Let me just acknowledge that there is so much that sucks about COVID-19 and social distancing. Just turn on the news and you can get a healthy dose of all that. I’m not here to talk about that. No, here I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge at least one thing that we can be infinitely thankful for, and my predictions for how I *hope* this will change our work styles post-pandemic.
First is something that’s been hitting me over and over this past week: technologically speaking, we have never been better equipped in all of history for a moment like this.
Truly, think about it. For a significant portion of the population, we have the technology we need to work from home. We can shop online (perhaps to the detriment of our wallets). We can have groceries delivered to us (thank and tip the kind souls of those shopping on our behalf). We can stream all the movies and TV shows we can dream of for weekssss. We can be coached through a killer workout in our living room (personal shout out to Peloton). Social media feeds us a constant stream of memes that keep us giggling and the sense of a global community in this together. Our kids can stay (somewhat) educated through online learning programs. We can do virtual happy hours with our friends.
Every bit of technology that’s come to market over the last decade-plus has made this moment something we can survive exponentially better than at any other time in history. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but we CAN do it, because it’s not forever, and it’s not 1900 or even 1995, and we can stay connected in critical ways to power through this.
Second is something I am fascinated to observe in a post-pandemic world: how this will change policies on remote work. Just because we had the technology available doesn’t mean every company was supporting it or using it. Not even close, despite the growing demand for the option in Millennials and even more so, Gen Z. I’d wager a guess that leaders at some of these slow-to-adopt companies either didn’t want to invest in the technology, or perhaps misguidedly assumed that if they implemented it, all their employees would want to be all remote, all the time — or maybe both.
If the latter, I think they are wrong. I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Way We Work, hosted by Brendon Schrader who runs Antenna, a marketing talent aggregate in Minneapolis, and it seems more relevant than ever right now. He has hosted a couple of guests who have discussed at length the trends of Gen Z in the workplace and emerging work style trends. Jonah Stillman discussed a term called “phygital”, which is the preference — no, the EXPECTATION — of Gen Zers to be able to experience any activity as physical or digital interactions. They don’t have a preference for one or the other, they just expect to be able to do both, because that is the reality of the world they have grown up in. Cali Williams Yost discussed the evolving work styles of our workforce — that many employees thrive on coming together in an office environment for collaboration, social energy and team bonding, but prefer remote work for quiet, focused work time, and the balance of both can produce happier employees and productive business outcomes.
Not everyone is the same, of course. I know people who fully acknowledge they aren’t good at working from home – they get easily distracted by laundry or their kids, or maybe they are extroverts who feed off of others’ energy (I’m feeling for you all right now!). But some know they are much more productive at home – like me, who can easily lock in to work and forget to eat lunch (which, if you know me, you know missing lunch is a big deal). But the point is that people should be able to self-identify their best work-style mix and their performance metrics should prove it out.
This quarantine forced a social experiment of sorts. It pushed forward all the companies that had been dragging their feet on remote work technology and policies. Now people have started predicting what will happen as a result. Will companies find that employees were more or less productive? Will employees find they prefer being remote or in-office?
My prediction – and I hope I’m right – is that we will find this “phygital” balance:
Employees will have a renewed appreciation for IRL interactions (that’s “in real life” for anyone not up on the slang of the youths). Even for an introvert like me, social distancing is reminding me how critical connection to people is for our mental and social well-being. But employees will also have a better understanding of the work-style mix in which they thrive best.
Companies will no longer fear remote work, but rather leverage it: they’ll realize they have the power to give employees the freedom to create a schedule that fuels their happiness AND produce positive business results.
What do you think? Am I too Pollyanna in my predictions (I tend to be)? What are your predictions? Comment with your thoughts below.
And P.S. I’d highly recommend giving Episode 1 of The Way We Work a listen – Jonah Stillman is the most well-spoken 20-year-old I have ever heard and has loads of insights on the next generation entering our workforce.