There are many things we don’t know about what the post-pandemic world will look like.
Will the disruption to education have a long-term impact on socio-economic divides?
Will crowded live events be the same?
Will we ever feel comfortable blowing out birthday candles?
But one thing we do know is that the world of work has undergone a dramatic shift.
Standard Chartered. Salesforce. Spotify. Pinterest. Dropbox. Twitter. Yelp. HSBC. These companies, and many more, have all announced significant changes to their workplace strategies, with remote and/or flexible working being commonplace across the board.
But is this change going to improve the world of work or just replace old problems with new?
Death of the ping-pong table
The nature of employee benefits is changing. When once it was all about free breakfasts and on-tap prosecco, now there is increasingly an emphasis on wellbeing and flexibility.
Tellingly, in the recent Salesforce announcement, Brent Hyder, the President and Chief People Officer, specifically rejected these sorts of perks, saying, “the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.”
On-site goodies - first made popular in Silicon Valley but since spread around the world - have been acknowledged for years as a tactic to keep staff working late and in the office.
These perks were starting to fall out of fashion anyway. But what has replaced them is telling: extended parental leave, non-linear workdays, work near home. In short, all policies that are hallmarks of flexible working.
Whatever you want, whatever you need
In poll after poll, employees say that flexible working is the thing they want most: one study found that nearly 70% of employees want to be able to work flexibly or remotely.
By contrast, the next most popular perk - owning shares in the company - came in at a paltry 26%.
One important reason for this popularity across the workforce is that these perks can benefit different people in different life situations for different reasons.
Flexible working is beneficial for employees who are doing everything from trying to get pregnant via IVF to looking after elderly parents.
In fact there are probably very few employees who do not benefit from flexible working, whether that flexibility is in hours worked, when they are worked or where they are worked.
What unites all of this is that employees are being given greater autonomy to choose for themselves.
Be careful what you wish for
Of course, there are still a lot of questions about how these new ways of working will work - and whether there will be unintended downsides as a result.
There’s obviously a world of difference between giving staff choice and insisting on blanket Work From Home.
Companies that seek to slash costs by taking the latter approach under the guise of giving staff what they want may be shooting themselves in the foot in the long run.
Not only is this likely to limit collaboration and cohesion between colleagues but it may also have an impact on people’s mental health as they struggle without the social element of work.
Then there is the increased likeliness of burnout while working from home.
As the boundary between work and home has blurred, employees have been working longer and longer hours: in the UK employees are working almost 25% more, as the average working day has ballooned from nine to 11 hours.
Bosses that expect staff to be available at all hours of the day only make this situation worse.
When employees have all the tools they need to do their jobs remotely - and with lockdowns in place “other plans” don’t cut it as an excuse - there can be an expectation that employees should be available at all sorts of strange times.
Let’s face it, we all know someone (or been the unlucky chump ourselves) who has been asked to hop on calls at weird and wonderful hours to talk to teams in different time zones - when in the past their boss would be very unlikely to ask them to stay in the office till 10pm to take a call.
This is no small problem: more than half of employees say they have felt under pressure to be available at all times while working from home.
At the end of the day, when all’s said and done...
Despite all this, it seems like the current workspace trends are broadly A Good Thing.
There’s an increasing emphasis on choice and wellbeing, as well as companies taking into account the environmental impact of commuting.
At Desana, we’re delighted to see so many companies converting to our way of thinking.
When Spotify say something like “Work isn’t something you come to the office for, it’s something you do”, it’s like we gave them our homework to copy in class.
What we’re finding is that work is fundamentally different.
We can hope that this is an end to toxic presenteeism cultures - it’s no longer about how many hours employees are seen to be spending in the office; instead it’s about the actual work they are doing.
As Salesforce said, the 9 to 5 is dead. Long live flexible working!
Is the “new normal” going to lead to better working practices? Let us know what you think.