In less than half a year, the COVID outbreak has reshaped the way we live and work – at least according to the popular perception. While some of us are struggling to stay productive while working from home, others predict that offices will soon fade away completely. Let’s take a closer look at what will probably change in the workplace and how much of these changes are actually as radical as they feel.
Opportunities for Contingent Workforce
Perhaps the most apparent effect of the COVID outbreak on the labor market is the shift away from the standard working model of full-time employment. Organizations around the world have adopted the work-from-home approach whenever possible to comply with the safety measures. To many employees, the change was seen as a step towards freedom and flexibility, especially in combination with the emerging trend of portable Internet solutions. While the media was quick to prophesize the looming demise of office spaces, this is probably an unrealistic assertion, since offices still offer many advantages to employers:
- Better control over workflow
- Cohesive workplace culture
- Improved productivity
- Distraction-free environment
- Compliance with safety standards
Nevertheless, recent data suggests that nearly a third of organizations are switching to the contingent worker model. And this shift is not new, either, as it has been predicted by experts long before the 2020 pandemic. So while the total disappearance of offices is probably a far-fetched assumption, we can expect working arrangements that are more suitable for work-from-home models.
Social Responsibilities of Employers
Choosing the best portable wifi modem to get you to your virtual office in the morning may be a neat quality-of-life improvement. Yet, it certainly isn’t enough to ensure the well-being of the workforce. While remote work has many benefits ranging from employee satisfaction to inclusivity, it requires an adjustment, if not an overhaul, of social responsibilities on the part of employers. Perhaps the most obvious example is sick leaves, which will undoubtedly cost more yet also bring more economic benefits in the long run.
And the list doesn’t end there. In fact, for many people working from home turned out to be far more psychologically challenging than they had expected. The common adverse effects include:
- Lack of motivation
- Disrupted sleep
Healthcare organizations were quick to respond with sets of recommendations to mitigate these effects. Nevertheless, it would be fair to expect a similar move from employers to improve the physical and emotional state of their workers.
People-Centric Working Environments
Another revealing quality of the COVID outbreak has to do with the treatment of employees in organizations. Despite nationwide recommendations on safeguarding the workplace from the virus, many companies chose to violate the regulations. Legal considerations aside, such behavior shows that at least some employers view their employees as a resource rather than human beings. Again, such an attitude is not new – in fact, the dehumanization of employees is a problem with a long history. Yet, the COVID outbreak has become a sort of a wake-up call that brought it into the limelight.
Creating safe environments is perhaps the most apparent response. However, it is also the most superficial one as it does not address the underlying problems, focusing instead on one of its manifestations. Hopefully, in the long term, we’ll also see organization-wide changes in workplace culture towards a more people-centric approach. Not only will it have a positive effect on mitigating crises like the COVID outbreak, but it will also strengthen the principles of equality and diversity in the workplace.
Focus on Resilience
No matter how concerned businesses may be about their employees’ well-being, in the end, it is the performance that matters, right? Well, yes and no. In recent years, the pursuit of productivity has prompted many businesses to tighten their workflows and streamline business operations to maximize output. Which they did – with a caveat. It turned out that, while more efficient, such an arrangement is also more prone to disruptions. In fact, the modern business environment is unpredictable enough to pose a risk to business models that lack flexibility, which became obvious even before COVID.
Fortunately, some companies have already come up with ways to address this problem, from diversifying employee roles and responsibilities to designing workflows that can absorb smaller setbacks. Now that almost everyone on the planet has the first-hand experience of dealing with such a massive crisis, we can expect similar measures to become commonplace throughout the corporate world.
To sum up, the future of work in a world after the lockdown looks surprisingly familiar. Despite sending massive shockwaves throughout our lives and being framed as a game-changer in the media, COVID-19 hardly brought anything new to the table. Most of the paradigm shifts the pandemic is credited with have been underway for years. At best, it may have sped up changes that had been long due anyway, and did so at tremendous cost. In the end, it is human ingenuity and creativity, not a humanitarian crisis, that is responsible for the amazing future of work that lies ahead.