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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

WHO WE ARE NOW: HOW THE PANDEMIC CHANGED US AND WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK

2021-03-31 10:16

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, HIGH-PERFORMING TEAMS, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING, TEAM DYNAMICS, WORKFORCE DYNAMICS,

WHO WE ARE NOW: HOW THE PANDEMIC CHANGED US AND WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK

In March, we hosted a survey on where people want to work post-lockdown - and the results show that attitudes in this area are far from straightforward...

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In March, a poll that we hosted on LinkedIn helped us better understand where people want to work post-lockdown. 

 

In total, 826 people voted, and the results made it clear that people’s attitudes in this area are far from straightforward. 45% voted to spend two days per week in the office. 27% want to work from home forever. 21% stated a preference to spend three days a week in the office – and just 8% want to return to the office full time. 

 

Many also commented on the poll, expressing their intent to determine the where, when and how of future work on their own terms. 

 

While data showed a growing demand for flexible working before we’d even heard of COVID-19, the past year of working from home has provided a clear taste of what post-lockdown work and life could be. 

 

While we’ve proven that remote working is a viable alternative to office-based work, I suspect there’s something deeper going on.

 

The pandemic has changed us. We’re different people now – reshaped by an experience we’ve not yet even started to make sense of. And, like it or not, there’s no going back to how things were.

 

What we’ve lost
In the past year, we’ve all experienced grief and loss. 

 

Maybe someone died, or we know someone whose health has been compromised. We’ve yet to fully understand long COVID. 

 

Some of us lost our livelihoods. Or the sense of a clear career or employment pathway. The pandemic has suspended vast swathes of the global economy, and a year in, it’s still unclear how and when those sectors will be able to safely open back up. Facing financial uncertainty and insecurity is traumatic.

 

Where business has continued, leaders are also struggling. It’s hard to plan when so much is ambiguous and learning to practice fluidity of thinking is a challenge for us all. 

 

While each of us has been impacted differently, we’re united in our loss of a life pre-COVID. A carefree life, where we could sit in companionship in a bar, café or restaurant, and come or go as we pleased. 

 

Today, we all feel weighed down by the reality that life is way more fragile than we’d appreciated. 

 

What we’ve gained

The first weeks of lockdown allowed most of us to slow down and reflect. 

 

Suddenly, we had time to think. It presented an opportunity to figure out what we wanted from life. What and who makes us happy? What really matters? How do we live a meaningful life? 

 

Working from home allowed us to see how much time was wasted in the daily commute. We wanted that time back.

 

Many of us realised we need a whole lot less than we’d thought to live well. In a complex, interconnected world, we now crave simplicity. 

 

The data suggests people are now exiting towns and cities in pursuit of a better life. As location ceases to be relevant for many job openings, the pursuit of a slower, more balanced life gets reprioritised. 

 

We’re watching the perennial work-life dilemma play out in real-time. 

 

What this means 

On the topic of ‘where’ to work, employees are finding their voice. For over a decade, it’s been acknowledged that employee voice is a key enabler of engagement. Yet for the past ten years global workplace engagement levels have been consistently poor. 

 

This time however, I don’t think people will be silenced. 

 

We’re different now. Each of us has been reshaped by this pandemic, in ways that are unique to our individual experience of the last twelve months. 

 

A top-down, unilateral approach to the ‘where’ of post pandemic work is unlikely to yield long-term returns. Staff may tolerate being told what to do in the short-term, but for sure they’ll look for something that better fits their revised preferences as soon as the opportunity arises. They always do.

 

To apply such rigidity of thinking, when the circumstances are far from clear-cut, is short-sighted. And is the antithesis of organisational agility.

 

Instead, trust the judgement of those who do the work. 

 

Only by listening to understand the specific preferences of each team member will employers avoid both higher staff attrition rates and reduced engagement levels once workplaces open back up. It might be time-consuming in the short term, but surely adopting a customised approach to the future ‘where’ of work will pay off in the longer term. 

 

And given the wider challenges of both organisational recovery and indeed survival, surely that’s time worth taking.

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Navigating Talent RiskRecruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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