Sight Magazine – Essay: The Workplace Revolution
- Evil Fletcher
London, United Kingdom
Teamwork, Andrew Carnegie wrote, is the fuel that enables ordinary people to achieve unusual results.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in huge changes in the work habits of millions, possibly billions of people around the world.
What will the future of office work look like after the COVID-19 pandemic? IMAGE: Via Unsplash
For example, commuting and office work have been hit hard by COVID-19. Before the pandemic, more than 20% of European workers spent 90 minutes or more getting to and from work. This will definitely change for the post-COVID generation.
In a European study carried out earlier this year, 34% of those polled said they would be willing to take a lower paying job if it meant they could continue to work from home.
“Working from home has significant advantages, especially in terms of the environment … However, it presents challenges in the areas of socialization and collaborative innovation. If old ideas are to connect to form new ideas, a process that is central to innovation, people have to connect. Studies indicate that people often connect more meaningfully in physical space than through zoom meetings. This is certainly true when it comes to generating and developing ideas. ”
Working from home has considerable advantages, especially in terms of the environment. The closures have raised awareness of the difference road vehicles make to the air we breathe. In Europe, during the first lockdown of 2020, nitrogen dioxide levels were down 40% from the previous year. Researchers say 11,000 fewer people died during the first blockages thanks to cleaner air.
Remote work also brings benefits for some employers, in terms of worker satisfaction and productivity. This is especially true if the employees are highly motivated and self-disciplined.
However, it presents challenges in the areas of socialization and collaborative innovation. If old ideas are to connect to form new ideas, a process essential to innovation, people have to connect. Studies indicate that people often connect more meaningfully in physical space than through zoom meetings. This is certainly true when it comes to generating and developing ideas.
Thus, offices will always be important to many people and organizations in the post-pandemic era. Leaders and managers, however, must remember that, for many employees, co-work is now an expectation rather than a mere aspiration.
On a few fronts, COVID-19 has accelerated changes that might otherwise have happened much more gradually. In schools and universities, for example, educators have learned to retool for digital learning. They realized that online education could enrich the classroom without replacing it.
Arguably this would have happened over time anyway, especially with the increasing sophistication of technologies like augmented and virtual reality and holography. A similar shift has occurred in approaches to mixed medicine, where many medical appointments are made over the phone or online. Likewise, the workspace will need to evolve to accommodate and celebrate the benefits of working from home at least part-time.
Office designers and managers will need to pay more attention to the mental and emotional impact these spaces have on their teams. The human emotional response to an emergency event, such as a pandemic, often outlasts the technical cause of the emergency. We saw this unfold in the United States in the weeks and months following September 11.
Airports remained largely empty in parts of the country for up to three months after the World Trade Center attacks. Some airlines have been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
It was not directly due to the work of the terrorists; it was the result of a human emotional response to the work of terrorists. Human emotion often takes a long time to adjust after a shocking event has occurred.
Employers will need to monitor the emotional health of their teams even after we have collectively arrived at housing with COVID-19. Even in the locked UK, when people were still forced to work from home, some managers wisely encouraged their employees to spend time from work catching up with colleagues informally.
Employees were invited to have ‘virtual coffee’ if they were meeting online and to talk more openly about how they were dealing with the pressures of the moment. Many have been ordered to turn off work email accounts at the end of each work day to relieve stress.
For a while, some people will continue to struggle emotionally with the idea of working closely with others. Many employees on leave, who have been paid to stay home for extended periods of time, will need help re-engaging with the pressures of office work.
I’m not suggesting that CEOs or managers become health care workers or psychologists. It’s just about being ready to make changes to the office setup, and then being patient as people adjust.
In the longer term, we will see some large companies – and networks of smaller ones – offering basic mental health “clinics” to their workers. These will be small, professionally managed units within the organization that will provide training and support in basic mental health skills, problem solving skills and transition management tools.
These skills can be learned from disciplines such as cognitive behavioral therapy and can often be at least in part self-administered, with training and support. This will become even more important in the face of the automation revolution, where people will not only change jobs, but their entire careers, multiple times.
So, what exactly will the post-pandemic desktop environment look like? In short, it will have to offer a more global experience. Unless they are under severe financial strain, people won’t want to commute for hours every day just to sit in soulless cabins, working on someone else’s schedule.
Office spaces should provide access to decent food and pleasant coffee areas. Many will provide spaces for exercise, downtime, and reflection, all during working hours. Access to the natural environment will also be important, even if it is simply access to an atrium or windows overlooking the trees.
In terms of logistics, staggered schedules will be attractive, especially in highly congested urban environments. In urban centers, public transport becomes overloaded at certain times of the day, increasing the level of stress linked to proximity. We have now been conditioned to see overcrowding as a danger to our health. It’s not a feeling that will quickly dissipate, at least not when it comes to workplaces.
“Going beyond the pandemic, as long as it takes, will offer us a unique chance to reorganize practices and workspaces to increase levels of innovation and human teamwork. As Carnegie suggested, it just might bring some unusual, if not extraordinary, results. “
The pandemic has given birth to a “crowd-free economy”. It has dramatically reduced sectors of the economy that depend on social proximity, such as the restaurant and entertainment sectors.
However, on the other side of the emergency, people will recognize more than ever the value of community – and its importance to our mental health. They will understand that if working from home takes their entire week, it is likely to block the mental health benefits of socialization.
Savvy companies and organizations will therefore offer their employees the opportunity to work remotely for at least part of their time, if possible. Depending on the type of work involved, they will likely insist that some time be spent in the college office environment.
Savvy employers will ensure that their offices are physically and culturally configured for interaction and the free flow of ideas, with physical security. The best offices are like living organisms; they change shape to allow changing emotional and psychological needs as well as the fluid flow of ideas between teams.
Moving beyond the pandemic, however long it takes, will provide us with a unique chance to reorganize practices and workspaces to boost levels of innovation and human teamwork. As Carnegie suggested, it just might bring some unusual, if not extraordinary, results.
Evil Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is a social futurist, social commentator and speaker and Chairman of 2030Plus, a London-based think tank. He has researched global social trends for over 25 years and has spoken to civic leaders around the world on issues related to ethics and sociocultural values, PESTLE analysis, civic leadership, emerging and future technologies, social media, generational change and innovation. First published on 2030Plus.com. Copyright Mal Fletcher, 2021.
Mal Fletcher is a member of the Sight Advisory Board.