In a matter of weeks COVID-19 has spiralled from a health crisis into a global economic and jobs crisis. One result of this is that more people have been working from home, with many having been urged to do so by their government.
While working from home is not new, the scale at which it is now being practised is. With self-isolation and social distancing measures expected to last for many more weeks, what long-term impact could this have on the way we work?
Flexibility in the workplace has been a key trend from the past few years and Covid-19 will accelerate its ascent. With people working from home, able to take more control over how and when they work, the concept of working a set number of hours on specific days will quickly look outdated. Instead, workers will adopt a core set of hours – for meetings, collaboration, etc. – and then fit the rest in at the time that suits them, leading for more active, varied and balanced lives.
As the world struggles to grapple with the virus, stories have emerged of clearer waters in Venice and less pollution in China; the environment has rejuvenated as human activity has ceased. Business travel, too, has also come to a standstill and it may never get fully going again. If we demonstrate that modern technology can be used to communicate effectively across seas and mountain ranges, is it really necessary to hop on that budget airline and whack up our carbon footprint just to attend a 1-hour meeting in person? The frequency of travel could likely drop, reserved for only the most special and important of occasions, making it all the more meaningful.
Having your team work from home is, I imagine, a nightmare for a micromanager, with physical separation making it impossible to keep an eye on what they’re doing every minute of every day. More generally, we are all going to have to learn to work in a slightly different way, including trusting our colleagues to deliver what is needed on time, without being able to check in or nudge them in person. This will actually have a positive long-term benefit, and will ultimately lead to stronger teams comprised of empowered individuals.
Working from home definitely comes with challenges, not least because it removes a large percentage of social interaction from our days. However, being away from the hubbub of the office and our colleagues can actually help to stimulate our ideas, giving us the space and the confidence to allow our creativity to flourish. I think it’s safe to say that, despite how difficult this period will be, new businesses will be born as a result and new ways of working will emerge. Humans are adaptable creatures, and many of our greatest accomplishments have followed on the heels of extreme adversity. It may feel lonely and uncertain at the moment, but this time can also be used for nurturing our own skills and ideas.
Nobody knows how long Covid-19 will be around, and what its ultimate impacts will be. In a world of upheaval and uncertainty, the way we work, and think about work, will surely never be the same.
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