In the past months, our way of working has suddenly turned completely upside down. The first few weeks were mainly about getting used to new digital tools, creating a good workplace at home, and finding a new work-life balance. Now, there is time to think about the longer-term impact. Although working from home took some getting used to, we also experienced great advantages. For Strategiemakers, going back to the old way of working is no longer an option. We share 4 observations that we expect to see in future ways of working.
The new working week is a combination of working at home and at the office.
Working from home has quickly become the new normal and existing assumptions about working from home have suddenly disappeared. We expect people to be more critical in deciding when to come to the office. Twitter already announced that its employees can now work from home forever. The Dutch government’s advice is to work from home as much as possible until the 1st of September. The Dutch cabinet has been advised that the pressure on public transport will remain manageable if everyone goes to the office for a maximum of 1 day a week. But this need for change in our commuting traffic started year before the corona crisis: since 2015, the ‘Anders Reizen’ coalition, consisting of 50 large companies, has been working hard to reduce the CO2 emissions of business travel in the Netherlands. In their recent press release, they argue that “now is the time to go ahead and transform time- and place-independent work into the new normal”.
The number of physical meetings is decreasing, but the quality is improving.
There certainly remains value in physically meeting with your team or department. A certain energy is created when people come together, brainstorm together, and see each other again. Ever heard of serendipity? The quick encounters and conversations at the coffee machine lead to inspiration and new ideas. And one of the major disadvantages of working from home is loneliness. It is therefore clear that physical meetings and gatherings are still needed. We expect that the number of meetings will decrease, but the quality of the meetings that do occur will improve. This results in a changing need for types of workplaces in the office. Instead of individual workspaces, the office should be designed to cater for social gatherings, creative sessions, and team offsites. No more office space with individual workspaces, but spaces designed to meet, work together, and brainstorm.
Digital collaboration requires a different way of working than a physical working day.
Since a large part of people will continue to work (partly) from home for the time being, this means that almost all meetings, updates and other meetings have a digital component. Completely copying our days at home as if being in the office, logging in from one video call to the next, is tiring and not efficient at all. It requires practice and attention to keep everyone involved in a digital meeting. If some people call in from home and the rest is at the office, the chances are high that the people at home feel a little left out. The microphone doesn’t work properly, not everyone fits on the camera and the non-verbal cues that are shared in a room can’t be seen by the digital participants. Because of the internet bandwidth, cameras are often turned off and everyone is on mute. For all these matters, organizations must develop a new working method and new digital standards together.
We can capitalize further on working from home if we learn how to work asynchronous.
A study by Stanford University showed that working from home has a positive effect on productivity. Although an open office space can be quite fun (making silly jokes at home is not the same), it doesn’t add to your productivity and focus. Productivity in working from home increases even further when people experience autonomy and freedom to organize their own working day. There is still a lot of potential in this area to reduce the number of online meetings and interruptions during a workday, which gives people more freedom to design their own day. Organizations that put this into practice work more asynchronous. Asynchronous organizations have fewer meetings and do not expect each other to respond directly to emails or chat messages. Also read Mark’s blog <link to blog> on the meaning of asynchronous work and how we experiment with it within Strategiemakers. Working asynchronous is not done in one day and requires us to let go of many expectations and assumptions about existing ways of working. At the same time, this does reduce the need to be in the office from 9 to 5.
Although our way of working has been turned upside down, we also see that this is only the beginning. Organizations need to find a new balance between working from home and meeting at the office. Where they certainly still place value in physical meetings but become more critical when and how these are organized. In addition, a new way of working must be designed that incorporates digital collaboration. And finally, organizations can take a step towards an asynchronous way of working, where employees can work in a focused way, while at the same time reducing the pressure on public transport and roads.