The advent of COVID-19 has created an unparalleled, never before global health and economic crisis which the world was not ready to face or ever predicted. Most of the world population went on lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 which has claimed more than a million lives already and sparked fear of the worst global recession since the great depression. This has had a profound impact on businesses and workplace, as well as the mental and physical well-being of every corporate worker in the world. Over the last six to eight months it has become apparent that coming out of this crisis will be slow and require hard work. In fact, 86% of Fortune 500 CEOs believe economic activity will not return to pre-pandemic levels before the first quarter of 2022.
The metamorphosis of the workplace and its future has clearly emerged as an area of debate, experiments, theories and many speculations. Somewhere deep there seem to be no clear answers available to social scientists, corporate leaders, workplace consultants, HR Gurus, management professors and psychologists as we lose normalcy in our daily lives.
In this situation, few scenarios will clearly get reflective in workplaces across industry.
The rising debate of advantages vs. disadvantages of ‘Work from Home’
As days pass by we are going to see more and more employers embrace flexibility around working from home and having virtual teams. Contrary to their earlier assumptions, they will find out that providing these flexibilities are not impossible tasks. In fact it may even come with benefits of not having to commute and getting to work where you want. The debate and argument around the fact that a lot of work done in large shared offices could better be done at home will gain ground. The so-called future work visionaries, who are fond of their sweat pant and shorts, will find COVID-19 giving wings to their ideas. The preliminary results say a lot of work can be done at home; and with many people seem even preferring it. The reality is, until social-distancing guidance ends, offices cannot work at full steam. The average office can work with 25-60% of its staff while maintaining a two-metre (six-foot) distance between workers. This will clearly see the emergence of new ways of working or workplace design. The counter argument remains in this quest for safety, freedom, increased productivity and low cost, organisations will see a huge impact on camaraderie, engagement, culture and mental health of their people. In fact, some companies which have tried large-scale remote working in the past have ultimately abandoned it, including Yahoo, a technology firm, in 2013. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” a leaked internal memo read that year. Thus, as a counterview, home place can never work as an alternative to the workplace.
Shift in Corporate Leadership style
This pandemic has pushed corporate leaders to shift their leadership style from being in the command and control zone to a more vulnerable zone of flexibility. Compassion is the need of the hour in Covid times. This is a great time for leaders to be more hands-off when it comes to scheduling and planning to be a little bit more hands-on in figuring out how their people are doing on a day-to-day basis. Creating a heart-to-heart connection with employees will define future leadership success.
Some of the Leadership Do’s and Don’t are :
- Define clear priorities for the team to focus on what is important and not urgent.
- Be inclusive in action and thoughts. Even if some people are in the office, hold all-team meetings online to be fair to everyone.
- Reflect on your biases and predispositions. Ask yourself, “Are there people on my team that I have not given a fair shake to and what would it look like if I did?”
- Be rigid. The future right now is unpredictable, and everyone needs to be flexible.
- Ignore signs of stress from your team. Be empathetic. Help people prioritize what’s important.
- Forget about fun. Look for ways to enjoy connecting with your team and bring some playfulness into the workday.
The future of Workplace will reflect more of the gig economy
As soon as lockdown was imposed, we immediately witnessed a boom of the gig economy in the form of delivery boys of Swiggy, Zomato and later Amazon riding through the empty streets of most cities. They were the newfound urban Genies of the COVID-19 crisis from day one, either facilitating the panic buying of wheat flour or helping stress-induced experiments of sushi delight dinners.
Gig work, driven by digital platforms, includes a variety of ‘jobs’ or micro-entrepreneurial opportunities — from ride-hailing to delivery and professional services, providing homestays as a service — each of them a small business in their own right.
In the post-COVID-19, we will also see the techie gig workers of the new normal world emerging in large numbers. These are people who will focus on short-term projects, work for a few months and then leave for a long Himalayan hike. Multiple employment opportunities may emerge as a new norm with the government being forced to come out with new amendments in labour laws to support the newfound gig world.
Thus, a new redefined metamorphosis of the workplace will emerge with a clear mindset shift of workers at all levels in the corporate hierarchy.