How the pandemic has affected the future of work

  • July 08, 2022

The question most people are asking at the moment, is when will we go back to work? The anticipation of a return to normality, in the workplace especially, is immense. However, a return to a pre-pandemic state of affairs is highly unlikely. 

The digitalisation of society has seen a rapid acceleration, indeed almost a completion, during the past year, with the most significant consequences seen on the high street. Most notably perhaps was the collapse of Arcadia Group, which went into administration in November 2020, putting 13,000 jobs across 444 UK stores at risk.

The idea that a physical workplace is both irreplaceable and an ideal environment for productivity has been forcibly questioned. From the first lockdown, companies which can operate using remote working have been forced to do so, and the results have been surprising, for some at least. A McKinsey study found that productivity did not fall – 28% felt that they were as productive, with a significant 41% believing they were more productive than when working in the office.

This has essentially thrown the status quo of the workplace on its head; while the physical workplace has seen centuries of evolution, the forced (and thus rapid) adaption of a widespread online work approach is a novel concept, which will change significantly during the coming months and years. Below, we go into five ways that the pandemic has changed the way employees and employers will approach the future of work.

5 ways the pandemic has completely changed the future of work

  1. Work from home

The biggest change to the work environment – the overarching change which has influences on every aspect of work culture – is the adaption of work from home policies. Not only can this be beneficial to employees, who can save time and money that would have been spent on the commute, it will end up saving employers’ vast sums on travel benefits, office space, and all the costs surrounding the maintenance of a physical location. 

Employers will very likely keep some physical presence, with an option to work in an office, but it will be scaled back dramatically.

  1. HR and mental health

An area which will need to see dramatic reform is HR. With employees working remotely, it is far harder to keep track of their physical and mental health. HR departments will have to rapidly evolve to keep track of these issues, and work with therapists and experts in the field to make sure that crises don’t unfold without them noticing. As social creatures, humans crave interaction. 

The effects of a life lived completely online are yet to be seen, however there will doubtless be unexpected impacts that we all have to deal with.

  1. Work from anywhere

An amazing benefit of working remotely, for both employees and employers, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be from home. This opens up the option for employees to work and travel simultaneously, from rented houses or hotels in nice destinations, helping to create a more positive work-life balance and increasing productivity. For employees, this opens up the work pool.

 Recruiters can search globally (or at least in appropriate time zones) for potential candidates, rather than in a 50-mile radius. This opens up a vast talent pool, potentially revolutionising the way workers are sought out.

  1. Adapted work culture

A significant dilemma among employers is how to develop a healthy work culture online. With physical locations, it is far easier to cultivate this; through events and just the day-to-day occurrences of office life, camaraderie and friendships flourish, creating a sense of collective vision and the idea that you’re all working towards the same goal. 

This ‘natural’ sense of culture will have to be reassessed as digitisation progresses, and employers will have to make more of an effort. Already some workplaces are hosting online quizzes and the like – while a step in the right direction, far more is necessary to help people thrive. How this will happen, only time will tell.

  1. Skills reappraisal

The skills necessary to thrive in the online world are likely to change. With a turn to the digital world, it is likely that employers will try to pass off as many roles to AI as possible. Another McKinsey study found that around 50% of current global jobs could be automated, meaning up to 800 million workers could face digital replacement by 2030. 

If the only purpose of a human worker is to provide a face and human element to the role, digitisation and remote working remove that purpose. Workers therefore have to rapidly upskill, and ensure that their role is irreplaceable.

What does the future of work look like for the majority of employees?

The key takeaway here is that the future of the workplace potentially comes with many benefits for employees, as well as some dangers. 

With remote and more flexible work, a work-life balance will become far easier to achieve, for example allowing parents to work when it may have been impossible or at least highly impractical before. Companies such as Google, HSBC and Microsoft have all stated the intention to maintain a more adaptable and open approach to flexible working, and it is almost always the case that these titans of the industry lead the way for the rest of the market. 

However, there are also threats. Digitisation and computing/AI’s rapid evolution also means that the prospect of employees being replaced by machines becomes a genuine possibility in many cases. In addition to this, with remote working the wellbeing of employees will be harder to monitor, and companies will have to work hard with their HR departments to ensure that workers are taken care of. 

Both workers and employers will have to rapidly evolve in order to weather the storm. Failure to adapt will result in being left in a bygone era, steadily surpassed by those who have caught up with the times.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash