If you worked in an office 9-to-5, five days a week before Covid-19 hit, you’re probably working from home most days now. You can also be fairly confident your next job won’t demand you go in five days a week.
Instead, experts expect the new ‘normal’ will be a ‘hybrid’ work model, in which employees work some days in the office and some days from home.
But there are other ways your job will change too: there will be greater understanding around employees’ mental health, and more effort put into facilitating company culture and team collaboration.
These are some of the findings from a major study by PwC on The Future of Work, which included more than 2,700 respondents on how their work experience and changed, and their preferences for the future.
The work-from-home revolution is as much an opportunity as much as it is a challenge. “Australia’s remote working experiment has shown organisations and employees exactly what’s possible,” the report said.
“It’s given rise to a shift in employee behaviours – as well as sweeping changes to the ways in which we relate to work and each other. And, now, there’s no going back.”
Here are some of the major findings from the report. We’ll start with the obvious:
One-size-fits-all won’t work anymore: your workspace will change
By now, everyone – from the most junior employees to a company’s most senior executives – have had a solid taste of the advantages of flexible working.
“Our people told us there’s no one-size-fits-all workplace to suit everyone and that there’s no going back to our pre-Covid model,” the report said.
It means your colleague’s typical business week schedule might not work for you – and that’s okay.
The office will also be less of a ‘workspace’ and more of a collaboration space, the report found.
“The survey showed that people would prefer to do specific types of tasks – including administrative work, individual work such as research and analysis, and self-development – at home, while using the office to collaborate and connect with colleagues and clients.”
Physical office design planning will change to reflect this, too: there’ll be less individual workspaces, and more rooms that facilitate meetings and collaboration between teams. Videoconferencing tools will also likely be built in to let remote workers to seamlessly participate, the report said.
Speaking of meetings, you’ll see more of them
A major perk of remote working is that your regular commute has disappeared, and you have more flexibility and control over your day.
But this has come at a cost, too. “The time employees spend coordinating their days is increasing, driving meeting fatigue and longer hours,” the report said.
More than three in five people (61 per cent) said they spend more time in meetings than they did pre-pandemic, and the same amount of people said their workload had increased.
Colleague and client relationships have taken a big hit, too: only 36 per cent of respondents highly rated their ability to maintain workplace connections, while just 30 per cent said they were confident in being able to nurture client relationships.
Teams also feel constant pressure to always be ‘on’, and the blurred boundaries between home and work have impacted mental health.
But there’s an upside to that, too.
Organisations will be more open about mental health
“More incidents of isolation, loneliness and burnout are a consequence of working during the pandemic,” the report said – and leaders must take this into consideration.
At the same time that remote working has created mental health challenges, it’s also “spurred an open discussion about mental health and a growing awareness of the importance of caring for each other and asking for help when required”.
Companies have to ensure employees are properly supported while teams are working remotely. But this, in turn, will require a broader shift in company culture.
There’ll be more effort put into company culture
While we’ve spent most of this year socially distanced from our colleagues, a “different kind of connectedness [is] emerging”.
Despite the lack of in-person interactions, people are chatting more with their immediate team members.
“This has had a positive impact on people’s perceptions of organisational culture, with 51% of our survey respondents saying that culture has improved because of Covid-19,” the report said.
Companies will have to consider the different personalities and preferences of their employees and ensure that they’re able to thrive, no matter what their idiosyncratic working style is.
But creative collaboration will come less easily
In the midst of lockdown, Yahoo Finance explored the new, emerging work styles – including the rise of co-working – and found that spontaneous ‘water cooler’ conversations at work had disappeared overnight.
This view was shared by PwC. “Our survey reported that although 26 per cent felt more innovative, 33 per cent of respondents felt less innovative when working from home.”
“Overall, 28 per cent of survey respondents said that working remotely has limited the opportunities to collaborate – a shift that has the potential to stifle creativity.”
Leaders will have to help workers spend less time in meetings and create more opportunities for “creative and imaginative thinking”, and this may involve marking out time for informal chat.
Your soft skills will be worth more
As we move into another new year, tech skills like automation, programming, coding and data analysis will become more important – but soft skills will be as important as ever, particularly as leaders navigate new challenges presented by remote and hybrid working.
One in five (20 per cent) of PwC team members ranked interpersonal communication and leadership skills as a major priority, the report said.
In a World Economic Forum report on the Future of Jobs, released this year, 11 of the top 15 most in-demand skills are soft skills, with ‘analytical thinking and innovation’ at the very top, followed by ‘active learning and learning strategies’ and ‘complex problem-solving’.
Junior workers might struggle more with their career development
Remote working means less face time with your colleagues – and the newest, youngest members of a company may bear the consequences of this the most.
A third of all respondents said they believed their career progression would be held back as a result of remote working, while 37 per cent said they were neutral.
“In some sections of the business, team members feel they need to be ‘seen to be working’ for their work to be valued,” the report said. “As a result, they felt managers wouldn’t be able to appreciate the full value of their contributions without being physically seen.”
Professional development also comes from observation, shadowing and informal encounters, PwC survey respondents said.
“The Covid-19 crisis has been particularly challenging for more junior employees who rely heavily on this type of learning.”
The soft skills of adaptability, agility, resilience and empathy will remain important, and leaders will have to set out time and space for ongoing feedback and reflection for their employees.
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