Will Coronavirus Change the Way We Work?
Turbulent times bring radical change. The longer such times endure, the more habitual that change becomes. Likewise, how we react once the turbulence subsides depends largely on lessons learned and how we compensate for the crisis. That’s been true of wars, pandemics, and recessions throughout history.
How will COVID-19 change the way we work? What will our new “normal” be? While no prognosis is guaranteed, the following changes seem likely.
Pajamas, the new business casual?
Before the coronavirus, remote work was a lovely perk. It allowed employees to work from home on occasion to avoid taking a sick day, to pick up the kids, or to bypass a bumper-to-bumper commute.
COVID-19 has accelerated the remote-work trend. Even organizations arguing their work couldn’t be done from home—say because they handled sensitive information or required collaborative interaction—are making the switch.
With so many people working at home for so long, remote will shift from perk to business standard.
An office space odyssey
Offices won’t become artifacts of the past, though. Some occupations require high levels of collaboration, and some people find remote work isolating. For both, office space is necessary for fulfillment and professional success.
Office-bound businesses will build on the remote strategies and technology put in place for coronavirus, while simultaneously integrating those systems within their physical spaces.
Conversely, businesses that invested heavily in remote work will devise ways to extend company culture across a dispersed workforce. Expect the phrase “virtual water cooler” to be bandied about a lot.
To thrive in this liminal environment, employees will need to invest in home offices and maintain a repository of technological know-how.
New productivity metrics
Traditionally, managers lean on a simple heuristic to gauge productivity: Bodies in office equal people doing work. As such, managers often associate remote work with paying employees to browse social media or shop online. But according to the Pew Research Center, remote workers log more hours and are more engaged.
With the new norm will come new metrics of productivity. Those metrics will take shape slowly, and until refined, many leaders will lean on another managerial favorite: the all-hands meeting. Employees, remote and in-office, can expect more meetings for updates and check-ins.
Without a clear demarcation between the office and home, remote workers will struggle to keep their work and personal lives separate. Studies show remote workers have a harder time disconnecting and tend to extend their professional obligations into family time.
Because of this, we’ll see a difficult adjustment period and a push for developing new work-life balance habits.
No more red-eye flights?
After what may be months of shelter-in-place, people will reconsider the time and expenses sunk into business travel.
Company executives will view the traditional business trip with increased skepticism. Air travel is expensive, requires the juggling of travel and work, and exacerbates climate change. While some business travel will remain necessary, we’ll see business favoring Skype and savings over flights and hotels.
Similarly, employees will reassess the time and money they lose to the daily commute. They’ll use remote work to save on both. As people travel less to work and at divergent times, we may even see rush-hour traffic become less severe—at least one can hope.
Finally, remote work will reduce the frequency of permanent relocation. Companies will save money on relocation packages, while employees can retain home roots. In place of relocation will be the occasional business trip to touch base with the home office.
Small changes cascading out
In the coming months, COVID-19 will upend the economy and our lifestyles. But as the pandemic subsides, our lives will return to something comparable to normal. During the interim, however, the changes we initiated to manage the reality of the coronavirus will subtly adjust how we work and what expect from work.
The main change will be the widespread adoption of remote work, a change that will snowball into many other facets of work. There will be many other changes, too, but we’ll have to wait and see what they are.