The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to change the way we work in the future so could the new hybrid workforce be here to stay? McKinsey conducted a survey of over 800 companies, which suggests that the crisis may accelerate some workforce trends already underway, like remote working and more automation. It concludes that “working from home” will not be the new normal but that working “nearer to home” in remote pods will likely prove to be a winner.
There is no doubt that the shock of the pandemic forced employers and employees to take actions that neither necessarily wanted. If working from home was the panacea, then it would have evolved seamlessly before now. If allowing staff to work alone in remote locations was desirable, them team-bonding sessions and group dynamics would never have been invented.
Some hold the view that once an effective vaccine is found, working life will return to the way it was. Others argue that employers can now see improved productivity despite the opaqueness of not having everybody in the one physical location; and employees have achieved a better work/life balance, having previously struggled with the issue. Even those who like travelling can surely appreciate waving goodbye to the drudgery of long traffic jams; packed public transport; travel time, travel costs and the general inefficiencies of the hours spent moving to and fro.
As always, a sudden shock throws up all kinds of “solutions” that were previously seen as obstacles. The pandemic has greatly inconvenienced workers but not machines. Some 88% of finance and insurance executives reported increased implementation of automation and Artificial Intelligence since the outbreak. Despite the digitalisation of finance, the demise of paper cash has been slow to materialise. However, in the past few months the use of tap credit/debit cards and cashless money transfers have mushroomed. Those with old habits have been forced to adopt and the quaint notion of leaving a cash tip has been subsumed into the reality of the cashless tap. This has the knock-on effect of requiring fewer tellers in bank branches.
The survey shows clear age demarcations; the 20 somethings are really happy to work from their parents’ home – it’s cheaper; the 30 somethings are comfortable with the technology but miss the office banter; the 40 somethings welcome the better work/life balance; the 50 somethings are mostly back in the office; the 60 somethings accept the new ways but they long for the old ways; the 70 somethings, who are still working, are finding it all a bit too much.
The survey comes out with some bland forecasts that the future will be a mixture of office and home. But reality will probably be much bolder. Now that employers “trust” employees to work remotely; the mantra will surely be “We don’t care where you are as long as the work gets done.” Not all businesses can function like that but for those that can; there could be substantial productivity benefits. Who dares wins!