We are about 3 months in to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was about early March that the lives of most of us started to change. In that time, we have had to adapt to numerous changes in our everyday lives, some challenging to deal with, others less so.
My musing today has been prompted by my thoughts over the last weeks as well as my general interest over some years about how the world of work will change. I presented on this topic some years ago. That presentation rings true in 2020.
Today, I saw the news that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Co-Founder and CEO of Twitter has announced a permanent work from home (WFH) policy, and this prompted me to put fingers to keys.
I’m not surprised by this news, but I wonder if this policy will truly be forever? As I talk to other people in other sectors outside of Tech, I’m hearing genuine surprise about just how efficient people have been and how they have been able to get through a mountain of work whilst still maintaining a work life balance, often for the betterment of both work and life.
Of course, Tech has been a long advocate of WFH policy and creates the tools and environments that makes WFH possible, so it stands to reason that tech workers are leading the charge on WFH.
I don’t mind admitting, I normally work from home 3 days a week. Have done for 15 years. When I need to be head down, doing what I do, I need some quiet focus time and I get that in my home office. When in the office with other distractions, often less gets done. Of course, the office time does help for other reasons, specifically those team collaboration moments that help to drive group creativity, bouncing ideas, camaraderie team bonding as well as driving the passions that we have for our companies and the clients we support.
It occurred to me that I have not physically met a client, prospect, candidate, or partner since early March, but I have had a lot of Zoom meetings. I’m pretty keen to put on a suit and meet people, hopefully after I can get a haircut though, but that’s another story! Mind you, I’m sure I’m not the only one who likes the quieter roads, fresher air and hearing birdsong?
A long term WFH policy therefore is going to need to consider how teams can get the positives from face to face time when time is spent apart. Collaboration tech can help for sure, but humans are social creatures, well, some of us are…and we are going to need to find a work around here. If anyone has ideas and experience here, please do share them?
I’d not be surprised if 30% of office real estate that was occupied before March 2020 becomes available after leases expire. I also expect there to be a massive oversupply of office space for the foreseeable future and I’d hate to be a commercial office owner at this stage in time. This is a good time to be in the garden office construction business though!
Maybe we’ll see across many industries a reduced office capacity and a hybrid approach to office time and WFH. From what I am hearing, companies are already exploring this idea of hybrid approach. The effects on childcare and balancing work and children will also be a major consideration for many.
But there are other implications to consider as well. How many companies will decide that they can operate efficiently with a smaller and more engaged workforce? If WFH becomes the new normal, will this mean that major metro areas see people decide to move out as the need to go to the office every day is no longer critical and better quality of life can be found elsewhere? For years we have seen an influx of people leaving country locations to move the cities. Could this begin to reverse?
In the UK, London and the South East is a major hub. However, I have noticed in the SaaS industry a step change for people to move further away, brought on by the WFH trend that was already prevalent, well before we have even heard of Coronavirus. Will this trend start to accelerate and help to move the concentration of people in London and the South East to a broader spread across the nation? Will the High Speed 2 rail line in fact be a very valuable addition to the UK infrastructure?
San Francisco specifically springs to mind. Property prices in the Bay Area are very inflated so if fewer people need to be in the area, will more people start to look at other areas to live in? Will other metro areas see property prices increase as there is a general movement of people and families deciding on new areas to live in? Will new tech hotspots open up? Look at Bristol in the UK for instance?
But what of the challenge of teams of people that are earlier into their careers and need to have management time to drive their development? Some people are just not cut out to WFH or have as yet not developed the experience and maturity to do so. A blanket WFH policy will not work for all.
Of course, I must make reference to all those people that just can’t work from home. Drivers & Transport workers, Maintenance and Security workers, Engineers, Warehouse workers…. the list is long.
Disruptive events in history such as the Covid 19 pandemic create winners (Zoom) and losers (Airlines). One of my close business contacts was explaining to me last week why he sees the pandemic as a massive opportunity for gig workers.
We are too early to say with certainty what the new normal will be but I’m not sure that we will go back to the exact same way things were before Covid 19. A vaccine to Covid 19 will be another game changer but that is a big “if” and “when”.
Mind you, Human Beings throughout history have shown themselves to be remarkably forgetful with short memories…Time will tell.
Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on this topic?