It’s already happening. We didn’t necessarily know back in March of 2020 that we were in the early stages of a global pandemic, but we sure do now. Obviously most people have noticed the economic impact. What I think will start to change more radically is the nature of work and the workplace.
What’s it going to be like? What is work after COVID going to look like?
As a COVID survivor myself, I can say that certain things will change on the employer’s side, but other changes will be driven by the employee. For instance, very simply, I will never again show up in person for a company that allows sick, coughing people to come into the building. I can’t. How can I be productive if I’m exposed to respiratory illnesses that are still hard for me to fight - even the common cold?
A lot of people like me, people who have that type of option, will just work from home forever.
On the one hand, this is really unfair for those who can’t. On the other hand, every person who works from home allows just that little bit more physical space for everyone else. Each person who works from home makes the roads a little clearer, the parking spaces a little emptier, the lunch lines a little shorter.
At my work, right around the six-month mark, the lightbulb went off above several people’s heads. Almost nobody in our company needs to be in the building to work, but the reason they do need to come in is to use the labs. We never have enough laboratory space, and a lot of other companies are the same way. Send home even a dozen people permanently, and suddenly there are options to renovate. Remove the offices you no longer need, replace them with lab space, and eventually it’s safe for everyone in the lab to distance.
I talked to my cousin recently, and at his work, the directors go to the office and everyone else works from home. This is interesting, because leadership takes on the physical risk. It’s the first we had heard of this type of arrangement.
It’s easy enough to track productivity and make sure people are staying on task. Look at their work product, measure their deliverables. Install a keystroke tracker if you feel you need to. If people are meeting their deadlines, it’s fine. Who cares if they did it in their bathrobe? Companies that are still hung up about needing to monitor people can learn to do it remotely, perhaps with even greater scrutiny than they showed back in the conventional office.
It’s going to be cheaper, and that will eventually help to lengthen the leash.
One area where working from home makes things more complicated is the issue of security. The reason a lot of our people need to go into the physical office is that they can’t take secure calls at home. It’s not physical materials, it’s the soundproofing and the encryption. There may eventually be solutions for this that can be built into people’s private homes, but this would be quite expensive. Then the next person who lived in that home probably wouldn’t need that feature! More secure “phone booth” type arrangements may need to be set up, either things that can be moved from house to house without too much trouble, or far more external options like mini-coworking offices.
Encryption is definitely going to be an area of greater emphasis and development. If you’re looking for things to do and areas to retrain, that’s something to consider.
Another area where development is going to move very quickly is in converting paper processes to digital. Those who find this annoying or who are nervous about their skills are going to need to reach out for tutorials and coaching to get up to speed.
To me the worst thing in the world is for someone to risk COVID exposure at work just because they’re trapped in an old paper-based system. In most cases, these systems could have been digitized at least a decade ago, it’s just that nobody wanted to.
Another area where I see change and expansion is in retro-fitting vehicles and public spaces, like store countertops. We absolutely must do everything technologically possible to protect anyone who has to work with the public. “Essential” doesn’t matter here. Zero people should be in a position where someone is breathing into their face. The customer is no longer “always right” - and I think anyone who has ever worked retail will agree, they never were! Plexiglass or whatever it takes.
Several years ago, I happened to be with my parents when they dropped by their credit union. There was no teller physically present in the building. Customers went into a little reception area and communicated through a video screen. If that tech was available over a decade ago, then it can be done elsewhere.
Something else security-related that I think we’ll see is that technology will be assigned for security detail. A store employee should not be subject to physical violence from some rabid mask denier. The doors simply shouldn’t open for someone who refuses to obey store dress code. If they can tell us “no shoes, no shirt, no service” or that they “reserve the right to refuse” any customer, then certainly they can enforce public health directives.
Tech developments were already starting to appear in the years before this pandemic, and now they’re going to move faster. Delivery robots for short distances. Customer service and security robots. Tele-medicine. There will certainly be more tech for air filtration and sanitizing surfaces. Once the infrastructure is in place for more transactions to be done safely and death-breath-free, it will most likely stay that way. People are looking for ways to shop, entertain themselves, and socialize in groups, and if it takes special masks to do it, we’ll adapt.
A lot of people are out of work right now, partly because we’re in a state of uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last. Think back to the trends of the 1920s. After the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic, people were elated, looking to party and spend money. The 20th century really only began at that point. The world of 1925 looked wildly different than the world of 1915. Prepare for something similar in the decade that begins with 2020. Start thinking about the jobs of the future. With a bit of trend analysis and a bit of training, it’s not impossible that a lot of people would wind up better off than they were before the pandemic - as long as we stay safe enough to see it all unfold.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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