What does the future of work look like as we adapt to a new normal?

Image of the post author Jodie Shaw

This week marks a change in the focus on many news outlets and governments. From protection, to productivity – as leaders grapple with the challenge of getting economies moving again. There is more confidence around some countries approach and communication (New Zealand) than others (UK, US – looking at you!). However, in all situations there is a agreement that the world we are returning to is not the same as we left.

The workplace is no different. The Straits Times last week carried a story from Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry about how ‘working from home will continue to be the norm for the majority’ even after restrictions are lifted. Forbes has taken this further and stated that “The Covid-19 coronavirus is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. How we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, and of course, where we work, will be changed forever!”

However, for those of us that have been able to continue our working life from the safety of our home, will the adjustment back to the office be harder than the adjustment to work at home? US Tech website BuiltIn quote a CEO who states that it takes “6 to 12 weeks for a smooth transition from on-site to remote working”. For many, this timeframe has already been met. People are working at home, people are productive, and…are people are starting to realise the benefits: lack of travel, more flexible hours, ability to help with childcare … With many positives to working from home, what does this mean for the future of work?

Certainly, in the short term, offices will be sparse locations. Governments are still advising those who can work from home to work from home. If you do return, social distancing measures will have to evident. Here in Singapore – if you are do not implement safe management of your workplace, the government can fine you or even shut down operations for errant employers. The Economist offer up an opinion piece on how that distancing may look. A 2m gap between desks could reduce capacity of workspaces to 30-35% of the pre-Covid lockdown. The piece also details a high tech solution before the lockdown in UAE, with contactless pathways from door to desk, relying on motion sensors and facial coding to open doors. Having a reduced workforce onsite, or investing in tech are expensive options for most firms – but what about the office itself. What role will it play?

Get regular insights

Keep up to date with the latest insights from our research as well as all our company news in our free monthly newsletter.

At Kadence, we have managed to retain productivity. Completing projects to time, and collaborating using video calls, Slack and online whiteboards and Google Docs. What we really miss is the unintended interaction with others. Overhearing conversations and adding some extra insights, hearing the chatter of voices and the energy in the room. At Kadence, we also have some onsite resources that are hard to replicate offsite. Focus group viewing facilities, a call center and workshop facilities will all be utilized in the future. However, the floor space may change. We might be more open to a higher proportion of staff working from offsite at any one time. Rather than whole team meetings and designated desks, perhaps our floor space will have more meeting areas. So that project teams can come together in an environment to bounce off each other, then return home to execute the required tasks. Vice talk of new rituals being formed to bring meaning to home working and The Atlantic talk about dress codes changing in life after COVID.

However, perhaps the most important change will be in HR, not in the physical use of space. If people are going to work from offsite more often, how does team bonding work? How will you help teams to prioritize their workloads? How will you manage line reports? These skills will require even more attuned social skills and people managers.

I would foresee offices being more flexible environments. Bringing people together when it matters, but keeping people apart for safety….and for their own personal preference. As a result, team dynamics will change. Mangers will need to juggle a wider array of pastoral matters. The corporate cultures that thrive will be flatter, more candid and more collaborative.

Perhaps the new normal is still being discovered, but the ‘now normal’ is all about flexibility and creativity.