How Covid-19 will permanently change the future of work

The future of work will never be the same. It has changed permanently as a result of Covid-19. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

Before the pandemic, 70% of employees believed going into the office wasn’t necessary. As we emerge from this pandemic, this statistic will likely increase. It’s not whether the traditional office will change, it’s how.

Below I summarise three core aspects of the “workplace” that will emerge very differently from Covid-19.

  1. Office life and layouts

Perhaps the most visible impact of Covid-19 will be the percentage of people operating out of a physical office space. According to research from Gartner, 74% of businesses expect to transition a number of previously on-premise employees to remote work setups permanently in the aftermath of Covid-19. This transition is primarily driven by a desire to cut commercial rental costs.

For those companies that continue to adopt an in-office work environment, we can expect changes to how offices are structured. For example I read last week of US company Cushman & Wakefield who have designed what they are calling the “Six Feet Office.” The goal of the project is to demonstrate what a socially distant workplace might look like. The “Six Feet Office” includes arrows plastered on office floors that direct people to walk clockwise around the office. What’s more, each morning, as part of this new layout, employees are asked to grab a paper deskpad”for their desks that they then discard at the end of each day. Other companies are introducing barriers between desks to block the spread of germs.

Such changes will undeniably make the office less social. But if the socially distant workplace of the future constrains action and spontaneous conversations, doesn’t this defeat most of the advantages of an office environment? Without those water cooler interactions or coffee a room chats, can a physical office setup really foster stronger connectivity between workers as compared to a virtual environment?

  1. Benefits and support  

The days when football tables and Xbox’s were seen as a recruiting advantage were already in decline before the onset of Covid-19. Now, we’ve reached the point of no return. Employees have got a taste of the remote work life and many won’t accept a return to an in-office environment.

Post Covid-19, while some companies will make the decision to transition 100% of their workforce to remote work, it will probably be that most companies will go for a hybrid approach, allowing select employees to work remotely, or allowing all employees to work remotely some of the time. In order to recruit the best talent, companies are going to need to think very carefully about what their remote work policy will look like. Who is able to work remotely? Is there an application process? What does this look like?

Companies will also need to think carefully about how they will support their remote workers. The most obvious form of support is a remote office allowance to purchase any necessary office equipment to help ease the transition to remote work. But companies also need to put in place mental health perks and resources. According to a recent Remote Work report, 19% of remote workers experience loneliness. Furthermore, research by Mind Share Partners, has found that more than 60% of workers say their mental health affects their productivity. Taking this into account, mental health resources will need to be top of mind for employers hoping to transition employees to a more remote way of working.

  1. Chat literacy

With more workers transitioning to remote work, we can also expect to see companies focus on, what Hashi Corp calls, “chat literacy.”  In a recent webinar, HashiCorp CEO Mitchell Hashimoto asked attendees: do you know the difference between “ok”, “ok.”, and “ok…”? Hashimoto went on to explain that not knowing the difference between these three seemingly similar responses is the equivalent to recruiting someone who is illiterate. While the differences might seem subtle, they are immensely important. Whereas “ok” indicates a rather nonchalant response, “ok.” has negative connotations, and “ok…” indicates confusion or uncertainty. Depending on which form is used, the conversation is likely to shift in entirely different directions.

Fortunately, “chat literacy” is easy to train and learn and should be part of any onboarding process. In a future workplace where communication may continue to shift from verbal to chat, the importance of chat literacy cannot be overstated.

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