Until very recently, there was a universal conception of "work and working environments". It would probably conjure up images of employees working 9-5 in an office. Despite the amount of digitalisation that was available, or had been implemented in the company, there was still a preference for a physical workplace over an entirely virtual working environment.
However, when COVID-19 hit the world like a tonne of bricks, everything and everyone had to adapt accordingly. Zoom meetings became the norm as did working in your loungewear. With the impact of the pandemic showing no signs of abating, these changes are here to stay.
It's no surprise that how we think of work has changed. Even when businesses try to return to "work as usual", the concept of a 9-5 job in an office will probably be a relic from a different time for many. Our conception of jobs, offices and organisations has changed forever. And this is a microscopic look at those changes and how they will affect the future of work.
Digitalisation of work
Perhaps the most utilised term over the past year has been "social distancing". It embodies the emphasis on a drastic reduction in physical contact and communications in the bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. It has had a massive impact on businesses and will continue to in the future. Need proof? Take a look at the aviation industry and the impact COVID-19 has had.
But the biggest and most profound impact of social distancing and COVID-19 has been digitalisation. The gradual digitalisation of work has been in motion since the popularisation of the internet began in the 1980s. But the limitations on physical workplaces in the global pandemic served as a catalyst for people to look to online and digital solutions for remote working. Embracing a digital style of working switched from being a matter of choice to one of necessity. Digitalisation became a matter of survival for a lot of businesses.
Virtual and remote workplace services are becoming more and more popular as more and more people have to work remotely. Zoom reported a record revenue of $328.2 million in the first three months of 2020, a 169% increase from the same period in 2019.
Joint research was conducted by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking and UK Tech News via a survey conducted in 2020. It suggested that 72% of UK tech businesses saw an increase in demand for their services between March and August 2020. Considering the number of new software solutions that companies were adopting and "test-running" during this time, it's hardly surprising that there was an increased demand for tech businesses.
However, this demand is unlikely to be short-lived as it is safe to assume that digitalisation is now a new norm of working life.
Re-orientation of workers
One of the good things to come out of COVID-19 is that it has given employees and companies the opportunity to re-think and re-evaluate working practices.
This is, in part, thanks to digitalisation as organisations have found new and more efficient ways of working as they have adapted to a remote environment. Employees have also had to think about how they can best communicate online and how they can still work effectively. Everyone has had to re-think the way they do things.
It has also made employees re-evaluate what's important to them, how they want to work and what they want from their jobs. One of the positive outcomes that has resulted from the pandemic is that businesses and employees have discovered that is entirely possible for many to work from home. As a result, remote working is now a high priority for many employees.
In research carried out by Citrix via OnePoll, 75% of a test population of 1,000 office workers conceded they would – or have already – accepted a reduced salary to continue working from home. That's three-quarters of the population. Now that people have been given a taste of remote working, they want to keep it.
Offices may open again and employees may return, but working a full business week in the office seems to be out of the question for a lot of companies. Working from home is here to stay.
Self-employment and start ups
With the economic and physical constraints created by COVID-19, a large number of employees were laid off or furloughed. Numbers from Statista.com reveal that there were still over 3.82 million jobs furloughed under the United Kingdom's job retention scheme at the end of December 2020. This explains why it was recently extended to September as a lot of people are reliant on this scheme.
With so many potential job losses, alongside the shifting focus to online opportunities such as freelancing; it is not a surprise to see greater numbers of people looking for other sources of income. Even retained employees may not want to miss out on the trend. As a result, a lot of people have turned to self employment and freelance work. This could potentially affect working habits as people will be accommodating alternative workstreams and potentially multiple jobs.
There has been an increased demand for digital skills as well as a rise in opportunities in the market, as we saw earlier with digitalisation. Numerous start ups have taken advantage of this situation, so much so that the United Kingdom has the third-highest number of registered start ups in the world behind the United States and India.
Data by Smeloans.com also revealed that roughly half the UK workforce wanted to start their own business and the pandemic is likely serve as the catalyst for many to make that leap. It also revealed that the most entrepreneurial age group is 18-24 year-olds. This suggests that the number of self-employed people starting their own businesses is only going to increase. Self employment, freelancing and entrepreneurship are going to become a bigger part of the working landscape.
The Future is now
Work is as old as time. It has paid bills, driven economies, and sustained society. Work evolves with society, or more accurately, work evolves society. For as long as society doesn't remain stagnant, work will continue to evolve.
However, this change has been accelerated by significant events - events powerful enough to alter our conception of things and our priorities. COVID-19 could turn out to one of the most consequential so far. With the effects of the pandemic still being felt all over the world, it has hard to gauge the full effect of COVID-19 on work and working environments. But we're certain that these business trends aren't going anywhere.
Copyright 2021. Featured post made possible by Muhammad Tahir Rafiq.