Collaboration

How 2020 Shaped the Future of Working

February 9, 2021

Last month, we made a few predictions about how technology will impact the future of working in 2021. This month, vaccines are rolling out, schools are eyeing reopening, and a post-COVID world is finally on the horizon. But, when it’s time to peel off the sweatpants and button up the blazer again, what will the in-office workday look like now that we’ve embraced remote-friendly technologies?

TierOne Managing Partner Richard Reding has some thoughts. “Hybrid work environments are the future,” he says.

The Pivot

During the initial stages of the pandemic, companies that could facilitate it were all-in on working from home. Gallup reports that, when COVID-19 mitigation efforts first went into effect last spring, 51% of respondents said they were “always” working from home. However, as the pandemic has dragged on, fewer workers are entirely remote. “A new 33% low say they are ‘always’ working remotely,” the November report states. “That 18-percentage-point shift has been offset by a seven-point uptick in the percentage who are now ‘sometimes’ working remotely (from 18% to 25%).”

Reding predicts that over the course of the decade, that downward trend will continue. “I think we were fooled by the initial reporting, and we’ll realize that some human collaboration and connectivity is better,” he says. He’s not alone in that feeling. An April Forbes report indicated that 44% of people working remotely missed their coworkers, and about 25% missed having specific working hours.

Here for the Long Haul

Despite the downturn in popularity, after companies invested heavily in distance-friendly, work-from-home platforms, remote work in some form is sticking around. “With the tools we have now, you aren’t required to be in the office,” Reding says. “So much of what you can do, you can do remotely. It’s important to have some element of remote work in your schedule because people want that flexibility.”

To accommodate the perks of remote work (Kids! Working in pajamas! No commute!) while facilitating the benefits of in-person teams, a new hybrid model of in-office and remote work is gradually emerging. “I forecast something that’s more of an open work schedule, a come-and-go-as-you-need arrangement,” Reding says. “Or, we’ll see teams of people take on an in-office rotational schedule, so you never have a full office in the building at one time.”

“It wasn’t a lack of tools, technology, or policy that was so disruptive about the remote-work environment COVID thrust upon us. It was the drastic pattern interrupt in our daily work environments." — Richard Reding, TierOne Managing Partner

During last year’s social distancing protocols to comply with reduced indoor occupancy mandates, many companies shifted to a rotational schedule. In these models, only a few members of each team worked out of the office at a given time while remaining team members worked remotely.

These arrangements take advantage of a company’s pre-existing investment in remote technologies and incorporate them into a regular work schedule in small yet frequent doses. Reding says this accommodates workers’ need for flexibility — like being home when a family member is sick, avoiding congested or perilous commutes in bad weather, and working when you’re most productive, even if that’s the middle of the night.

Hybrid work models also prepare companies for any future emergencies. “It wasn’t a lack of tools, technology, or policy that was so disruptive about the remote-work environment COVID thrust upon us,” Reding says. “It was the drastic pattern interrupt in our daily work environments. Maintaining and balancing some element of remote work not only supplies staff with valuable flexibility, but it also provides resiliency within your work environment. In the event something forces an organization or community to be fully-remote, that transition will be so comfortable because they were doing it in some capacity already.”

Building Something Better

As rotational and hybrid work becomes the norm, the workday gradually untethers itself from the brick-and-mortar office. When workers can log in and start their day in a matter of minutes, it’s difficult to entice them to regularly face long commutes, Reding says. “How do you tell people to come back to work when most people have a 30- to 40-minute metro commute, which is now 2.5 hours because of social distancing?” he asks. Instead, Reding believes that, through technology, modern business will bring the work to the people. “If there’s a silver lining to the recent pandemic, it’s that it served as a catalyst for the dismantling of workplace institutionalization, forever reshaping corporate infrastructure and, with it, our communities,” he says.

These new schedules will start to shape not just how and when we work, but where we work, too. “Given the need for social distancing, the firms I talk to are typically thinking about halving the density of offices,” says Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom in a Stanford-published analysis. “But instead of building more office skyscrapers... I predict that COVID-19 will dramatically shift the trend to industrial parks with low-rise buildings.”

“We see hybrid work as the future of technology as it pertains to the workforce for all of the 2020s. This will evolve over the course of the decade.” — Richard Reding

Reding agrees. “Mega-headquarters will be replaced by smaller satellite offices spread throughout their respective footprints,” he says. Sky-high corporate buildings will break into smaller offices for smaller teams, scattered closer to where workers actually live. These hubs for collaboration are located nearer to homes, schools, and other necessities, which facilitates the come-and-go schedule that workers have become accustomed to during the pandemic.

Despite the rapid circumstances that forced the widespread transition to remote work, Reding says this next shift in work behaviors will be gradual yet long-term. “We see hybrid work as the future of technology as it pertains to the workforce for all of the 2020s, not just for the next 3 to 5 years,” he says. “This will evolve over the course of the decade.”

Out with the old, in with the new.

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