Around Australia, people who have been working from home for the last two months are starting to make their way back into offices. Because of the ongoing risk of coronavirus, this is happening in stages, and with some changes – for example: better hygiene, re-configuring offices for social distancing, stricter rules around contact, staggered starting times, and so on.
But COVID-19 has created our biggest work-from-home experiment, and that’s a good thing.
It would be a pity if we all went back to “business as usual” in the office of the past. In the short term, it can’t happen because we need to manage our office space carefully during the pandemic. And in the longer term, many people now have some experience of working from home, and they never want to go back to full-time office work.
But beware – we have short memories!
Do you remember this “flattening the curve” graph we were all talking about two months ago?
In Australia, we’ve been very successful at flattening the curve, and as a result we’re starting to see some of our restrictions being relaxed. But it’s easy to forget that flattening the curve was not about eliminating the virus, but about easing the pressure on our healthcare system. So relaxing restrictions doesn’t mean the virus is gone – it just means there’s an ICU bed waiting for you!
I’m saying this not just as a public health message, but to point out that we tend to have short memories. And it applies in other areas of our lives as well – including our return to the workplace. There’s a risk some leaders won’t learn from this work-from-home experiment – and that would be a huge missed opportunity.
The office hasn’t been around forever.
Although the office has been the standard workplace of knowledge workers, it’s only been that way for 200 years. And it was necessary in the past because
… that’s where all the files were
… that’s where you had access to admin staff
… that was the only way you could work as a team.
Even before COVID-19, employees – especially younger employees – wanted flexible work. But many organisations just weren’t set up to provide it. Now that we’ve been forced to do it, employers should be more open to it.
We now have the opportunity to re-imagine the workplace of the future for knowledge workers, and it doesn’t need to revolve around the office.
Working from home isn’t for everybody!
People are very resilient and adaptable, and even those who were thrown into working from home at the start of lockdown might have become used to it. But that doesn’t mean they like it. Everybody is different:
- Some were doing it already, so it was already part of their life. They already had a comfortable workspace, had regular work routines, knew how to stay motivated, could switch off at the end of the day, and weren’t tempted by the distractions of the family and fridge.
- Others experienced it for the first time and loved it. They have lots of space at home, have good Internet access, weren’t supervising kids during the day, could work from their back garden on sunny days, didn’t have to commute anymore, could be flexible with their working hours, loved cooking and eating healthy food, and could exercise when they chose.
- At the other extreme, others hated remote work – the isolation, missing their colleagues, missing the office dynamic, yearning for lunch breaks in the CBD – and couldn’t wait to get back to the office.
- Others are undecided, and want to try it when they don’t have all the restrictions.
But it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing solution. The workplace of the future can be a mix of home, office, and other locations.
We’re already seeing some promising results.
Already, the research is showing many people like the idea of working from home:
- 82% of office professionals would like to work remotely at least one day a week post-COVID-19 (Colliers – Working from home during COVID-19)
- 53% of people believe their productivity has not changed as a result of working from home (Colliers)
- 60% of employees say their work-life balance has improved due to lack of a commute (Robert Half – COVID-19 and the Workplace)
And even employers are coming on board:
- 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift more people to remote work post-COVID-19 (Gartner)
- 49% of companies will make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it (PwC – COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey)
And these results are despite having to deal with all the other disruption caused by a global pandemic!
What could this mean for your future workplace?
In the last two months, organisations have been forced to rapidly enhance many capabilities to allow their office workers to work from home: IT infrastructure, cyber-security, online meeting skills, virtual collaboration, HR support, and more.
Those new capabilities enable much more than just letting some people work from home some of the time. Allowing that kind of flexibility means you automatically create other opportunities as well.
Here are just 10 things you could potentially do differently with that new capability in your organisation:
- Attract the best people from anywhere in the world.
- Offer diverse online learning opportunities, customised to each individual.
- Find and recruit “lost” talent, such as parents who want to work part-time, people who left because their partner relocated, and less physically-able employees
- Throw out standard office hours and allow flexible working hours.
- Promote better work/life integration for staff.
- Save wasted time from interruptions, endless meetings, and commute time.
- Create a paperless office.
- Save costs on expensive office infrastructure.
- Call in experts as required – from anywhere around the world.
- Truly measure and reward performance by results.
But none of this happens by itself!
Note that I said these are things you could potentially do differently. You now have the capability, but it still takes the will to make it happen. If you’re a leader in your organisation, it’s up to you!
It’s time to change when, where, and how we work.
Don’t miss the opportunity to make a difference.