We really like old science fiction movies that show us what the world is supposed to be like in the future. Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” for example, shows a future world where workers will labor in automated factories in special underground cities. Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” predicts a world where robots do all the work while people relax. There are all kinds of futuristic movies. What’s your favorite?
But we are discovering that because of the pandemic, the future is going to be a lot different than what those movies predict. It’s going to be a lot simpler. In fact, the simplification has already begun. Here are some trends we are seeing, and we predict that many of them are here to stay.
Technology Won’t Complicate Work, It Will Simplify It
Suddenly, most of us are using a tremendous amount of technology on the job, from Wi-Fi to virtual meetings to projects and documents we are sharing in the cloud. Yet most of that tech is invisible. It works invisibly in the background to make tasks simpler, faster, more intuitive.
If you walk into most companies today, you already see that. You aren’t going to see machines spinning or hear phones ringing. Most of the technology we use at work is becoming invisible.
We Are Entering a Time of Staged Return, Flexible Working Hours and Other Looseness
There is a scene in “Metropolis” that shows hundreds of identical laborers marching in lockstep to a factory where they will all perform identical jobs for identical hours. Well, that’s not going to happen, is it? In post-pandemic workplaces, workers will come and go at different times of the day. Some of them will work entirely from home or from remote office locations.
We are going to be individuals, not conformists. That’s already a really happy thing.
Work Locations Will Become Littler
Those old sci-fi movies showed people working in huge, impersonal factories. But that’s not happening, because most companies are reducing the size of their facilities. More of their employees will work from their homes, from remote locations . . . from anywhere. Some organizations are already shutting down all of their facilities and having everyone work from elsewhere.
Some of us will love working in little spaces at home or near our homes. Others of us will still want to work outside our residences. But the place where we plop down and work will have a small footprint.
Yet We Will Have More Physical Space Around Us
There’s no question that social distancing has already exerted a big change on how people at work relate to the space around them. That “six feet apart” requirement is a big thing. It will affect the spacing between workstations in companies, even after people have returned to work.
And another thing. There might be more walls in many companies that have been installed to protect and insulate workers’ work space. You’ve heard people talk about “universities without walls” or, “businesses without boundaries.” Those are probably not going to happen either.
Boy, Is Your Company Going to Be Clean
You will be working in a place that is correctly and routinely cleaned and sanitized . . . because it has to be. Some futuristic sci-fi movies show people working in huge, grimy factories where huge machines belch out steam and smoke, but that isn’t going to happen.
You’re Going to Work in a Smart, Bright, Modern Building
We’ve got to face the fact that old buildings are not healthy places to work. Their inefficient heating and cooling systems often distribute air through old ductwork that is dirty, disease-harboring, and difficult to clean. And even modern buildings that were built only a decade ago are equipped with windows that do not open, which can trap viruses and bacteria inside and encourage illnesses to spread.
Future buildings are going to be bright, airy, and well ventilated. Actually, that is one prediction that some old sci-fi films might have gotten right.
The Whole Social Side of Working Is about to Change
In years past, people spent lots of time getting to know the people they saw at work every day. They chatted around the proverbial water cooler, snacked in lunch rooms, went out for drinks together after work, and fell into groups that functioned a lot like second families.
That is about to change too. In some companies, most employees will only rarely see their coworkers. Or they will see them only at important meetings, or they will only meet their colleagues by interacting with them in video conferences.
Will this be good? Will this be bad? We cannot predict for sure, but we have already noticed that connected people who work in different locations still get to like each other, to learn about each other, and develop close friendships. People tend to like each other, and we don’t expect that to change.
Changes in Commuting Will Transform Work
We are seeing this already, as more and more employees are enjoying the ability to skip the risks associated with commuting by car, train, or bus, and are working either in the home or close to home.
When people are able to reduce the amount of time they spend commuting, the very nature of work is transformed. Here are some comments we have heard from people who are embarking on that process . . .
“I’m now better able to pick my kids up at school, attend after-school conferences, and show up at athletic events that I just couldn’t make when I had that long commute. It’s great.”
“I get so much more work done and on many days by noon, I feel like I have done a full day. Sometimes that is good, but sometimes I feel burned out and I need to take a walk to clear my head. Some days, I have to tackle my high-priority projects in the morning and leave `maintenance’ work like returning phone calls until after lunch. It’s just not the same.”
“The fact that I can leave later in the morning, and that I get home an hour earlier at the end of the day, has been great, but it has actually required my wife and me to recalibrate our relationship and adjust. It actually wasn’t the easiest transition.”
“I can exercise more, every day in fact. I feel healthier and more energized. It’s like a new lease on my professional life.”
And How Is Your World of Work Changing?
We know your world of work is changing quickly, and we hope you are pleased with what is taking place. As the old expression goes, “Change is good.” We hope it is!