For decades, ‘business as usual’ meant reporting to the office, meeting with colleagues and sitting at your prescribed desk until home time. In a matter of weeks, everything changed. Covid-19 arrived, and along with it terms like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘lockdown’ – words that would completely and irrevocably disrupt standard operating procedure for businesses around the world. Now the question beckons – in a post-pandemic world, what exactly is ‘business as usual’? And is remote work here to stay?
When the pandemic struck, businesses scrambled to transform the way they operate, thanks to a seismic shift that was never part of their 5-year plan. Workers were given a crash course in modern technology and sent home from the office with a remote log-in and a prayer. Working from home was no longer just an option for the lucky few, it was the only option for everyone.
While most workers were happy to skip the obligatory commute to work and have the freedom to customise their days to suit their personal needs, bosses were forced to re-evaluate their attitudes towards remote work.
According to Bernard Salt, leading media commentator, business analyst, demographer and one of Australia’s most in-demand keynote speakers, the view used to be that “if you were working from home, you were having a bit of a bludge, having a day off. That was the unspoken culture.”
But thanks to a new digitally connected world, tools like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams helped ease long-held negative perceptions around remote work productivity. And rightly so. Recent findings from a two-year study of more than 800,000 employees, conducted by Great Place to Work, found working from home was just as productive as working from the office – possibly more so.
Creating value for a hybrid workforce
The 2021 Accenture Future of Work Study found that 83% of workers now prefer a more flexible hybrid work model.
In Bernard’s view, “for 25 years prior to the pandemic, about 5% of workers were working from home according to census results. But during the pandemic, we developed a taste for this way of working because it delivered empowerment and contributed to our lifestyle. In a post-Covid world, it could be that 15% of the workforce regularly (say 2 days per week) work from home – that net extra 10% equates to more than a million workers working from home in some kind of hybrid arrangement.”
So how can business leaders create a post-pandemic work world that will keep hybrid employees happy and productive?
According to Bernard, that hybrid arrangement is where employers really need to define their value if they’re to succeed. He believes that “work tasks requiring concentration and creativity will be done from home, while the office will become the place for learning, ideation, collaboration with colleagues as well as client meetings, socialising, schmoozing and celebrating. Out with open plan cubicles; in with agile collaboration spaces.”
“In the post-Covid era there needs to be purpose and value in coming into the office – the workplace needs to be a space for engagement and learning, where inhouse or external experts teach and transfer knowledge. Offering workers high-value experiences, like the chance to learn from and be inspired by corporate and industry leaders, is one way to build a happy hybrid workforce.”
Although we all hope we’ve seen the back of pandemic life, the experience has proven that disruption itself isn’t always a bad thing. In Bernard’s words, “sometimes a shakeup like WFH is precisely what is required to test whether the old way of doing things is the best way forward. The post-pandemic era offers the opportunity to rebuild a better version of the world we left behind.”
So maybe the time was right to re-evaluate the old ‘business as usual’ model, and now we’ll re-emerge a more flexible, digitally-savvy, compassionate and productive society. After all, as Henry Ford said, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”.
Bernard Salt is one of the best minds in the business when it comes to the future of work. As a leading media commentator and business analyst, as well as author of six best-selling books, Bernard is one of the most popular and captivating business speakers on the corporate speaking circuit. If you’d like to engage Bernard to talk to your team about the opportunities that lie ahead, get in touch with us for a chat!