The recovery of the workplace

How do we consider the learnings of Covid-19 to expand the possibilities of the future of work?

There is no question that we have been witnessing a global tragedy. Covid-19 has created a number of consequences, some direct, some indirect and some unintended. Like an eternal optimist, I remain eager to find a silver lining in every situation, even one as terrible as this pandemic. Looking at some of its unintended consequences, there may be hope. So let’s zoom in on the world of work, to see how has Covid-19 has affected our ways of working and more importantly, to see where do we go from here.

Could trying times and lessons learned lead to more flexibility, better ways of working and a better work-life integration?

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For a considerable number of months now, we have been witnessing what is essentially a worldwide experiment in ways of working. Its tragic cause aside, the experiment is absolutely fascinating when you consider that it is happening across all continents, all cultures, all industries simultaneously and for a considerable period of time now. I know of no other experiment in ways of working of comparable scale and duration. So, framing the last few months as an experiment, what are the lessons learned?

"The true method of knowledge is experiment."

The world of work and the workplace have been going through quite an evolution over the last few years. We have explored more flexibility at work (from flex desking scenarios, to activity-based working, to working from home), more diverse and unorthodox settings in the workplace (from lounges to specialty coffee bars and yoga rooms) and a whole array of digital platforms and virtual tools.

And yet in the grand scheme of things, these choices were all still within a limited spectrum. Working from home 5 days a week was never an option for example. This limited menu of options we have enjoyed so far, is mostly due the fact that employers and employees alike had their doubts and reservations about how workable or effective different options would be, if stretched or expanded. For example, while many employers already allow working from home 1 day a week, most employers as well as employees, would not have imagined working from home full time.

Restricted freedom today could lead to increased freedom tomorrow.

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Stretching the limits of what is possible

When Covid-19 hit, it caused an exodus from our offices to our homes. We found ourselves forced in an extreme situation where everyone is working from home all the time. While it might have been a positive experience for some for the first few days, it turned out not to work for everyone, every day. Obviously, this situation did not offer much choice either. It did however expand the spectrum of possibilities. The extreme working from home situation (by extreme I mean, everyone, every day for months) showed us that what we thought impossible can actually work. Granted, it may not be ideal in its extreme version, at least not for everyone. However, experiencing it stretched the limits of what we thought was possible. 

How do we recover?

What does this mean for you, as an HR manager, a Facilities Management professional, a Corporate Real Estate manager or any Business Leader? As Workplace professionals, this is a priceless opportunity to first, study the past period as a global experiment in alternatives ways of working, second consider the learnings and third, expand the possibilities and options available to your workforce. 

As a Workplace Professional, your challenge seems to be shifting. Your challenge may no longer be focused on how employees should or may work. Now that people have experience bigger extremes, we can trust them to find their middle ground, the version along that spectrum of possibilities that suits them. Your challenge may rather now be focused on finding the best way to coordinate all the different ways of working and make them work for and with each other’s. Employees will be able to figure out what works for them individually. Your focus can now be better spent on making all the individuals’ ways of working work together, work for the teams, work across departments, and for the company as a whole. Could the next phase of workplace experiments be centred on the coexistence of options, choices and possibilities? Could your new challenge as a Workplace Professional be “Open up the possibilities, coordinate the choices”?

Like a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other before finding a balanced middle ground, we have experienced a new extreme during this Covid-19 lockdown. To recover, it may be wiser to find the new balanced middle ground instead of clinging to the old reality. Our choices have been expanded. Can we embrace that wider spectrum of possibilities by following the three steps of a) studying the past period as a global experiment in alternatives ways of working, b) considering the learnings and c) expanding the possibilities and options available to your workforce? With some refinements and coordination, we can create a better reality. Could trying times and lessons learned lead to more flexibility, better ways of working and a better work-life integration? If we learn our lessons and apply them effectively, restricted freedom today could lead to increased freedom tomorrow.

Do you need help applying the three steps of a) studying the past period as a global experiment in alternatives ways of working, b) considering the learnings and c) expanding the possibilities and options available to your workforce, to your company’s specific situation? Are you wondering about the best way to introduce them to your employees in order to ensure adoption and long-term lasting success? Send us here your question and we will get back to you with personal advice.

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