Workplaces will likely never be the same after the COVID-19 crisis ends. While some people have thrived with the independence and flexibility of commute-free remote work, others have struggled to cope — with the impact on mental health being felt by many who are concerned for their wellbeing, families and communites.
As we move beyond the pandemic, it’s likely that many organisations will need to continue some level of remote work and collaboration, which will provide them with savings on office space and business travel expenses.
In this new world, four key elements will define the workplaces of tomorrow:
1. Continued remote working
The ability to work remotely will no doubt suit some workers more than others, and finding a balance will prove tricky for businesses.
While some people enjoy working remotely, others miss the in-person communication and collaboration that comes from a team environment. Some look forward to commuting to a central location every day, visiting their favourite coffee haunts, and catching up with colleagues face-to-face. For others, the daily commute is a nightmare they could do without.
Regardless of individual preferences, as organisations realise the cost-savings of reducing office space, many workers will be expected to continue with at least some remote work. There will need to be a conscious awareness of boundaries and a new concept of ‘clocking off’ so work time doesn’t blur into leisure time and home life.
2. Increased online learning
Human resources thought leader Mathias Otte forecasts the creation of new workforces, involving rapid re-skilling and up-skilling of entire workforce segments in response to the rise of remote working: ”Distributed working will increase the demand and requirements for skilled resources in all areas of digital, cyber and networks as well as potentially the creation of a new online workforce with distributed work models, based on service creation rather than process.”
Much of this skill training will take place through online learning, which has now become more established and accepted as a result of COVID-19. Just as people have previously learned how to work in distributed, virtual teams, online learning and virtual instruction are now central to the new normal.
3. More digital events
In-person, physical events will return, but there will be more digital events in the future as people embrace the potential of being freed from their geographical restraints. It will prove to be more affordable in terms of money and time to (virtually) attend conferences and seminars, and webinars will become a much more consistent part of the mainstream.
This presents an important opportunity for people who weren’t previously able to attend in-person events, and it levels the playing field for companies and individuals outside major cities, who now have the opportunity to participate equally.
4. A shift in culture and environment
The water-cooler is going to be a lot less communal in future. It’s possible that handshaking may be gone for good and that social distancing observations will remain. Crowding team members and invading their personal space will be considered higher breaches of etiquette than they once were, and there will also be more automation: everything from travel to hygiene processes will become as contactless as possible, with HR likely to implement stricter rules for breaches of workplace health and safety policies.
This shift in culture will include a greater focus on employee wellbeing. GO1 recently hosted an online event with the CEO of R U OK? Day, and made it open and free to everyone — staff, customers and prospective customers. The session was focused on what the community could do in order to support each other through these uncertain times. It generated some great conversations and positive feedback. For us as an organisation, it was important to take stock and understand what our teams were going through.
Ultimately, the COVID-19 crisis has given people the space and time to evaluate and determine what their true priorities are.
As we emerge from the coronavirus lockdown, the workforce will likely separate into two camps. The first camp will be people who are suffering financial hardship and are looking for whatever job they can find. And the second, will be people who can afford — having had time to pause and reassess their lives — to seek out more meaningful jobs that fit with their values.
At the same time, many businesses will struggle to survive and industries will undergo permanent shifts, meaning that people will need to be a lot more flexible in terms of what they do and how they do it.
Vu Tran is a co-founder and director at online learning startup GO1. He is also a member of SmartCompany’s Brains Trust.
This article was first published by Dynamic Business