COVID-19 is here to stay. Even when (and if) the pandemic finally ends, the effects on our daily lives will be far more long-reaching and, in many cases, permanent. We needed to change the way many things were done in order to survive. The same is true for employers, businesses and the traditional working environment. With organisations globally experimenting with new ways to operate through this difficult time, it begs the questions, what does the future of our working lives look like, and where is it?

The pandemic’s effect on the workplace

With lockdown and social distancing breaking up typical office environments, companies have had to adapt and use new methods of communication and collaboration to deliver their services. To some extent, these trends were already gaining momentum in many sectors. Many organisations were already using things like online communication, e-commerce, and automation to improve efficiency, but the pandemic has forced the widespread adoption of these processes in order for business to continue.

Overnight, offices were downsized or shut altogether, forcing people to develop new habits and learn new technologies to continue working from home, or “WFH” as it’s become known. No more commuting, no more watercooler chats, no more or in-person meetings – a blessing or a curse? Daily routines have changed and many organisations have now introduced new policies offering greater flexibility in terms of working location, hours, and even remuneration. Invariably, perceptions of how businesses could or should function have evolved, simply as a result of where we work from.

Wellbeing and productivity while working from home

With these changes, it’s important to take into account knock-on effects on things like productivity and wellbeing. A study by the Office for National Statistics in May 2021 found, “When asked about homeworking, working adults stated work-life balance was the greatest positive, while challenges of collaboration were the greatest negative.

For some, including parents without childcare options and people who have difficulty travelling, this has come as a welcome change. With school closures, parents have been able to work from home and look after children. On the flipside, humans are social creatures and need social interaction. Despite the benefits of work-life balance, studies have also shown that many people suffer from isolation and increasing musculoskeletal issues as a result of less exercise (as might have been provided by a commute). Employers need to be mindful of new physical and mental challenges resulting from WFH, and accommodate changes in working methods and patterns that develop.

Bearing all this in mind, the majority of organisations say they will offer some form of WFH post-pandemic, with the top 3 reasons cited being: improved staff wellbeing, reduced overheads and increased productivity (ONS, 2021). This is supported by the fact that 85% of staff want to use a “hybrid” approach to home and office working. So it seems that WFH is here to stay, but what does it look like?

How organisations can adapt post-pandemic

Although things are opening up and returning to some semblance of what they we’re pre-COVID, organisations will need to continue evaluating how they operate day-to-day. Opening up regular lines of communication with staff to determine what works best for them is a good way to start. Ultimately organisations need to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of permanent physical space, if it isn’t critical for the delivery of services.

For many, it will likely be a hybrid approach of WFH with the option of office space. Despite the benefits of work-life balance and reduced overheads, being in a physical space with colleagues is widely considered to be beneficial. Chris Herd, tech tech entrepreneur and remote-working advocate, said in an interview for the New Yorker, “The quality of your work is increased by having time together…because you have a better sense of shared empathy and coordination.” (Cal Newport, 2021). He suggests that a ‘remote-first’ strategy is better than ‘remote-only’ because effective work can be done remotely, but a team will benefit from having some face-to-face time, even if this is infrequent.

We agree with this idea at Learnium. We worked remotely throughout lockdown and will continue to do so, while making use of shared office space when we meet with clients or need space for a particular project.

Technology solutions have been critical in enabling remote working, probably none more so than video-conferencing and webinar platforms. Zoom and Microsoft Teams seem to be the go-to options, but there are a variety of alternatives that might suit particular organisations (e.g. GotoWebinar, BlueJeans and ClickMeeting). Of course moving from physical to video meetings does pose its own challenges –  we have some advice on preventing “Webinar Fatigue” in another article here. For more regular, informal team member communication, chat applications like Slack or Discord are invaluable. At Learnium, we use a combination of Google Workspace, Discord and Jira. We also use our very own Communities platform to share content, schedule events and collaborate on documents.

Regardless of the approach or specific tools, having the ongoing discussion and evaluation is key. As offices reopen, it’s clear that things won’t ever go exactly back to how they were before the pandemic. We expect that ‘remote-first’ will be the first choice for many organisations from now on – it’s what we’ve implemented here at Learnium after leaving our office just before the start of lockdown. So if you have any questions about our experience or approach to remote working, please get in touch – we’ll arrange a videoconference.

References

Further Reading