Work after COVID-19: what will the new world look like?

Right now, the world is battling an invisible foe that poses a threat to all of us. Economies everywhere are struggling to keep their heads above the water, businesses are having to furlough their staff, and anyone lucky enough to keep their job – and isn't a key worker – has had to adjust to working from home. There's no denying that COVID-19 has stopped the world in its tracks. Things will never quite be the same again. 

But the question on everyone's lips is: what will the world of work look like when this all blows over?

What We Know Right Now

It's hard to predict what will come next without first understanding what's happening right now. Let's review what we know:

  • COVID-19 doesn't discriminate. Any age, gender, or race is equally at risk.
  • The virus has exposed the fragility of the global market.
  • It's shown that even the deepest reserves in central banks are useless when every market is collapsing.
  • The virus has highlighted how even free-market nations need centralised government control and police enforcement to tackle epidemics like this.

If nothing else, the coronavirus has snapped the market out of the haze of unsustainable trading which has been taking place since the last global financial crisis in 2008. The total world debt is about $130 trillion greater today than it was after the credit crunch, so it was only a matter of time before the economy corrected itself.

So even if – with luck – COVID-19 is defeated within the year, the global economy faces an altogether more daunting road to recovery. For businesses right now, success means weathering the current storm and riding out the shock waves sweeping the world.

The Post-Virus World

Businesses seeking to survive this crisis will have to adapt – fast. There's no knowing how far-reaching or long-lasting the effects of COVID-19 will be, but there's no doubt that 'business-as-usual' will look remarkably different in the short-term. 

The key, immediate factors that will shape society – I predict – are as follows:

  • It will take time for general virus anxiety to die down. This will drastically impact how we use public spaces and public transport, having a knock-on effect on commuters wanting to stay home.
  • Organisations will likely look to source supplies and customers locally due to the exposed weakness of supply chains.
  • The job market will become even more competitive than it has been due to the sheer number of companies going out of business.
  • There will be a complete reconsideration of the purpose of corporate real estate.
  • Our appetite for travel will diminish and the evisceration of the airline industry will drive up the cost of air travel substantially. 
  • Though our desire to travel will take a hit, there will be an increased eagerness for socialisation after so much time spent apart.

This unprecedented situation will force us to rethink many of the key tenets that have underpinned our society for generations – the role of the state, how we fund healthcare, the distribution of wealth, and so much more. But how will it reshape the way we work?

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The future of Work Post-Lockdown

Implications for Organisations

Organisations have had to rapidly adapt to current circumstances, with many shifting towards remote working. This has pushed IT to the fore as it's only thanks to technology that people have been able to continue working effectively.

Companies that had previously implemented at least some form of agile working have had a real advantage, with workers able to work remotely with relative ease. More traditional businesses, on the other hand, have found the transition much trickier. 

Many businesses have also seen a sharp decline in demand for their products and services, causing them to rethink their core offerings and the logistical end of their operations. And with the need to cut costs, every aspect of the business will be passed under the spotlight to assess whether it adds sufficient value to justify retaining it.

Implications for Real Estate

The coronavirus epidemic and the lock down it's caused will make many reassess the meaning of commercial real estate. After all, is commuting on a busy train into an office full of shared – potentially contaminated – spaces really going to make your staff more productive than they would be working from home? 

On top of that, a majority of office buildings are built from glass, concrete, and steel – three of the most energy hungry materials on the planet. Is real estate the best way for us to be using these precious and finite resources? 

Surely it'd be much safer for employees and more environmentally responsible if we rethought what it meant to 'come to work'. Perhaps employees could instead cycle or walk to a local co-working space, socialise with friends locally, and use technology to communicate and collaborate with their co-workers. This may sound ideal, but it's important to consider the wider impact it would have on things like your work culture.

Implications for Your People

It's human nature to socialise. It's how we learn new things, develop as individuals, and it plays a critical role in keeping us mentally healthy. While the scenario mentioned above sounds ideal, it doesn't account for one of the key components of any enduring organisation – a sense of identity and belonging. 

Technologies like video conferencing and instant messengers, while useful, just can't engender the same feelings of cohesiveness and teamwork as face-to-face interactions can. Keeping your people truly connected is important for two key reasons:

Business Resilience

Organisations need a tightly-knit group of dedicated employees to remain strong through tough times. Keeping them working together while apart means heavily investing in infrastructure too. From hardware to cyber-security and software to aid collaboration, businesses should invest in the infrastructure now to prepare for any future large-scale disruptions.

Innovation Through Culture

Culture and innovation lie at the heart of the best organisations. The people and the vision are what allow businesses to more easily capitalise on shifting circumstances. The post-virus winners will be those which recognise this and have the courage to jettison old paradigms and start afresh.

Implications for Recruitment

The job market is likely to be incredibly competitive post-virus due to a large number of businesses collapsing. There will be a race to snap up the brightest minds, with the fastest, most attractive organisations taking the cream of the crop. Business owners need to be careful not to overlook older generations, however, who may find adapting to new ways of working more difficult than their younger counterparts.

Keeping an Eye on the Future

There's still a long way to go before the initial crisis of COVID-19 is resolved, with many hurdles still left to clear. But one thing is certain, things will never be quite the same again.

That's not necessarily a negative thing. Post credit crunch, companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Groupon have gone from strength to strength. As Winston Churchill once said, you should "never let a good crisis go to waste."

While none of us quite knows what will happen next, once your business is out of the immediate 'survival mode', turn your vision to the future. If you can recognise the challenges you might face, you'll be better prepared to manage them and harness the potential opportunities. 

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