The workplace after COVID

It is 18 months later, and the pandemic-shaken work environment is gradually starting to unveil its new template.  Businesses are in various stages of acclimatising to an altered way of working. 

It appears that the relationship between companies and their personnel is reshaping itself under the influence of three trends:

  1. Corporate campuses have lost their allure. Many people don’t see work as a physical address anymore; however appealing the fringe benefits offered at a central location.  More and more jobseekers in the services economy are interviewing for remote positions, even if it means a salary cut.  Office centricity seems to be over.

Consequently, many start-ups – the trendsetters of tomorrow – are either letting go of office space altogether or, at the very least, cutting back significantly on permanent offices and lease lock-ins.  Autonomy is busy triumphing over presenteeism; a contractor mentality is replacing the nine-to-five-location mindset.  

  1. Old-school executives experience unparalleled pushback. An increasing percentage of senior knowledge workers are openly expressing their annoyance with bosses who are disconnected with the climate of the day.  As this seismic standoff over flexible working conditions continues to build, many employees vote with their feet.

While sharp-witted leaders have immediately altered their management style, many dogmatic executives are still firmly cemented in the industrial era paradigm, whereby walking the floor, ruling from the executive suite and symbolically lording over input are viewed as proper management.  This ‘steel factory’ style will be prohibitively expensive, going forward.  

  1. Work hours and weekdays are dating as a metric of production.  The pandemic highlighted one of the worst-kept secrets of corporate life; that at least half of a workday is spent on idle motion, instead of the production of real results.

The surge in remote working has in most instances caused an increase in productivity – as individuals started focusing on output and self-management, instead of being distracted by all the bells and whistles of the workplace – and especially, the frustrations of commuting to work.  

However obvious it may sound, it is quite a mindshift for many to make – that work is a matter of relevant results, not an amount of time spent.   

So many people, a year and a half ago, travelled for the sake of form to an office every day, to sit in front of a computer screen for nine hours – not questioning  the mantra that company culture is only to be found in an office, that collaboration is a full-day physical-presence reality, and that every employee should be managed in the same way. 

The holes in this lethargic model have been exposed; the genie has been let out of the bottle.  Many people are unlikely to give up on the hybrid model they have adopted – by which they have discovered that you can still do great work, but that work life needn’t be a formulistic, rigid humdrum for fourty years. 

Best to turn the new reality of work into our advantage; become post-pandemic employers of choice for those who want a more variable life experience.  And to become post-pandemic employees of choice, who need not be bossed to be productive.