With the first anniversary of lockdown just around the corner, now is a moment of reflection for us all. A great deal has changed in the workplace over the last year for the positive as well as negative, and numerous challenges still lie ahead. Here are five predictions as we move to a post-COVID work environment:
1. While hybrid working is here to stay, there will be a resurgence of enthusiasm for the physical office as businesses rediscover its cultural, creative and competitive advantages and the sense of belonging it elicits in employees and customers alike. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, calls it ‘creative combustion’ and it sounds highly compelling after the fatigue of working from home, and the impact it has had on our happiness, health and productivity.
2. Employee turnover will surge, particularly amongst younger workers starved of camaraderie and opportunities for mentorship, learning and progress over the last year. Brian Kropp of research and advisory firm Gartner says workers are spending more time looking for jobs online and updating their LinkedIn profiles and that once the economy opens up again, those biding their time are likely to ‘rush for the exit’.
3. Innovative solutions will be launched to address the needs of hybrid workers. Flexible rail season tickets will make commuting two or three days per week more attractive. In the physical workplace, day offices, mix-and-match propositions, and corporate clubhouses will cater for the full spectrum of employee needs. We will also see satellite offices in neighbourhood locations and hospitality brands trialling third space formats for remote workers and digital nomads.
4. The next generation of technology will be launched imminently to support hybrid working, covering both virtual-to-virtual and everywhere-to-everywhere connections. Zoom has already announced its ‘everywhere workforce’ and now Microsoft has introduced Mesh, a mixed-reality platform that allows people in different locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences.
5. Employee wellbeing and mental health will move to the centre of the corporate agenda. As we count the cost of long-term damage to employees from this last year, wellbeing and mental health will become a key focus. We will see the arrival of innovative products such as smart offices featuring smart cubes to monitor workers’ wellbeing, office drinks held via virtual reality as well as initiatives based on random acts of kindness like ListenLéon’s app that lets colleagues send anonymous compliments to each other. And hopefully over the next year we will see companies taking more seriously their responsibility for funding furniture and utilities for employees working from home.
There is no doubt that combining the energising effects of a return to the office and city life with the freedom of remote working represents the best of both worlds for many companies and employees. However, it will only succeed if businesses address the challenges of this next year, creating a seamless physical and virtual workplace; investing in hybrid technology; stemming the loss of talent; and putting employee wellbeing and mental health at the heart of the company. It is up to us to rise to the task.