There's a lot of shouting going on in the world right now.
As governments scramble (or don't) to get a grip on the infection, the media does what it does best and stokes the flames of fear, whilst we (the general public) also start to scream at everyone.
So let's have a discussion.
One of my business mentors (Geoff Shorter) and I were having a chat about the virus and we started thinking about the long-term ramifications of this situation. COVID-19 is, in Geoff's words, "the greatest instrument of social change since WW2".
Certainly, I (a humble 28-year-old) haven't seen anything this globally devastating in my lifetime, but how is this going to affect the business landscape? What's the world of work going to look like once this is over? And most importantly, how is this going to change society?
Here are five predictions about how COVID-19 is going to change the world of work.
Despite thought leaders hammering home the idea that managers CAN trust their team to work without being physically in an office, it took a global pandemic before a lot of businesses listened. But the hand has now been forced and businesses need their teams to continue being productive even though they can't be physically present.
This is likely to have a series of knock-on effects (that we'll talk about later in the article) but the big news story here is that managers are going to have to start doing their jobs properly.
One reason for the resistance to remote working is that if a manager's team isn't physically present then what does the manager actually do? No longer can they walk amongst their team "supervising" when actually adding little value to the business overall. No longer can they micro-manage relentlessly and claim that it's "effective" management because their teams now have to prove that they can be as efficient working from home.
Instead, leaders and managers are going to need to, well, manage their teams. They're going to need to learn the art of planning, delegating, analysing, and optimising teams with more autonomy than ever before.
With remote work comes a lot of other features that people don't initially realise. In order to properly work from home, you need to:
Whilst that may sound obvious, the number of businesses that have workers that simply show-up each day, do minimal work, and then collect their paycheck is staggering. This kind of behaviour is known as "presenteeism".
Remote working doesn't allow for presenteeism. There's no "looking busy" because there's no "looking" you can no longer be judged simply for being in the office, you are now primarily judged on your output. As Geoff eloquently put it "If someone is still consistently in the office after 1800, I'm not going to think they're working hard. I'm going to think that they're shit at their job".
To my generation, work-life balance is increasingly one of the major factors in choosing whom we want to work for. If a company respects and values low-output, high-hour workers then for many of us that's NOT a company that we want to work with.
With the majority of people now working from home, it's easier than ever to see who is actually good at their job and who's just a leech.
As presenteeism declines so will people's tolerance for time-based contracts. By this, I mean work arrangements like "I'll do 40-hours of work for you and you pay me x". Instead of working simply to fill the time, we're going to see more offerings based on a set outcome.
Naturally, the time that certain projects require is going to remain elastic and the longer something takes the more expensive it's likely to be. However, what we're talking about here is paying for completion rather than participation.
From the perspective of an employee, if I'm working from home and can complete my main tasks and it takes less than the 8-hours I've been prescribed to work by the company...what does that matter? I should be rewarded for my efficiency.
The driving force for this is going to be workers that have realised that their time is their own. They don't need to be babied by their managers and bosses. Similarly, remote working allows us to work whenever we want and however we want. We all operate with different "rhythms," some people do their best creative work at night, whilst others do it best in the morning.
As a boss, who cares when during the day something is done as long as it gets done to the standard required in the timeframe set?
Say what you will about freelancers, zero-hours contracts, and the security of being employed. This discussion isn't about morality or politics, it's about what I think is going to happen as a result of this pandemic.
As workers realise that they can be effective from home and have more autonomy they are going to start thinking "why do I have a boss in the first place". For many, the dream of working for yourself has been lurking in the backs of their minds for a long time. For whatever reason, they haven't pulled the trigger on it. Perhaps they've been too scared, perhaps they don't know if they can do it, who knows?
Since we have now been forced to figure out how to "work for ourselves" there are going to be more people that decide to take the plunge into freelancing and working for themselves. Self-employment has been a rising trend for a few years now I anticipate this viral pandemic to increase the number of people that believe in themselves enough to give it a go.
For many, this may be also seen as a chance to increase the level of security that they have with their incomes. For the first time, many of us are learning just how fragile and weak many of the institutions that we rely on are. For example, why would you work for a single organisation in a single industry, when you can spread the risk over multiple organisations in multiple industries?
One of the biggest advantages of remote work is that you have more freedom to work around other things going on in your life. For example, if there was something that you wanted to do during the day, the usual gut response is "I can't, I've got work". Now, with remote working, we have a lot more flexibility with how we use the hours that we have.
As we previously looked at, if businesses no longer judge us on what it looks like we're doing but rather on what our actual output is, then we've got more freedom with how that output is generated. We can, therefore, take a luxurious lunch with a loved one as long as we make up for the time in the evening because we know that we won't be judged by the manager for being out of the office.
What this creates is a way of working that fits more into the modern-way of life rather than the Victorian concept of "8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours play". This isn't to say that people are going to work LESS than 8-hours a day (in fact I suspect the opposite is going to happen), but that the 8-hours of work is going to be spread out during the day.
Similarly, we are no longer going to be confined to forcing ourselves to work we're not feeling up to the task. Take the post-lunch slump that plagues offices across the globe, in which workers with glazed expressions try not to fall into a food coma from the hours of 1400 to 1600. Couldn't that time be spent more effectively?
One of the great things (and I don't want to seem callous) about being forced to work from home is that businesses are finally understanding how to properly leverage technology. What the key takeaway from all this is that the 9 to 5 doesn't have a place in today's society. It's not needed.
We live in 2020 and we're acting like it's 1920 with how we're operating our businesses. It makes little sense to have large offices when our teams can be just as effective elsewhere. Similarly, the tools that we need to work have changed. There is no need to have an office when all the information our teams need to do their jobs exists online. Even meetings can be conducted (albeit sometimes less effectively) through purely online channels.
The 9 to 5 was already dying, it just took a global pandemic for us to realise it.
Nate Chai has worked with content in all types of media for the last decade, at school and university in a summer position, and then full time in creating English and business workshops. His last position was as the editor for ITProportal.com, one of the largest UK on-line publishers until it was sold about a year ago. At ITProportal, Nate was responsible for the creation of content for key customers, ensuring good editorial processes, recruiting and managing writers. Several of our customers were iconic brands such as Microsoft, Mercedes, and Orange as well as smaller businesses.