COVID-19 has accelerated the future of work—opening bright new pathways to 2025 and beyond for workplace leaders ready for reinvention.
It’s time to stop looking in the rear-view mirror to understand how business success will be achieved in the future. COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated workplace trends that were already underway, from digitally transformative business models to prioritizing employee health, wellness and experience anywhere work happens. But, even more profoundly, the unprecedented disruptions of this past year have irrevocably altered the very perception of work itself, for companies as well as employees. In a post-pandemic world, work is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do.
What this means is that the future of work has arrived much earlier than expected. Trends that were anticipated to take years to materialize have already reached mass adoption and there is no going back. The myth that work-from-home models cannot work has been shattered and work from anywhere was demonstrated at scale. Employees are actively redefining work, demanding that the time they do spend in the physical workplace is a safe and healthy destination and also a fulfilling experience.
Meanwhile organizational leaders are finding fresh possibility too. For example, they can now more easily tap dispersed team members, across the country or around the world. To respond and adapt to changing conditions, companies must start shaping the role of the workplace to ensure their greatest asset—their people—have the quality mix of space and flexibility by providing the high-quality experiences they need to thrive.
The changing notion of work will transform real estate strategies and is already revealing key priorities and opportunities for corporate and workplace leaders alike to redefine work, workforce, and workplace success—should they choose to accept the challenge.
Inflection point: Go back to normal, or accelerate transformation to something better?
No organization has been immune to the disruption of the pandemic, as well as the societal, cultural and organizational turmoil that accompanied it. It’s quite natural that people ask when things will get back to normal. But this crisis has brought the world to an inflection point: workplace leaders must take advantage of this unprecedented moment of change to reinvent their operational models to achieve a better version of normal, one that better fits a post-pandemic workforce craving a new work experience.
For those who may be feeling nostalgic, let’s first do away with the misconception that the “old-normal” ways were anywhere near ideal or even desirable.
Before 2020, “normal” office work often meant people were commuting between 45 and 90 minutes each way to work, every day, working 50 hours a week in loud, crowded, and under-performing offices—even when they were sick—all because showing up to the physical location was in itself a show of productivity and employee commitment to work.
That “old-normal” also meant signing 10-15-year leases, which usually called for investing major capital up front, even when it was unclear how much space would really be needed beyond the first few quarters.
When you look at it that way, who wouldn’t want to reject the old ways of working and come back better than before?
There’s no simple roadmap to a new and better normal, of course. Workplace leaders will need to be bold, adapting to new ways and leaning into meaningful new employee preferences. That begins with exploring how your organization relates to key new themes in the world of work, including the ones at play now, and what to anticipate in the years ahead.
Understanding and embracing the big themes of 2021—and beyond
This year, forward-looking workplace leaders are shifting strategies toward the following operational principles:
- It’s a worker-centric world, after all. To ignite performance, many businesses are reinventing their practices around productivity, flexible working, recruitment, and becoming closer aligned with the workforce. At the same time, positive employee experiences have become critical to business performance. Many thoughtful workplace leaders are now deepening their resolve to champion human experience programming through health and well-being amenities, inclusion and diversity initiatives, and experiential workplace features.
- Digital transformation and sustainable strategy go hand in hand. Advancing connective technology has proven urgently essential in keeping projects moving during COVID-19, but the benefits of these and other digital investments will outlive the pandemic. Leaders who bring employees into a digital-first world, while keeping human experience front and center, can capitalize on advances to inspire and engage their workforce and thrive in the new future of work. Today, that means immersive digital collaboration, virtual office experiences and more, and may soon include augmented, mixed, extended and virtual reality along with advanced telepresence technologies.This responsible approach to technology enablement is supported by sustainable real estate strategy, too. Organizations can actively expand from real estate, to real assets, by investing in more efficient energy systems, improved financial management, and operational resilience with more efficient optimized real estate portfolios.
- Health and wellness programs are an imperative. The pandemic has made employee health and well-being more crucial than ever. So, to succeed in a post-COVID world, employers must provide healthy workplaces, complete with optimal indoor air quality, robust cleaning standards, and reliable health and safety protocols in place.They must also acknowledge and act to mitigate the risks of the shadow pandemic that now plagues the workplace: long-term mental health impacts of a public health crisis. By prioritizing design elements like meditation areas and access to natural light, workplace design leaders can help employees ward off the compounding effects of stress and anxiety that so many people are experiencing.
2025 and Beyond: Embrace “Work-from-Anywhere” as the high-performance path forward
The speed of the trend toward hybrid work is likely to increase, with a repurposed workplace at its core.
According to recent research, 66 percent of employees are expecting to be able to work from different locations post-crisis, yet 74 percent of employees still want the ability to come into an office. Their reasoning varies, but 70 percent find that the office environment is more conducive to team building and management support, while 49 percent are expecting socialization spaces to boost their experience in the office. The office must provide collaboration spaces and act as a center of innovation while also providing areas for focused work.
To achieve the best of a work-from-anywhere approach—one that maximizes human experience, while optimizing real estate and technology investment—organizations must rethink some foundational questions, including:
- How is work performed, and where and when does it happen?
- What are employee preferences, and how are people performing?
- What should be the size and location of the future workplace, one that enables a workforce to adopt emerging “hybrid” work-from-anywhere workplace behaviors?
- How can we provide authentic and deep human connections, enhanced collaboration and improved cognitive performance with individual places to concentrate?
The opportunity to shape the future of work has never been more real. Workplace leaders who explore innovative ways of working to deliver high-quality memorable moments for people—wherever they may be working—can help shape a more responsible and resilient world of work leading up to 2025, and beyond.