By Fadi Maktabi, Managing Director, Hearts & Science UAE
From the many changes we have witnessed throughout this pandemic, nothing has had a greater impact on human behaviour and the corporate life than the working-from-home experiment. Everyone has a story from this forced house arrest; whether be it the challenge of homeschooling, Zoom mishaps or family interruptions, the meshing of work and personal hours, the forming of house offices in the oddest places, all the way down to simply being able to manage one’s mental health with everything that goes on in the household. We are now all entering a new age of work as the rules that applied before will no longer hold true; this is the age of flexible talent management.
Unlike my previous COVID-19 Accelerated Changes articles, the implications from the working from home experience are fundamentally greater than looking at them from the perspective of government/corporations, people and marketing. In turn, let us look at the implications from four angles as this new normal evolves to become our new reality:
A year ago, when someone asked you to use Teams, Zoom, Slack or any other corporate communications platform, chances are you would have pushed back or winced at the sheer thought of change and the need to learn something new. The reality is that corporations have been trying to push these technologies on their workforce for the longest time with very little adoption. Then, COVID-19 came in and we had to become accustomed to working from home and in some cases working from anywhere thanks to these same platforms.
The long-standing change to this tech adoption has yet to be seen, but I am certain that the adoption will now expand and create greater changes to how we view collaboration, meetings, business travel and talent acquisition. Collaboration between teams and countries will be greater than ever, increasing both productivity and innovation. Meetings will be shorter, more frequent, focused and a lot more accessible as commute times are removed and office boundaries are broken down. Business travel will be reserved for the necessary and fortunate. And recruitment will be more efficient with increased project-based roles to support ad-hoc company skillset requirements.
Changes to workplace physical & mental health
What we are witnessing now is a gradual and slow return to offices, yet there remains a small segment of the workforce that is willing or able to come into the office. A big part of this comes from the change in dynamics of the household, with kids remaining indoors and in some unfortunate situations’ spouses being made redundant. Here companies will need to exercise both compassion and flexibility and offer their talent the choice to return or not.
There is also another side to the coin here. Many of us have bunkered in so much over the past couple months that the mere idea of leaving the house and heading to the office has become a daunting task. People have become so comfortable working from home that leaving the house is starting to cause a level of anxiety, whether it be around hygiene and chances of catching COVID-19, or due to the mental health impact of staying indoors and away from human interaction. Companies will need to find ways to convince their talent why working from the office remains to be the ideal working standard or else live with this new normal for a lot longer than need be. To do that there must be an empathetic focus on giving employees the comfort needed that all measures are being taken care of, such as; installing thermal scanners, encouraging the use of masks and applying social distancing, to potentially even having an onsite doctor and counselors to ease the workforce as the return to office continues and the pandemic is over.
Changes to job opportunities & competition
With the rise of working from anywhere, there comes a benefit and a detriment. The benefit is that you could potentially apply to most jobs regardless of the location of the employment. This would mean that one year you could be working for a company in Germany, while your next opportunity could be for another in the US. The detriment, on the other hand, is that competition for your job has just jumped tenfold. Companies will be able to replace talent faster due to the increase in size of contactable talent which could also have a knock-on effect on salary levels. Expect more and more offshoring but this time not of specific functions or departments, but of entire roles and responsibilities.
This means that if you are currently employed the expectation is that you continuously upskill and reskill yourself to remain relevant and competitive in the job market. This should yield a much smarter, determined, and skilled workforce in the future. Only those that continuously reinvent themselves will prosper.
Changes to work-life balance
Finally, and one aspect that I expect will change as talent becomes more flexible, is a change in the work-life balance that we have all been aspiring to. As we work from anywhere, the reward of the small moments around where we are working from will help tip the balance to a more rewarding life. As we work around family, from our favorite cafe or from the beach we will also get to enjoy what we love to do outside work.
This will also have an impact on major cities. Why live in Downtown Dubai and pay the premium when you can get a bigger place (potentially a villa) somewhere in the suburbs of the city and get the same amount of work done. The home will get a major upgrade in the coming years, especially for those settled with children as they aim to focus on what matters when we come out of this pandemic.
Regardless of how you look at it, COVID-19 has opened our eyes to a new world filled with opportunities and most importantly greater focus on where we are going. It has accelerated a lot of things from blockchain to AI/ML, IoT to Cybersecurity and flexible talent management; potentially it has also accelerated our awareness as a species to reconsider what truly matters.
I hope you enjoyed the 5-part ‘Accelerated Changes’ articles as much as I enjoyed writing them. The acceleration doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon and I look forward to providing more insights as we continue to navigate through this new world.