Given that the World Economic Forum has been relegated by the pandemic to a week-long digital discussion, how fitting is it that a conference of executives, elected leaders and academic experts that would normally be gathering in the snowy Swiss mountain town this week be told that the Golden Age of remote work is upon us and that there’s no turning back?
In much the same way that the pastoral alpine village of Davos serves as the perfect backdrop for outside-the-box thinking, so too does the forced absence caused by COVID-19 and the many lifestyle changes the pandemic has rendered, not the least of which is the remote, hybrid or work-from-home standard which conferees were reminded is here to stay.
“The trend toward hybrid work ecosystems will increase rapidly, and by 2025 we predict a world characterized by a dispersed, digitally enabled, liquid workforce,” Marie Puybaraud, global head of corporate solutions research at commercial real estate firm JLL told the Davos Agenda.
For those business heads looking for directions on how to prepare for the coming changes, Puybaraud’s first recommendation was simply get started ASAP.
“There is no roadmap to follow. Instead, we need to navigate the future of work with the agility to adapt to changes throughout 2021 and beyond,” she said, adding that the nature of work, the workforce and the workplace will all “shift radically in the next few years.”
Ready, Set, Radically Re-Invent
With study after study reflecting the growing preference for — and comfort with — remote working, it should come as no surprise that a new global survey of 2,000 workers done by the WEF came up with similar conclusions.
Specifically, expectations for remote time (or days worked out of the office) have doubled during the 10-month coronavirus era to 2.4 days per week from just 1.2 days a week at home pre-pandemic.
But it’s not as if remote workers hate the office, since the WEF study showed 74 percent said they still want to go in to work some of the time. And similar numbers also said they still prefer the traditional workplace environment for many tasks and broader impacts, such as team building, brainstorming and cohesion.
It’s just that remote workers have come to appreciate something new and different and have now had more than enough time to perfect the processes needed to get their work done remotely, while at the same time learning to enjoy previously unthinkable workday luxuries such as dog ownership, home-cooked lunches, sweatpants, no time wasted on commuting and a better work-life balance.
“We are entering the golden age of the worker. With a human-centric focus,” Puybaraud said. “Employers will need to care for their employees like they have never done before, especially with regard to their health, wellness and mental wellbeing, which includes a recognition of the health footprint left by the pandemic.”
Rethink, Adapt, Reinvent
“Workforce preferences have changed, and employers will need to lean into them to win back office workers in 2021,” Puybaraud said, noting that workplace modernization trends such as hot desking (shared or unassigned desks), employee wellbeing programs and worker satisfaction surveys had already been in the works years before COVID.
“What is new is the rapidity of transformation of the notion of work,” she said. “Trends in the way we live and work have taken months rather than years to become deep-rooted — there is no going back to the old normal.”
As Puybaraud celebrates the birth of hybrid work amidst a chorus of “long live remote working,” she also outlined a few key considerations that executives and HR experts need to consider as they rethink, adapt and reinvent themselves to meet new employee preferences, and retain the best workers.
Some of the changes are physical, such as less dense work spaces and the availability of digital interactions whenever possible. Others are more thematic, like envisioning how a workforce that has proven to be resilient and mobile would respond to other challenges and changes. Still, other predictions look to follow the “more of a good thing” concept, such as investing in transformational technology needed to evolve work from home to work from anywhere.