The Last Word: The Future of the Workplace

By Adam Legge

COVID-19 has massively shifted the work paradigm as we know it. Companies have needed to respond and pivot to a new way of working, and a significant segment of our workforce got to experience the reality of working remotely. Now, as economies open and recover, many are now wondering what implications and considerations remote work will have on the future of work—and the workplace—in a post-COVID economy. I offer the following thoughts:

Productivity is a going to be a core metric to consider. Some companies have seen equal or better productivity because of remote working, while others, notably JPMorgan, have expressed that productivity has dropped for them in certain areas of the business. Alongside this, we need to consider the quality of the output we are creating. While you might be able to build documents and collaborate on files remotely, it is significantly more difficult to create new, tangible products virtually. Productivity is essential for successful companies, and companies will need to consider how to ensure performance doesn’t drop when looking at its future workplace plans.

Culture and mental health need to be priorities. Getting sufficient interaction with team members to collaborate, brainstorm, and socialize is not only an important aspect of high-performance teams but it also has a positive impact on team members’ mental health. Additionally, it is very difficult to maintain a strong company culture via digital platforms. Most of us have suffered from “Zoom fatigue” after a day or back-to-back zoom sessions and our struggles in seeing people as small 1×1 windows on a screen. When you consider that the quality and health of culture is increasingly a key ingredient in company performance, this will be a strong determinant in whether remote work is a long-term strategy for companies.

There are also massive business implications, including depression of business travel and its broader implications for the travel, hospitality, and accommodation sector; the complexity of commercial lease agreements and feasibility to exit these agreements; and the impact to the viability and vibrancy of the local businesses that surround and support the workers in office towers and complexes.

Of course, there are several positives to remote work including greater flexibility for individual workers, especially for those who are caretakers to children, elderly, or sick family members; positive impacts to reducing stress levels, commutes, and increasing quality of life; and opportunities for higher productivity.

We are living a grand experiment right now in the world of work, and we don’t have enough data to know whether remote work will have longevity. And while there are certainly more questions than answers presently, the one thing we do know for sure is that we can adapt to change much quicker than we ever thought possible.  Whether this sticks, or is more an evolution of work, will take more time.

Adam Legge has spent over two decades building and leading high-performance teams and organizations in business, public policy and economic development. He is a life-long student of economics and history and believes strongly in the ability of a team to create something remarkable. He is currently the President of the Business Council of Alberta, where he leads an organization of business leaders advocating for shared prosperity and a better life for Albertans.

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