, just want to get away from them. While the novelty of working from home has been fun and exciting for some, there are plenty of others who could use a break and they’ll be pushing to go back to the office, even if it’s just for a few days a week.
Making the Office Social
The one thing that working from home has absolutely destroyed is bonding. People need to interact and learn about each other and quite often, that has nothing to do with work. You need to get comfortable with hosting social events regularly where the topic of work comes up organically (I guarantee you it will). These events need to be pure fun. No work, just bonding. A lot of the loyalty that people feel towards a company isn’t actually toward the company itself. It’s towards the people. You don’t get that if you don’t bond.
It Will Be Interpreted as a Sign of Distrust if Employees Aren’t Permitted to Work Remotely
If you think you need to have your staff in the office to keep tabs on them, you’ve got the wrong people. As more and more people work remotely, employees will take it as a personal insult if you don’t trust them enough to work in the environment that allows them to be the most productive. Let them decide where they need to work from and trust them. If they disappoint you, let them go and find someone else. Keep in mind, people were slacking off and not being productive when we were in an office as well, so nothing has changed on that front.
We Will Measure Productivity More and Devise New Measurements
In order to assess how effective our employees are, there will be a rise in the use of precise metrics to measure productivity. In some functions, this will be harder than others, but organisations need to justify why they are making the shift towards nomadic working and why they are investing in these new initiatives, such as an office fit out or technology to allow them to work remotely. Monitoring outcomes and productivity is the only way to justify the effectiveness of that investment. Rather than becoming a constraint (yes, I know it sounds like “big brother is watching”), precise measurement will actually turn out to be more liberating. Many people will gain more flexibility in their roles and they’ll find that productivity will be the key measure.
You Won’t Just Affect This Change – Your Clients, Partners and Suppliers Will
If you want your people in the office so you can keep tabs on them, or because you want value for the money you’re shelling out on your expensive city lease, you’ll need to rethink this. Your face to face interaction will reduce dramatically. You’ll need to consider downsizing your office space and working to the timeframes of your clients an suppliers. The 9 to 5 workday will be a thing of the past.
Your People Will be Lured Away by Progressive Cultures
You’ve been losing your best people to more progressive cultures already, mostly within the tech space. The trend of top talent moving towards these businesses has been happening for a decade or more, but it will accelerate over time. If you don’t take action now to become culturally competitive, then you’ll continue to lose your best people.
You’ll Compete on an International Playing Field
For far too long, Australia has been hiring from within its own backyard, a relatively small pool really. We’ve been locked away from the rest of the world, safe and sound. Now the world is on our doorstep. You will compete for roles from people in other countries and by the same token, you will be able to work in businesses from abroad. You will need to be competitive on an international scale. This will scare some people who are dangerously underprepared. It will excite others who are ready to take on the world.
The best indicator of the future is the past. The last major pandemic in 1919 lasted roughly two years. Let’s assume that we balance our increased population and human movement with improved scientific, medical and communication capability and the two cancel each other out. This will last two years, of which we are almost halfway through. We won’t eliminate this virus, but we will learn to live with it.
You’ve got six to twelve months to ready yourself for rapid growth both on a personal and company-wide level. The investments you make now will set the tone for your future success, or impending failure.
It’s up to you.
Don’t waste this opportunity. It won’t come around again. The future dividends will far outweigh the immediate cost.