Crises have a history of ushering in change at an accelerated pace COVID Corporate work shift
The COVID-19 pandemic may be the tipping point for one of the biggest shifts in how corporate workers work. What was once not possible, quickly becomes the new way of doing things. Have we ever undergone such a rapid shift in how corporate workers work?
The response from the global corporate community to the pandemic was to keep things running, with most of their workers working from home. Offices shut down with minimal staff on-site and most corporate travel was halted. No more office meetings, no visiting other organizations, no corporate events, the workplace office culture went into a deep freeze.
This spawned a huge acceleration in the use of video meeting technology from Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and the like. And, attending live CEO events from home became critical in keeping employees in sync and informed. Technology tools to substitute for the real face-to-face, real-time interaction. IT infrastructure was ramped up to handle the increased remote network and telephony needs. And the quickest way to implement all the new technology was through cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others.
People who thought their job could only be done via face-to-face interaction learned that in fact, they could do their job via a remote connection. Medical practitioners were able to meet with patients online where previously in-person visits were mandatory. Technology deployments which could never have been accomplished remotely were now possible with some out-of-the-box thinking and innovative use of technology; sales relationship building had to happen via remote connection – no more wining and dining. The list is endless.
There was a portion of the corporate workforce that didn’t skip a beat. About 4% of workers worked from home half the time or more pre-COVID, according to Kate Lister, President, Global Workplace Analytics (see video below). They had been working this way for years. Nothing different, except their way of working from home became the norm.
Some workers and organizations embraced this new world. Changing their policies to permanently shed real estate to operate virtually. Allowing employees who formerly struggled with high housing costs and long commutes, to move to cities with reasonable home prices, and eliminating their commute permanently. The real estate markets boomed.
Other workers struggled with this new reality. The workforce who worked in big cities, with small living spaces and high rent, found themselves trapped all day in their tight quarters. Working from a small kitchen or from their bedrooms, their home-workspace became a cramped reality from which there was little escape. Moving to another city or the suburbs was not in the cards for them.
And they suffered. Their mental health declined. Their connection to their co-workers and organization deteriorated. Their productivity waned.
They aren’t the only workers reporting productivity decline. A Senior Partner at a large law firm recently confided that although he has plenty of space to work at home and all the connectivity tools, he thought he was less productive working in this new reality.
And then there are the workers who are also raising a family. Balancing their jobs with homeschooling, the dog barking, and running the household. With no daycare services or school to take the kids to, their job focus time lessened, and their productivity and mental health suffered.
Intuitively we know that things will never go back to what they were pre-COVID. Bill Gates thinks that more than 50% of business travel will disappear long term and 30% of days in the office will go away. Bill’s numbers are probably in the ballpark, at least for the years directly post-COVID. But, the office, the workplace, the physical places where we come together in the pursuit of a common purpose – they aren’t going away.
Workplaces build corporate culture; they increase focus and productivity for many workers and they contribute to the well-being of people. They are an essential piece of the corporate fabric of many organizations. But they will change.
The workplace of the future will be reduced in size as more people work from home full-time or part-time. According to a recent survey by KPMG, 68% of companies are looking at reducing their real estate footprint. And 88% of workers, Kate says, want to continue to work from home 2-3 days a week. This is the sweet spot for workers, says Kate, and it is also a sweet spot for employers because at this point “they can start to reconstruct their office space to be used for collaboration and communication, recognizing that home can be the place for concentration”.
Optimizing for this sweet spot will have a huge impact on our work, our workplaces, and the cities we live in. The COVID Corporate work shift.
Some companies are abandoning real estate space because the nature of their business allows them to operate as a virtual business. And a portion of the workforce are prepared to work each day from home, so they can move to a city where they can afford the cost of living and lose the commute. Finally, according to this CNN article, titled “Even with hope on the horizon in this pandemic, what’s the point of ever leaving home again?”, some people are asking why they would ever want to return to the way things were. The article suggests this is not only a work point-of-view, but for a gym membership, and various forms of entertainment as well. But, the big assumption is that people have space at home to make that kind of a shift which doesn’t hold for all workers.
The percentage of the workforce that will not return to the workplace is still to be determined. But this shift can be a potentially seismic wave for big cities according to Adie Tomer, a Fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, with many ripple effects (see video).
As a balance is struck between office time and work from home time, and our workplaces are right-sized, we also need to take the opportunity to rationalize and consolidate our workplace communications and sync that communication with employees working from home. We need to re-think our signage in buildings and have the ability to sync that content to the desktop of the work from home employee. The digital media streams that show up on digital signs and video in the workplace, need to show up on the corporate screensaver or desktop signage on the employee’s computer, or communicate the pulse of an operation to employees working from home in real-time.
To do that, we need a digital media communication platform that can communicate to any screen type in our office space and to an employee’s personal workspace. Synced messaging and data, no matter where an employee works on any given day.
Consolidate. Single platform. Synced digital media streams. The importance of having this corporate capability will be the subject of our next blog.