The world of work changed forever in the past 3-months.
As we painstakingly begin to exit the devastation of COVID-19, what seemed normal for many businesses, no longer seems feasible, and even seems downright foolish. Traveling at your own risk, into an office filled with colleagues sitting in closely together, sharing a small confined space, many times with poor air circulation, and interacting, is now a dangerous proposition.
This has been our way of working life for some time, and a surprising few have questioned the reasoning or purpose of it for workers who spend their time in front of a computer and/or on their phone for a living, otherwise known as knowledge workers. Work from home, now referred to with the ubiquitous acronym WFH was incubated in the tech industry and now has crossed boundaries into many different businesses that don’t require a physical presence. WFH has been a perk to attract employees who desire flexibility and work-life balance. Until now.
Due to the effects of COVID-19, 62% of employed Americans are on WFH detail.
Many employers and employees are now realizing that the office set up we have accepted and have grown accustomed to, as a part of our daily lives, is not only dangerous to our health but unnecessary to mandate as productivity continues in a more efficient, balanced working world. A recent study found that employees work harder when they work from home, Study: Employees work harder when they work from home.
Last week Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey told employees via email that they would be allowed to work from home indefinitely, even after COVID-19 shutdowns end. Twitter announces permanent work from home policy. Google, Facebook and other tech companies have taken the lead and also extended its work from home policy, some until the fall of 2020, others until the end of the year.
With COVID-19, we’ve seen so many people infected, hospitalized and dying, it gives us all a feeling of numbness. This is something no one could have imagined let alone predicted. One of the major biproducts of this devastation has been a ravaged economy. The economic crash from COVID-19 was so sudden it felt like watching a freight train at full speed hitting the Hoover Dam dead center. Now we are left painfully picking up the pieces. Economic effects of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, there are wide ranging predictions on how quickly the economy will recover. While some predict a swift recovery in Q-3 and Q-4, even strong than before, others predict it will take several years to return to stability. This simply underscores the fact that no one really knows.
What will this brave new post-COVID work environment look like?
Once upon a time it was a privilege to work from home. Now it seems to make more sense than going to the office, unless you have a job that actually requires you to use your physicality. For the rest of us, it’s a necessity. I have my own firm to look at, which is, no doubt, a small sample size. But what I have found that the top performers work well from anywhere, but for the most part everyone has adapted and productivity hasn’t suffered. The question is, how long will the productivity last, past COVID-19? Having said that, I believe employee’s want the best of both worlds, being able to work from home and being able to go to a cool office. Larger companies can offer both but not smaller firms.
As I have mention in past blogs, like in The Gift of Time: Considering Flexible Work Options I believe the number one benefit you can offer your employees is time. Work-life balance has, and still sounds like a cliché to me, but it really isn’t. At one time I believed that meant the person who wanted work-life balance just didn’t like their job. But I was dead wrong. Now, to me, it means that the person has not pigeonholed their self-worth into their work and is unafraid to establish their self-worth outside of their tasks. In many ways, someone who has been able to establish work-life balance should be respected more than those who pride themselves as workaholics. Although, most societies don’t look at it that way. Even in the movies and popular culture and the heroes we uphold, many are obsessed or neurotic and we worship their focus and determination in spite of their fatal flaws. But that doesn’t make them good people or even people we should try to emulate. The reality is, those who live a balanced life make for less interesting news. Offering work-life balance as an employer, has now, for me, become a necessity not a nice to have.
So what is the new normal?
A chance to respect those who are able to balance themselves across their family and friends and their work, which has now made its way into their home. This is an opportunity for employees to take back control of their lives and their work and control more of how both fit together in an effective way. The danger is that they are unable to do that and work creeps into all areas of their homes. Employer and employees must be diligent and continue to promote boundaries so that work and home life maintain a separate to avoid burnout.
Finally, purpose driven work is now more important than ever as meaningless jobs lose a lot of pull when they haven’t been propped up artificially by micromanagement or office spaces filled with cool furniture and game rooms. Employees will now need to tie themselves close to what they enjoy doing because the artificial pull will be missing. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, with Freedom comes responsibility. With someone no longer looking over your shoulder all day and no water cooler to gossip at what will you decide to do? Now it’s up to you to find your purpose.