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‘Batching’ is here: 7 pandemic trends that will stick forever

·8-min read
closeup of a young man in an office holding a briefcase and a surgical mask in his hand
‘Batching’ is here: 7 pandemic trends that will stick forever. Source: Getty

The death of the office as a result of the pandemic has been seriously overestimated.

Turns out plenty of people actually like going to a destination to work, even when they can do that work from home. Not just to interact with managers, but also to socialise, to get outside of their houses or apartments, and to take a break from housemates and family members.

But really no one - or at least very few people - actually want to be forced into going to work for a set time every morning and afternoon, from Monday to Friday, every week.

We value flexibility. We value autonomy, when it’s possible. And we value the idea of dialling down the stress on the daily commute - whether that be to take regular breaks from it, or to travel at times that mean you don’t sit in heavy traffic or amongst crowds of morning commuters for lengthy periods of time.

So what happens next?

Are we ever going back to the work life that put us in offices 40 plus hours a week?

In August 2020, the Australian tech firm Atlassian declared staff will be able to work from home “forever”, even after committing to building a $1 billion plus office development in Sydney’s CBD. They will continue to offer an office, giving staff the choice of working part or all of the week from home.

The Atlassian announcement followed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who came out early during the pandemic in saying that staff could work from home ‘forever’. And large firms all over the world have noted the potential in permanent ‘hybrid’ models that give staff the best of both office and remote work.

Change has happened and much of it is set to stick. The Monday to Friday, 40 hour work week model created by Henry Ford at the turn of the 19th century - and then lengthened as a result of technological developments (despite predictions it would actually shorten) - is finally evolving.

Below are some of the trends this period has inspired that will stick long term.

Unfortunately, not all employers will be on board with the new normal of office work.

But for the most part, smart big businesses that can do this, will make it happen, forever.

1. Actual flexible work

It’s one thing to offer staff the option to work remotely, it’s another thing entirely to support them in working flexibly.

Flexibility means allowing staff to have more say over when they are doing their work, giving options to work earlier in the morning and later at night, to take breaks to drop and pick up kids from school, to have days off and time out to exercise and go to the gym.

It also allows staff to work according to their most productive times, and take more control over knowing when they’re at their best to get across things that require more focus.

Not all employers are getting this right. Far from it. Some staff are finding work from home even more restrictive, given the added Zoom meetings and other requirements.

But those that can make flexibility for staff easier will benefit from happier and more productive staff. Long-term, they will gain from the reputational benefits of being a flexible employer, giving them access to a greater talent pool.

2. The end of business travel

Turns out a lot of businesses can operate without the interstate travel, particularly those regular trips to other major cities that simply become part of your weekly routine.

New work can be pitched without the airfares. Contracts can get signed. New staff members trained. And even some of the largest corporate boards in the country figured out how to meet virtually.

This dramatic pull back from business travel has and will continue to support emissions reductions and cost savings, but it’s also supporting the time management and lifestyles of those travellers who were previously spending so much time -- often their free time -- travelling.

3. The hybrid office

We’ve seen companies successfully splitting up how and when staff work in offices over the past year, in order to ensure social distancing and additional hygiene standards.

And now companies are thinking longterm about the ‘hybrid office’ approach to working, especially as multiple studies internationally have indicated workers are keen on having the option to work both at home and in an office.

This hybrid approach could mean some variation of being both in and out of the office, say three days at home, then two days in the office.

It could see companies asking staff to come in for the same set days every week, or rather to break up staff into A and B teams, so they are making the most of the physical spaces they have.

This is an opportunity for companies to get creative in completely overhauling the nine to five structure that’s long dictated how and where we work. It requires a new approach to dealing with meetings, and possibly more specifically planning how to get the most out of in-person activities.

4. A ‘batched’ approach to work

As we access more flexibility and potentially a hybrid week that sees us breaking up our time between the office and remote work, we’re set for a growing trend of ‘batching’.

Expect to be ‘batching’ team meetings into certain days of the week - enabling you to make the most of your one or two days in the office. You might be ‘batching’ visits to clients in order to best exploit a commute into the CBD.

Then expect to be ‘batching’ the more personal work that you do - such as report writing and emails - into days when you’re working from home.

If business travel is still required, you may find yourself ‘batching’ as much as possible into trips that are less frequent than you were making previously.

Batching had long been seen as a productivity method for managing your day: like for getting through a group of similar tasks via time blocks specifically set aside to deal with them. Now we can take a batching approach to how we spend our week, giving more variety to your days and (hopefully) creating more personal time for you.

5. Bit sick? You stay well away from others

We’ll no longer see colleagues trooping into work in spite of the scratchy throat, coughing over their desk in order to avoid taking a sick day.

We know how to work from home, so if you’re even slightly ill, then you stay at home. This shouldn’t be a sick day, but rather a work from home day, giving staff the option to take a cautious approach to managing their health - which may not only help them quickly tackle the illness and limit presenteeism, but also protect their colleagues.

6. More diverse opportunities

Workers who can be physically present in an office Monday to Friday have long had the advantage at work.

We’ve seen how these physically-present abilities have left those working from home or flexibly sidelined from promotions, left out of training opportunities and missing the benefits of social activities that support you in bonding with colleagues.

Over the years, we’ve particularly seen the impact on working parents and those with caring responsibilities. Responsibilities that leave them with fewer choices over when they can go into an office - and can sometimes lead to resentment from their colleagues.

The great work from home experiment that COVID has enabled should have helped even the playing field between office based and remote workers. Especially as more processes were put in place to meet virtually.

And this levelling will further continue if companies issue more strict orders on when people can and can’t go into the office - really pushing for staff who may have always been present to spend at least a little time working from home.

7. More geographically disparate colleagues

In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve seen some dramatic overhauls in thinking about how and where we live.

For many, the opportunity to live further out from the CBD, even regionally, is coming up for the first time. They’re using this new found potential to work remotely (or to only commute a couple of days a week) to rethink their property aspirations. And it’s a trend that’s already transforming the property market and enabling workers to access lifestyle benefits.

These geographical shifts may also see the rise of more satellite offices, as well as co working spaces utilised by big businesses both regional and on the outskirts of cities, giving employees additional choices over where they work.

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