Is the pandemic forever changing how we work?
Of all the changes the Covid-19 pandemic has forced upon us, none may be as interesting or far-reaching as the way it has affected how we work. The changes to the workplace have been so swift, so deep, and at this point over a year into the pandemic, so long-lasting, it’s hard to see how we can go back to the way we were.
Because of fears of spreading the virus, governments and workplaces quickly shut down offices and forced everyone who could to work remotely. As it turns out, many of us could. Even jobs that before were thought to be intractably in-person suddenly became possible to do at home thanks to the use of collaborative software.
That included banking jobs, property management, advertising, PR, teaching – even medical professionals like therapists and doctors.
For many, the move was initially viewed with great pleasure – no more commuting, more time at home with family, and no need to buy expensive work clothes. But after a few months, reality set in. Separating work life and home life became an even greater challenge, the loss of routine was difficult for some, while for many others, helping children at home with online learning and maintaining other family obligations all while trying to concentrate on work tasks, became overwhelming.
For some, the pandemic even played a part in driving a bit of an exodus to smaller towns and suburbs leading to a significant run-up in housing prices in these areas. That’s how confident these individuals were in thinking that these changes were to be long-lasting – in fact, some small towns even used the rise in remote working to launch advertising campaigns to entice people away from the cities.
But this of course, leads to the question as to whether this will continue to be true going forward. What will the future of work look like when we’ve defeated this pandemic and life starts going back to normal?
Going into the office may be a part-time gig
Working remotely has been a challenge, especially for those sharing space in cramped urban houses and apartments. Plus you can’t replace the natural connections you develop with co-workers in person. So physical offices will likely remain, but the standard office layout could be subject to a major overhaul. Think coworking spaces instead of rigid cubicles and a revamped work schedule that could see full-time employees coming in a couple of times a week rather than every day.
Business travel slashed
As it turns out, our computers with advanced video-calling technology and document e-signatures are pretty good substitutes for in-person meetings. While business travel will likely never be entirely eliminated, switching the majority of meetings to online saves so much money for employers it’s likely here to stay.
Just like World War II forever changed women’s fashion (who could go back to impractical long skirts after working in a factory?) the pandemic has likely changed the way we dress for work, forever. Like most trends on this list, the pandemic has simply accelerated what was in the works before.
Consider that today, very few places mandate a suit-and-tie or dress and most workplaces have already transitioned to business casual. But now, as our work lives become more integrated into our real lives, business casual means more like “anything but pajamas”.
Flexible work hours
Does 9-5 (or more likely 8-6 these days) work for anyone anymore? With the advent of the gig economy and the rise of freelancing, it’s hard to justify a workplace that values the hours in a chair instead of actual productivity.
Again, the pandemic just accelerated this trend and as long as you get your work done as required, why shouldn’t you be able to take your kid for a playdate in the afternoon, go to a doctor’s appointment, or head to a yoga class.
More and more workplaces will likely demand project-based roles instead of simply paying you to sit in front of your computers all day whether you have work to do or not. And even if the total length of hours are the same they’re likely to be much more flexible.
Home office stipends or tax breaks
The CRA introduced a simplified way of claiming work-from-home expenses this year and who knows, maybe that’s here to stay. It’s also possible that we will see workplaces give workers stipends. Shopify, for example, gave employees $1000 to buy necessary at-home office supplies this year and companies are likely to save money on office rent so why not spend a small fraction so employees can have a more comfortable workspace when working from home?
Automation and job loss
Automation was a huge trend even before the pandemic, but it’s now in full swing. The retail sector has been especially transformed as automated self-checkouts are just one example of how automation is changing the workforce, and it can be argued that the pandemic has accelerated adoption of this trend as part of the efforts to minimize contact and the chance for community spread. We’ll have to wait until the pandemic is over before seeing the full extent of these changes but they’re likely to be enduring and permanent.
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