Ways of working

Our observations during COVID-19

  • There has been a rapid and large-scale shift across many industries towards working remotely.
  • Organisations are investing in remote working technology and infrastructure.
  • The popularity of virtual communication platforms has surged.

Our predictions for a post-COVID-19 world

Enduring increase in volume of remote working

Working remotely during the coronavirus crisis has quickly become the new norm, and one that won’t dissipate quickly – rather, remote working (both part-time and full-time) will rise across all industries. This will include industries such as financial services and the public sector, which have typically been office-bound and challenged by remote working at scale.

The 9 to 5 workday will be challenged

Work will be regarded as a thing you do, rather than a place you go. Measurement of ‘work’ will increasingly become about outcome rather than the input, regardless of when and where it is done. Time for collaboration will still be important, but it will demand more effective use of time together. The natural collaboration that happens in an office environment will need to be factored in and more formally acknowledged. Leaders will step-up and adopt a far more flexible approach to understand and work with the personal circumstances of their employees.

Emerging technology improves remote working

The 5G rollout will boost internet speed and reliability across the country, further expanding the possibilities of a remote workforce. The mass adoption of video conferencing apps means we are close to truly feeling like we are in the same room as our colleagues. This increase in usage will see the need for virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to expand. This should accelerate the experimentation and adoption of these technologies – particularly as costs continue to come down. We will also see a reduced need for national and international travel, which may have significant impacts on the business travel industry, including airlines, hotels, rental cars and insurance.

Real estate needs are going to change

With more work being done outside the office, corporate real estate can be repurposed or reduced. Individuals will adapt to make better home office spaces. Larger properties with space for work (and play) will become more appealing, challenging the current preference for smaller inner-city dwellings.

Leaders will play an active role in managing mental health and connection

Remote working has further blurred the line between work and personal lives. The pre-coronavirus crisis focus on supporting mental health among employees will adapt, establishing new avenues of support as employees are managing large changes in their work and personal lives (health, financial, changed caring arrangements for children and parents) at the same time. Successful leaders will develop innovative ways to manage team member’s mental health and connection to purpose – which are critical to sustain performance and retention. Given the size of the change – leaders will need to embed new healthy behaviours in their own and employee's lives.

Remote work will break traditional management structures

As we shift from managing inputs to managing by outcomes, current organisational hierarchies won’t make sense. A shift to flatter and more fluid task-based structures will follow and require new management skills and changes to performance measurement and reward programs. Company culture will also need to be re-examined.

Occupational health and safety extends into the home office

Employers will have a role in supporting employees to ensure their home working environment meets health and safety requirements. This will raise issues around the extent of the support, and ultimately who is liable, should anything happen in the new workplace, which will also impact insurance policies.

People will adapt faster than we think

The sudden shift to remote working has been jarring for many, compounded by other impacts of the coronavirus crisis, e.g. looking after families. It takes time to adapt to large changes, but the remote workforce will as we improve home office set-ups, start managing by output versus input, adapt leadership and management styles and improve technology.

What we need to consider

Is it time for Seachange (or Treechange) 2.0?

  • Where will the new affordable areas that provide people with the right balance of space and local services/amenities be?
  • Will a preference for inner city and suburban living remain?
  • Do people even need to live in cities at all?
  • How will cities adapt to this new world and meet the increased demand for connection and experience post-crisis?

Will our views on large infrastructure shift?

  • With more people working from home, we could expect there to be changes in the pre-coronavirus peak hour demands on our road, rail and bus networks in major cities. This will bring increased focus for governments to balance new infrastructure with managing existing capacity more effectively.
  • How will commercial real estate used for office space be repurposed to serve new needs for companies or the community?
  • Could there be a surge in demand for outdoor spaces?
  • Will the shift towards remote working be a catalyst to reduce emissions – balanced with increased energy demand in residential settings?

Will remote work create new types of inequality?

  • Will this trigger new inequalities, this time between those who have a better workspace and technology at home?

More predictions for a post-COVID-19 world

These themes were selected by comparing emerging trends before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within each theme, we engaged KPMG professionals to develop hypotheses on what a post-COVID-19 world might look like.

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