NY, July 22, 2020.- Companies must guarantee their full activity today under any circumstance. A global pandemic and a paralysis of the economy (supply and demand) are risks that we have suffered in recent months and we must prepare to save them. Teleworking is a valid option with all its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of company, according to the employment profile, according to the factors and objectives of productivity and profitability. No one has the perfect formula for today’s great uncertainty. For this reason, I invite you to read the following reflections and information to share the debate on the management of human capital, in person and remotely.
The Economist: Working life has entered a new era
The Economist is one of the leading economic magazines worldwide. Their covers are as popular as the covers of Times magazine, Forbes or New Yorker. The following is a summary of recent information about the future of the office and work in the Post Covid-19 era.
It has been a much more sudden transition than occurred with factories. Steam power meant they were designed around one great power system, complete with belts and pulleys that snaked through the building. A failure at some point in the system meant the whole thing might grind to a halt. Then electrification allowed individual machines to have their own power source. But it took half a century from the introduction of electricity in the 1880s before factories were reconfigured to take advantage of the new power source.
The current, rapid shift to ad was enabled by preconditions. First, broadband services are today quick enough to allow for document downloads and videoconferencing. Second, advanced economies revolve around services, not manufacturing. Back in the 1970s, when Britain adopted a three-day week (to combat a miners’ strike), there were power cuts and tv stations had to close down early. In other words, home life was severely affected as well. The pandemic has not turned the lights off.
Not only that, it has made remote work seem both normal and acceptable. In the past employees who stayed home had to overcome the suspicion that they were bunking off. Now those who insist on being at the office sound self-important.
Things are missing, of course. Video calls lack the spontaneity of a normal meeting; no off-the-cuff remarks to lighten the mood. Distance makes it difficult to generate camaraderie. Creativity is probably harder to foster. Octavius Black of Mind Gym, a training company, says new ideas come from weak links in networks—ie, people you meet occasionally. Such “casual collisions” have become rarer.
Yet although offices will not disappear, it is hard to imagine that working life will return to bc ways. For more than a century workers have stuffed themselves onto crowded trains and buses, or endured traffic jams, to get into the office, and back, five days a week. For the past two months they have not had to commute, and will have enjoyed the hiatus.
Employers, for their part, have maintained expensive digs in city centres because they needed to gather staff in one place. The rent is only part of the cost; there is the cleaning, lighting, printers, catering and security on top. When you work at home, you pay for your own utilities and food.
Many businesses and employees may thus have had their “Wizard of Oz” moment: the corporate hq is shown to be an old man behind the curtain. Faith in the centralised office may never be restored.
Another aspect of the ad era may be the disappearance of the five-day working week. Even before the pandemic many workers became used to taking phone calls or answering emails at the weekend. In the ad era the barrier between home and working life, a useful way of relieving stress, will be even harder to sustain.
It may be lost altogether. Without the Monday-to-Friday commute, the weekend seems a more nebulous concept, as does the 9-to-5 working day. In future employees may work and take breaks when they please, with the company video call the only fixture. The downside, however, is that the rhythm of life has been disrupted and new routines are needed: as Madness, a British pop group, sang about school in “Baggy Trousers”, people are reduced to “trying different ways to make a difference to the days”.
Looking further out, the ad era may bring other changes. Some may decide to live in small towns where housing costs are lower, since they have no need to commute. Men will have fewer excuses to skip cleaning or child care if they are not disappearing to the office. In a sense, this is a return to normal: until the 19th century most people worked at or close to their homes. But social historians may still regard 2020 as the start of a new age.
Technology firm Fujitsu has said it will halve its office space in Japan as it adapts to the “new normal” of the coronavirus pandemic
It says the “Work Life Shift” programme will offer unprecedented flexibility to its 80,000 workers in the country.Staff will be able to work flexible hours, and working from home will be standard wherever possible.
The announcement follows a similar move in May by social media platform Twitter.
Fujitsu said it “will introduce a new way of working that promises a more empowering, productive, and creative experience for employees that will boost innovation and deliver new value to its customers and society”. Under the plan employees will “begin to primarily work on a remote basis to achieve a working style that allows them to flexibly use their time according to the contents of their work, business roles, and lifestyle”.
The company also said the programme would allow staff to choose where they worked, whether that was from home, a major corporate hub or a satellite office.
Fujitsu believes that that the increased autonomy offered to its workers will help to improve the performance of teams and increase productivity.
Sree Sreenivasan, visiting professor of digital innovation at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, said the announcement underlined the huge long-term impact of the pandemic on the way many of us work.
Photography: The image of this post belongs to Paul Blow and has been published in The Economist.