It doesn’t matter if you like the term “new normal” or not, there’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will go down as a pivotal moment in the history of work. It disrupted the world economy and left millions of employees laboring on the home front.
The question is whether or not this artificial acceleration of the work from home movement have any prolonged effect. Is remote work here to stay? Is it just a matter of time before everyone is back at the office? And will hybrid models become the new status quo?
While there’s no way of knowing until we get there, there are a few critical factors that will define the path forward for the future of work.
The struggle with work environment
Finding a well-balanced work environment has always been a struggle. This applies to both home offices and professional workplaces, both of which have been alternatively praised and criticized for their ability or inability to create a good work environment.
No matter where your staff labors, it’s important to find an environment that’s conducive to their work. On the positive side, good lighting and greenery can make a home office positive and productive throughout the day. At the same time, a good layout or group training sessions in a professional office can help keep your team efficient, connected and engaged.
On the other hand, an uncomfortably open bullpen or a hostile work environment can make an office setting a nightmare. Additionally, trying to focus while working in a small home space that lacks an office or has children and other distractions can be equally challenging.
It doesn’t matter if you’re “Team Office” or “Team Work from Home”; the work environment, in either case, will play a crucial role going forward.
The impact on mental health
Along with the work environment, it’s important to consider the mental health battle. This is another area where both the traditional and remote work options have failed to show a clear advantage. There are pros and cons for both when it comes to common professional mental health concerns.
For example, the old trope of the gloomy, depressing “dungeon-esque” office continues to plague many modern workspaces. Some employers have certainly made efforts to improve the situation through things like nurturing a healthy workplace culture and encouraging mental health breaks.
At the same time, working from home often comes with its own mental health challenges. Over the last year, isolation and an inability to unplug have left many employees stressed out and depressed. Finding work-life balance when your work and personal life overlap so much has been and continues to be a challenge.
It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts a shift to traditional, remote or hybrid work going forward. The pandemic helped to shed new light on mental health in the workplace. At the same time, many of the current economic and work-related struggles will eventually fade along with the crisis.
When that happens, will it leave an army of employees who seek mental solace back in the office? Or will it empower them to continue the fight to work from home, where they can avoid the stresses and strains of a traditional office?
The need for convenience and flexibility
Convenience has become synonymous with the technological era. Everything from food and grocery delivery to video chats has made tasks simpler, easier and less time-consuming. The same goes for work; time spent driving to and from the office every day is one of the biggest cons to traditional work, whereas remote work has the advantage of letting you operate right from home.
Flexibility is another key factor for modern workers. Remote work empowers staff to work wherever they please, whether that might be at the office, in a coffee shop or at home. Additionally, flexibility has been linked with the increasingly important benefit of creating a stress-free workplace.
It’s important to point out that in the past both convenience and flexibility were considered perks rather than requirements - Yet as we move forward into the future of work, both aspects are likely to feature more prominently as a motivating factor as many companies decide whether or not to shift to a remote or hybrid model for the long haul.
The uncertain future of work
There’s no doubt that the future of work is unknown at the moment. Everywhere you turn, the opinion between an office-based or remote workforce is different.
The one factor that must remain steady moving forward is how each company handles the change. Rather than forcing a round peg into a square hole, each enterprise must pioneer its own unique solution to the future of work. As they do so, they must formalize their various business policies, such as work hours and safety rules, to align them with where and how their workforce is operating.
Regardless of the larger trends, if companies can create work processes that are specifically beneficial to their unique operation, they can find success no matter what the future may hold.