12 Mar 2021

The future of work

It’s almost 12 months ago that our working lives changed, perhaps irrevocably. The shift to remote work necessitated by the pandemic accelerated us forward 10 years in just 10 days. One year on all our previous beliefs and prejudices have been thrown out the window.

The leaders who believed that you can’t trust people to work productively from home have had to adapt to a whole new world. The people we were told were ‘change resistant’ have just demonstrated that they can change pretty darned fast actually. The jobs we were told couldn’t be done remotely and needed a fixed base have been performed without any dip in productivity.

People have found more freedom, saving on travel time and cost, and striking a better work-life balance. However, remote work doesn’t work for everyone with some people say they are working longer hours.

We’ve already got a new term ‘Zoom fatigue’ that recognises that video conferencing can leave us with a perplexing sense of being drained while having accomplished little . It’s a real thing - if we are physically on camera we are very aware of being watched. Focusing on people’s faces, their bookcases, cats and home decor also results in a sensory overload that makes us miss the natural social cues that guide us in the real world.

Other research has found that different types of workers used any time savings from the end of commuting very differently. Those without managerial responsibilities reallocated much of it to personal activities like hobbies, exercise and sleeping, whereas many managers just worked longer hours and spent more time in meetings.

Importantly, for managers, the increase in working hours more than offset the loss in commuting time. They not only used the previously allocated commute time for working – they added extra time to it.

There’s one reason and one reason only that people miss the office: other people.

Technology simply can’t replicate the social experience of chance encounters and just the experience of talking unguarded with our fellow colleagues.

Despite all of this we are going to have fewer offices and spend more time at home in the future. Although a quarter of businesses say they will continue to work in the office as the primary destination, the majority of organisations will take a hybrid approach to work, in which employees work from home, the office, and elsewhere.

It’s this conundrum that organisations must wrestle with in the coming months. The knee-jerk reaction would be to rid ourselves of offices. However, we could be storing up a huge problem down the tracks when it comes to social isolation and wellbeing. 

During the future of work panel session at The future of housing in London and the South East, taking place on 18 March 2021, we’ll discuss how hybrid working requires a complete change in leadership style. It means really getting to know teams, and actually listening to people as individuals with unique and frequently messy lives.

We’ll discuss how we need to let our people become the designers of their own unique workday -  giving them permission to work in ways that serve our communities much better.

And we’ll look at how we might facilitate this contractually and make sure colleagues are supported with the right tools and practices.

We have an ideal opportunity to reset, rethink and rewire ourselves to create a more productive, more connected, happier and healthier world of work.

Who says ‘normal’ was the right way to do things anyway?

Written by Paul Taylor

Paul Taylor is an innovation coach from Bromford Lab.