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COVID-19 Future of Work

How will we work post COVID-19?

MacBook laptop on coffee table with kettle and phone. Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

It’s safe to say that the daily grind has recently been tipped on its head. The world has changed from a commuting lifestyle to schlepping a few feet from the bedroom to your home office desk, kitchen table, or living room.

Many, many people have now reverted to working from home from laptops and other devices, remotely connecting into their once physical office spaces to continue working.

In immediate response to the crisis, employers world-wide have scrambled to increase their capacity or find solutions for remote workers to keep operating from their homes.

With global news changing hourly, scientific researchers working around the clock to develop faster testing and potential vaccines, everyone in the world is facing uncertain times ahead.

So while we all still struggle to understand the unfolding events day by day, one question hangs over all of us.

A question of when

When we’ll be returning to our regular pattern of work isn’t going to be an easy question for anyone to answer right now, especially for employers.

On one hand, we have office workers. Those with typically stable employment, decent internet connections, and the ability to log in remotely. On the other, there are the service workers. Those who’s work depends either on a physical premises or close contact with the public to do their work.

Then there is everyone in between, the small to medium businesses, the entrepreneurs, and those who don’t fit a more traditional style of work.

There is a current expectation that we could be facing working from home for up to six months. That’s a lot of people clocking-in for an extended period of time, the ‘essentials’ who are still attending their workplace during this crisis, and a lot of people whose lives have become uncertain because their place of work is presently under tight restrictions or locked down due to restrictions placed by their respective governments.

The only thing we know for certain right now is that the world is in a state of constant flux, and the coming months will be very revealing, both in our personal and working lives.

The rise of a new normal

Right now there are vast amounts of people slogging it out in their homes daily, their only contact with the outside world being through the use of technology, and the odd moment they have to visit a store for food and other supplies.

A 2018 study by Owl Labsestimated that “…52% of employees work remote at least once a week.” Two years on we can only imagine that prior to COVID-19 this number could have grown by perhaps another 5–7%.

Now that COVID-19 has a firm grip on the world, we’ve never had this number of remote workers logging in daily. There is yet to be a study undertaken to determine what this years numbers may be but we shouldn’t be surprised if the number has risen to 80% or even 90% remote working five days a week given our rapidly changing circumstances.

With no real end in site, has working from home become the new normal?

In the near future it’s likely we’ll see an uptick in businesses that maintain no physical presence whatsoever, which won’t be limited to only small and medium business.

We may find in the future large companies with thousands of employees where their only physical footprint will be a series of racks in a data centre.

Every employee interaction, from on-boarding, training, daily working, team bonding, recognition, promotion, retirement, and exit completed entirely at distance.

The expectation of a worker ending a position at one organisation on Friday and starting a new role the following Monday may well be done from the one location, their home.

The effect of a remote working world

While initially it sounds like a dream to some to perform all of your duties from home, there are tangible effects that come into being when doing so for extended periods of time.

In this moment we are only beginning to ride the wave of mandatory home working. In the short-term we’ll begin to feel the psychological effects of being always at home, the strain on familial relationships, and the fact that a good portion of us have showered less frequently than we’d care to admit.

In the long-term, we’ll have to navigate a veritable minefield of personal and social challenges as time progresses.

If we transition to a post-coronavirus world where working from home is normal situation then spare a thought your lunchtime food outlets, cafés, and bars that begin to suffer significantly.

With a lack of foot traffic, other businesses that rely on walk-in customers start to fail, the high street of your local suburb or town now feels suddenly empty when you next pass by the newly vacant stores that used to burst with customers.

We also need to be conscious of the economic effects with a shift to remote working becoming the new normal.

Top 500 stocks on Black Monday II
16th March 2020 — FinViz Stock Screener u/bigbear0083 posted on Reddit.com

COVID-19 may bring with it an unprecedented global recession that could rival the depths of the 2007–2008 Global Financial Crisis. We’ve already seen severe drops in the worth of stocks across the board with the so-titled “Black Monday II” crash event on the 16th of March this year as a result of the Coronavirus.

Even the most traditionally stable economies are at risk with what’s to come.

With market analysts scrambling daily to understand the long-term effects of Coronavirus on the world economy, we may only be witnessing the tip of the iceberg which could include extreme inflation and recession in some parts of our globe.

Where to from here?

When we do return to working from offices and interacting face-to-face once again it will feel a little alien. It’s going to take time for people to trust gathering in groups again.

The sideways glances you’ll receive from a single cough will be socially devastating.

Meeting clients in coffee shops, or even simply hanging out with friends at a bar is going to feel wrong and we’ll all go wash our hands throughly afterwards. Though with people being more wary of their health practices more than ever before, it’s possible we’ll be an overall healthier global population.

No matter the outcome of the next few months in isolation, the world remains forever changed.

By Tim King

Tim is a creative thinker, self-proclaimed futurist, and writer based in Central Victoria, Australia. He's been designing and developing digital content online for over a decade and loves digging into the big topics that shape our world, applying his own brand of thought along the way.

You'll usually find him thinking far too hard about the future, often with a good glass of red in hand.