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The Future of the Workplace
Covid-19 has sped up the processes of innovative working habits. How will firms overcome the disruptions? To what extent will our workplaces and living habits change, and for how long?
22 October, 2020

Aligning with Covid-19 pandemic’s safety measures while defining his new vision of the future, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey announced a permanent remote-work policy in early May 2020 – an unprecedented decision that will grant rights to the company’s employees to opt for office-working or home-working “forever”, may this be their preferred choice (Forbes). 

Amongst many other companies which have taken the same step forward, Twitter’s groundbreaking transition to the new model of work was led by central motivations including employees’ happiness increase, time optimization (considering the cutback on commutes), and tremendous rent savings, especially in highly expensive metropoles including New York, London, Hong Kong. 

Although remote work presents many benefits to companies while simultaneously contributing to the well-being of employees, its core impact on the work-life balance remains controversial. One could claim it purely depends on the individual’s personality, as well as others on other factors encompassing the home environment and the company’s ability to introduce a smooth, efficient, and intelligible remote transition. 

Along with this discussion comes another point, which examines the transformation of the relationship an individual has with ‘work’. As the French philosopher Julia De Funès expressed in her analyses, this relationship is modified since work, when remote, loses its aristocratic and noble perception. It integrates at the centre of an individual’s daily life, hence allowing in some ways, to bring back the core function of work – a means to live. Overwhelming office hours which have increased in the past decades, have indeed proven to change our vision of work to be a finality, the ultimate goal of our lives, instead of only being a contributing resource. 

Despite this very dark portrait of office working, it is worth mentioning that socializing in the workplace plays an important role since it is one of the key culture builders that draws the employees to work for a certain company. Websites like Glassdoor, for example, often comment and evaluate the company’s work environment, socializing possibilities and team-building opportunities – for prospective employees to have an idea of what they can expect when working at a certain company. Most of it, however, is intangible (e.g. employees’ image and behaviour in a specific work environment) or tangible but related to the workplace (e.g. architecture); hence it can be only perceived in the office. As a comprehensive example to depict this, let’s assume Google implements a permanent remote work policy. Unless the company reinvents its strategy & vision of the future, the ‘google’ style and artsy offices are unlikely to be reflected in the video-calls. Therefore, in case remote work is introduced, this raises the question of how Google will re-establish its presence identity as a ‘unique workplace’; but this counts as well for thousands of other companies. 

Nevertheless, an interesting aspect of remote work is the greater emphasis placed on results, quantitative performance, which gives less possibilities to “show off”. In fact, as a means of contact, an improved direct reporting to line managers via platforms or group calls will efficiently show employees’ progress on tasks and projects. Despite a quantitative optimization of work productivity perhaps, some soft skills contributing to the work environment or team’s engagement may be undermined due to a weaker company ‘spirit’. 

However, although remote work may remove a ‘human’ aspect  in working – whereby employees can feel the lack of group cohesion they felt in the office, employees may actually indirectly feel closer to each other, only through their computer’s camera or microphone. The paradox here lies in the fact that “the office-to-home transitions have caused workers to break down emotional barriers, giving both colleagues and clients a true lens into who people become once they leave the office—a side many colleagues never shared previously.” (Forbes, 2020). In fact, zoom meetings, for example, allow to show our true selves in the most basic home environment, a very different facet to the formal image we give in the office. Suits are optional, though background noises are inevitable – children, pets, and a “homely” backdrop.

This incorporation of work in our personal lives may be as well sensed as an intrusion, causing the difficulty to separate work from our home, commonly accepted as a place of comfort, relaxation. Depending on their personality, some employees claim that office working avoids all sorts of distractions experienced at home. Others say it is a matter of time and habits. Opposing opinions touch upon the lowered pressure when working from home, amongst many other arguments. 

Overall, companies will need to massively invest in the rethinking of a new, revolutionary model that adapts to the disruptions caused by Covid-19. Transitioning to a hybrid model, with a ratio of days spent in the office while the rest work remotely, may be one of the many answers. With an already rapidly developing world in terms of automation, robotics, and digitization, Covid-19 will have speeded up the processes of innovative working habits. How are firms going to overcome the disruptions caused by the pandemic? To what extent will our workplaces and living habits change, and for how long?

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