From the extinction of the daily commute to attending virtual meetings from the comforts of home, Covid-19 is changing the world of work and workplace already – and in some ways, it looks set to get better. The article explains how we can rethink, redesign, and re-imagine workplaces for the post-pandemic era.
It’s no secret that for the past few months, the workplace dynamics are shifting more drastically than ever. I know so many people who were earlier fond of working from home but are now bubbling to return to their office workstations. However, due to the cascading effects of the pandemic in every sphere of our lives, we cannot even imagine going back to our pre-pandemic lives right now.
All we can do is rethink, redesign, and re-imagine workplaces for the post-pandemic era. But the million-dollar question is – How?
New Normal, New Model?
Remote working simply means that we can live, work, and collaborate from any part of the world. We have come a long way since the pandemic outbreak and this long way has taught us that remote working might be a little daunting at first but it is not impossible (of course, with some basic changes in the infrastructure, workplace culture, etc.).
1. An emerging model to re-imagine workplaces is to set up small offices in smaller cities so that employees can potentially work from their hometowns. To ensure that every employee is in sync, employers can arrange for physical travel once a month. So, companies can keep a scaled-down office in a large city for business, sales, and client interaction purposes. The results of such hub and spoke model are –
• Drastic reduction in costs
• Happier employees because now they are working from their hometowns
• Less time spent on travelling, which also means less travel expense and less stress
….I can go on stating more positive implications of this model but I’m sure you got the hang. Now, let’s talk about another emerging change – virtual evolution. There will be more big screens in offices where you can see your colleagues who are located elsewhere. This is an evolution where physical boundaries are collapsed.
2. You can now also imagine an arrangement where you will see holograms of people moving here and there. You can ignore them for a while but they will still be there speaking to someone in your team. Researchers have already started finding the uses of a hologram in the education sector. Now think about it – your professor is not physically present with you but yet you can see him in front of you – mind-boggling, right? It is nothing but just your webcam device being used as a projector to produce a hologram of your professor and create a mixed reality. This will be beneficial even for the teachers or professors who must be tired of teaching blank walls. After all, you cannot find the essence of the classroom setting in a virtual class.
3. The practice of “namaste” or folding hands over hugging or shaking hands to greet fellow workers or clients will also be encouraged. Social distancing is here to stay – you can bid adieu to your chai/tea breaks or water cooler chats every day, at least for the coming years. Who knows it might do more good than harm? In fact, as a bonus – there might even be less workplace bullying or politics because it usually cooks up the most at the water station. Additionally, let’s not forget another significant change in the workplace – Are you ready to see more disinfectants, gloves, sanitizers, and masks on your desks?
It so happened that Mr. Ghungroo was taking a virtual interview and the internet connection of the candidate kept on flickering. Mr. Ghungroo disconnected the call. Later, he got an email from the candidate apologizing and requesting for another time. But Ghungroo was really upset and didn’t even bother to revert. A few days later when Mr. Ghungroo was delivering a presentation to a client, his internet flickered and the client got really upset. The client said, “If you can’t keep your internet solid while giving your presentation, how can I trust your company for a good delivery?”
This lost business kept Mr. Ghunghroo from sleeping for many nights. Through all this restless tossing and turning, he also realized and felt sorry about what he had done with the candidate who had a flickering internet connection. After certain pangs of guilt, he immediately replied to the candidate and fixed a fresh interview time. Okay, karma does come back, but the point is that this remote working is undoubtedly breeding empathy in us.
Even in the future, leaders will be much more empathetic towards their teams and consequently, we all will be much more collaborative with each other. Not just at the workplace but this pandemic is changing all parts of our lives forever.
The world is going to be different and we can re-imagine our co-workers and leaders being more virtuous than before, be it at the workplace or home.
You can now also imagine an arrangement where you will see holograms of people moving here and there. You can ignore them for a while but they will still be there speaking to someone in your team. Researchers have already started finding the uses of a hologram in the education sector.
Digital Processes – What Worked Then and Will Not Work Now?
In the future, it seems that all organisations will have processes starkly different from now. Let’s call them digitized processes. Recall those meetings when difficult concepts were explained on the whiteboard and even major decisions were taken in 30 minutes.
In contrast to this, think of your current situation and also consider a glimpse of your future – thousands of emails, several excel sheets, and uncountable back and forth calls later, you are still in dilemma, with no concrete decision in hand.
Hence, we can’t just transport the current processes online. We must redesign them too. Companies will have to rethink such digitized processes, frequent collaborations, standups, meetings, town halls and reduce them drastically so there will be more working and less planning. By delegating tasks and giving the employees some liberty to work on their own, companies will have more productive employees. Too many online meetings can take a toll on our physical as well as mental health. With reduced online collaboration, we will be much better communicators.
The Art of Communication
Too many virtual meetings can be really tiring – I am not talking about the type of tired you feel after an intense workout – but the tiredness and fatigue your mind feels after the inability to communicate properly. It can be so draining that even 3-4 hours of work seem like a real uphill battle. Now there can be two reasons for this –
1. You are on a call and your team members are trying to explain their idea, but failing miserably. This is because you are unable to understand the origin of their ideologies.
2. Reversing the situation – you are constantly trying to explain your ideas to your team members but are not able to convey what really needs to be done. So, no matter how hard you try, there is always some communication gap.
Not much gets done because half of the time goes into explaining and understanding each other’s ideas on call. However, once we learn when and how to communicate, our new working styles will force us to become better communicators and better listeners. We are already learning (even if subconsciously) when to email or when to call, and most importantly when to just keep quiet and listen.
WEEK (will never) END…(It’s time to unite work and life)
Taking calls while cooking or while taking care of your child – sounds familiar? Well, this is most of us in this new normal. Earlier work was considered to be a part of life, but now when our lives are becoming a part of our work, these lines between work and life are getting more and more blurred day by day. People are engaging in other activities or household chores during weekdays and work during weekends – does this mean it is time to bring the two together?
Does this also mean that the dreadful (for most) 9-5 regime is becoming passé? If there are no fixed numbers of hours, how will organisations measure employee performance? The simple answer to this is – more and more organisations have started evaluating employees based on their targets than time spent working. Isn’t it like a win-win solution?
Now that life has become a major part of people’s work, working weekends is also trending. However, this does not mean grilling employees and citing unrealistic expectations. It just means spreading your work in a way that it does not become hectic and you can take care of your household chores and other activities during the weekdays too.
With this pandemic completely changing the dynamics of the workplace, it’s time to adjust to this new normal with as much enthusiasm as we can. Leaders can play a huge role in helping their employees adjust to this new workplace scenario. We know human energy is irreplaceable but we cannot also deny the emergence of virtual workplaces. Does this mean the future of the workplace includes a hybrid environment?