While the future of the workplace always seemed like a distant topic to talk about, things have changed in just a couple of months. We’re faced with having to seriously consider dozens of future changes that will impact the way we work and where we work from.
So when we’re finally going back to the office, it certainly won’t be the same. Even more so, you might not even return to your usual workplace.
Unfortunately, there are still so many things organizations haven’t figured out. From how work needs to be done to where people will actually work from and even how meetings should be conducted.
Here’s everything that will change in the future workplace.
Getting used to remote work
Sure, not everyone wants to work remotely. Especially after forcibly experiencing remote work under the unusual conditions of a lockdown. This has given people a closer look at the downsides of working from home while having little freedom to experience the benefits.
But more people will want remote work benefits. As many as 54% of people want working from home to be a regular lifestyle in the upcoming years. Working from home is highly likely to become a normal environment and way of living for many people. Not everyone will be allowed to do this though as many companies are not yet open to a fully-distributed team policy. For the time being, getting to work remotely for a couple of extra days every month will have to do in most cases.
Whether remote remains a full-time thing or an occasional benefit you get, this also requires new work policies. Video calls are already the norm over in-person meetings. Managers are learning to deal with their concerns in terms of productivity and workloads by turning to new technologies they wouldn’t have had to use otherwise. Collaboration is done both asynchronous and in real-time. And so many more changes to our workflows.
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Changes to workflows
How we work with clients and collaborate among teams has fundamentally changed. Work flexibility allows us to save time and keep communication on point. At the same time, it has brought new challenges as we’re still learning to deal with our new workflows. No more taking a plane to fly to your client’s headquarters or just getting up to go to your colleague’s desk for feedback.
“The changes that companies will face are no different than the cultures set by existing remote teams. Remote work has been a thing for some time now, just not mainstream. Going remote has its ups and downs – one of the major problems is it’s easy to lose touch with your team. It’s incredibly easy to lose that personal connection you have with your team. What do these 100% remote companies do to excel at what they do while having no central base? They know how to communicate and they are inclusive. They care.
We’ve always done developer stand-ups. Now we do an “all hands on deck” stand-up to bring people together as a team. It’s easier to do since we’re 8 people at the moment. How will corporate companies adopt this mentality?
Collaboration between people won’t be fruitful if the work communication is one-way and only consists of, ‘Hi Alexandra, can you do XYZ by this date?’ Employers and managers should care about the team on a more personal level, too.” – Andrus Purde is the Co-Founder & CEO @Outfunnel
A huge chunk of our day-to-day workflow will inevitably be allotted to more downtime that’s aimed at helping employees create stronger bonds and become a real team. This applies to both on-site and distributed teams. If you will, the way in which we manage work in the future has a lot to do with how we handle our relations at work and our abilities to create time for the things that aren’t related to work:
“Finding ways to stay in touch with coworkers beyond business conversations is paramount now that you don’t see them in the office every day. With no room for the traditional water-cooler conversations, companies will need to start building in virtual ways to connect. My company started weekly stretch sessions with our employees at 3pm. This creates a reason for us to connect, turn on our cameras, and have relaxed conversations that don’t revolve around to-do lists for the next meeting.” – Jason Davis, CEO @Inspire360
Health safety concerns
The health threats of open offices and crowded spaces were actually studied way before the pandemic. But while no huge issues raised any warning signs to the actual dangers of having too many people in one place, the future is different.
So companies will need to dedicate a solid part of their plans to come up with measures to prevent sickness. Mandatory on-the-job screening is just the beginning for ensuring physical health safety along with creating larger offices with fewer people. Companies are also considering a gradual return to work, with a mix of office and remote work, or just people coming in at the office in shifts.
Through all this, there’s still an aspect employers often leave out: the workers’ mental health and happiness. Good leaders and coworkers are expected to become more empathetic of each other, giving more value to life outside of work.
“Mental health and attitude will need to be monitored more vigorously, as being isolated physically can have negative effects on team members. To combat the mental fatigue that comes with isolation we will have a lot more online fun time, as part of the company culture. This will replace water-cooler chat as a way for the team to be seen, socialize, and learn to trust each other. This could also involve conference parties, and conferencing used for after-hours socializing.” – Yaniv Masjedi, CMO @Nextiva
This being said, companies are expected to start paying more attention to the individual needs of their employees. Of course, as Dan Gowe points out, this does come with its extra challenges when it comes to adapting to new workflows:
“There will be a shift in power. Some people can rock a meeting room, but can’t express their thoughts as well in writing. The opposite is also true– introverts and people with social anxiety may have better luck getting their ideas “heard” as we communicate more via text. On (mental) health, this will accelerate our change to being a more antisocial society, and people will have to be more proactive at seeking out the human contact we lose around the water cooler.” – Dan Gowe, Owner @Buddy Gardner Advertising
The hybrid workplace
Whether you were a fan of open offices or not, the current crisis seems to have caused the death of the open office as we all knew it. There are now calls for new coworking spaces that will give people more privacy, quiet time, and, most importantly, give a decent distance between each other for health and productivity reasons.
Tom De Spiegelaere, Founder @Tom Spicky, sees the mix of remote and office teams as the influencer behind having no permanent workspace:
“Many companies can’t fully operate in a remote setting, and if so, the office spaces will look a little different. Employees will have alternating shifts, with each member going to the office only once or twice a week. Since it’s not a Monday to Friday appearance, a private workspace may not be the option anymore. Shared cubicles are likely, but the employees must bring their own keyboards to work to lessen the risk of infection. But despite the shared cubicle space, other communal items will be eradicated. Each employee must have their own supplies, such as pens and staplers.”
In fact, most professionals believe the future workplace is a hybrid one since it’s the best option if companies want to adapt to all of their employees’ needs:
“At Splashtop we see the future of work as a hybrid and fluid. This means that the physical office will not disappear, rather it will work in tandem with a remote office so that employees can have the best of both worlds. Why? It is difficult to replicate the benefits of a face to face or ad-hoc meeting remotely. Some people also like going to the office. Ultimately, by having a hybrid workplace, employers will be able to retain the best talent, reduce carbon footprint and boost productivity and mental health by reducing stress caused by a rigid workplace.” – Diena Diallo, PR & Marketing @Splashtop Inc
For the companies not opting to keep remote work, they’ll have to adapt to an office environment that will be forever different. Rob Bromage also particularly emphasizes how mixed teams will become the norm:
“HR managers are about to face their biggest challenge of the COVID-19 crisis: managing mixed teams with some individuals returning to the office while others continue to work remotely. Business leaders and HR teams need to split their attention between the concerns of remote workers. Many of them will be continuing to work in spaces not designed to be offices 24/7. Others will come back to the office and are likely to be preoccupied with questions of physical space, office cleanliness and the challenges of rebuilding trust in safety of their workplaces.” – Rob Bromage, CEO@IntelliHR
Having a detailed contingency plan that covers all of the above can’t be complete without considering the technologies you’ll be using. For one, we’re expecting to see increased automation, particularly for jobs and tasks that can be easily replaced by AI and involve routine activities.
Then, there’s the software side of things. A boom of Zoom-like tools and features for remote work was only natural. People will be looking to get better apps tailored to their newly discovered priorities when it comes to job flexibility and improved communication.
For anyone who misses the office, virtual office sounds and tools that allow you to surround yourself with an office-like environment have become a thing:
“I do want to share the concept of VR offices. VR workspaces introduce the “professional working environment” which is lacking from when you are working from home. It also helps people “gather.” Whether it’ll be mainstream is a big question.” – Andrus Purde
We can also expect to see all kinds of emerging technologies and accelerated innovation with regards to remote work. From your regular toolstack to bots that can do work in your place to smart tech to check on employees health or devices and apps to ensure remote work security including a boom in VPN use and employee monitoring tools.
Looking towards the future
While the switch to remote was too sudden for most companies to have time to prepare, going back to the office can take as long as every company needs. Take a step-by-step approach to all of the challenges above to prepare for the future workplace and, above all, to the new demands and work policies.
Involve your entire team in these processes. Nobody likes going back and forth between the office and their home or having to switch through multiple workflows. The recent changes have impacted everyone in one way or another so it’s highly likely they’ve discovered new interests and might have new requirements. Particularly when it comes to how they handle work and balance their day-to-day activities.