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The (Not so distant) Future of Work

As we enter our second pandemic summer, what the workplaces of tomorrow will look like is becoming clearer for researchers, educators and employers. We will observe and learn lessons from workplaces reopening in Australia, but other things are also coming into focus as we forecast further out.

Many workplaces are making plans to reopen as we have an understandable and widespread desire to achieve some sort of pre-pandemic “normal.” Here are a few takeaways inspired by Australia’s experience, among others. It should be noted that Australia’s reopening has happened against a backdrop of frequent temporary closures and lockdowns as Covid cases re-appear.

Reopening of Offices

  • A modulated and safe approach to a phased-in reopening, with clear communication well in advance, complete with movable timelines to accommodate public health guidelines has quickly gained support. It allows for employers to best manage and prepare for employee jitteriness about returning to shared spaces and in-person meetings. Employers are choosing to move to “in person” work in a largely voluntary, but not mandated, approach, while keeping hybrid options open.

  • Five models have emerged in Australia according to a recent article: “As it was,” where not much has changed except better sanitation, signage and ventilation, as well as some flexibility holdovers; “Clubhouse” or a hybrid model, where employees work from home and go to the office to “meet, socialize, and work together”; “Activity-based working,” where there are no assigned desks and people move from meeting rooms to phone rooms to lounges, etc.; “Hub and spoke,” where large downtown offices are being replaced with a network of smaller, satellite offices in neighbourhoods; and lastly, the fully virtual model, where people work from anywhere.

Keeping the Best of Our Pandemic Workplaces

  • Flexible work arrangements. Award-winning workplaces figured this out decades ago, and now the rest of us have made strides—finally! Flex on!

  • A sincere emphasis on safety, health and well-being. Many organizations created senior-level accountability for employee and organizational well-being. Now’s the time to double down on that commitment and not relax and be accused of only “checking the well-being box” when it was a popular pastime.

  • Better (fewer) meetings. Poorly run meetings are a huge drain on time, productivity and morale. The pandemic forced many organizations to rethink communication, including moving to a more thoughtful, efficient and disciplined approach to sharing information effectively and holding efficient meetings to avoid digital fatigue and alleviate stress. Periodic evaluation and ongoing adjustment to meeting processes has been a win-win-win for many workplaces.

  • A commitment to better communication. So many employers quickly and efficiently retooled their communication strategies, tools and practices to connect with their people at the height of the pandemic crisis. While some practices and processes were clearly crisis communication tools, many employers have kept the best of their newfound ways to be better communicators. An example: one employer moved to daily voice messages from senior leaders sent by text to every employee. Staff loved it. They’ve maintained the practice but now moved to a weekly format, a practice they’ve now enshrined in how they work.

We have a “fresh start” of sorts looming, and we generally benefit from making productive and healthy decisions at such moments. May we all view the reopening of workplaces as an opportunity to learn from others, keep the best of our pandemic workplace practices (while ditching some long-held ineffective habits and processes) and experiment with better approaches.

Yet another period of profound workplace change is just around the corner. Opportunities for learning, improvement and greater collaboration will be in abundance.

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