Work life interrupted: Space, time, a pandemic & the future of work
"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Over a year ago, companies rushed to make work-from-home arrangements and hurriedly adapted to new ways of getting work done. What started as a way to keep employees safe, somehow morphed into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and is now turning into a popular work trend all over the world. Most notably, it’s prompting business leaders everywhere to rethink the importance of large, expensive office space and the value of excessive overhead costs.
However, even before the coronavirus turned the world as we know it upside down, there was already a lot of debate about the effects of technology on the future of work. The digital revolution, combined with rising office rents and an increased demand for flexible work options meant employees were slowly moving away from noisy, crowded office spaces into the productive sanctuary of their own homes. Technology now allows people to connect from almost any device at any time, anywhere, to anybody in the world. It’s dramatically changing the way people work, enabling almost constant contact and collaboration with colleagues who are located all over the globe.
Telecommuting and other flexible working conditions offer many advantages for both the company and its employees. From overall lower overhead costs and increased productivity to less time wasted in long commutes to the office and in meetings which could have easily been an email. It’s clear: the benefits are plenty. Studies from both Stanford University and the University of Minnesota found that employees who are able to work from home or are offered other flexible work options are happier, more productive and less distracted than traditional, stationary office employees. 
In addition to positively impacting the business’s bottom line, flexible work options improve employee recruitment and retention. Simply put: allowing employees to work remotely makes it possible for companies to broaden their talent pool and recruit the best candidates regardless of geography. Success no longer depends on your location.
However, getting work done has never really been the point of the office. There’s a certain dynamic which comes from working in an office bustling with activity. The type of day-to-day conversations that go on in an office can’t be recreated in Zoom meetings, Skype calls or emails. It’s the actual physical interaction which builds personal relationships. Humans are social creatures. We like spending time with our work friends and colleagues. We enjoy talking about our favorite sports, discussing the latest political scandal, and debating the merits of who’s going to be on the next season of Dancing with the Stars.
New hires look up to their more seasoned coworkers and are trained almost subconsciously by simply listening in on the conversations of others. They are learning all the time. It’s an atmosphere which cannot be replicated in the home working environment.
Although it may be too early to tell whether the office as we know it is a relic of the past, one thing can be said of the current situation: It has motivated a change in day-to-day operations and actually inspired employers to invest in new technology. New technology leads to new products. New ideas inspire a disturbance of habits. There is a reason the phrase, “But we have always done it this way,” is the most dangerous phrase in business. It is only when companies embrace the philosophy of change, they capitalize on their potential. We must come to terms with “Business as UNusual” as the “new normal.”
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