There have been plenty of discussions around boardroom tables and among leadership teams around what the future of work is going to look like. But are we any closer to a proper answer?
Much of the world is coming out of the worst of the pandemic, but the Delta variant has added further uncertainty. We also have a large portion of the global workforce still dealing with the knock-on effects of imposed restrictions, complete office shutdowns, and a brand new way of working.
There’s no rulebook to tell businesses what opens, what doesn’t open, and if we can even make or suggest that people come into the office again. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking ahead. In fact, many have already begun to figure out what the new working world will look like for them.
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What is the future of work?
In a quick poll taken by Bentley Systems, 87 percent of professionals think that work will never return to the way it was before the pandemic. It’s no real surprise, as a massive shift in the way we work has led many to live better, more balanced lives and enjoy a sense of freedom that would have never happened with the typical office hours of 9 to 5.
Instead of spending hours on the daily commute, people have been using this newfound freedom to spend more time with their families, exercise more often, and better balance their working day around home life—not the other way around.
Many are also commenting on an increase in productivity and efficiency, as working remotely proves to offer less distractions.
A study of 16,000 workers by Stanford University found that productivity increased by 13 percent over nine months when employees worked from home, primarily due to colleagues being able to do more with their time, a quieter and more convenient working environment, and having to take fewer sick days.
However, the flip side is that more workers are actively working outside of their usual hours to fill their time from a lack of commuting. The fear is that this could lead to “burnout” and a decreased state of mental wellbeing, something that businesses in this “new normal” are discovering is vital to support.
From a hiring perspective, fishing from the ocean is a whole lot better than from a pond, and companies have been able to remove typical recruitment barriers to offer more flexible working conditions to candidates not based near an office.
Indeed, senior leadership is starting to listen closely to employees when it comes to setting the culture and tone for this new outlook of doing business.
A recent Gartner survey found that four out of five workers expect flexibility from their employers. Instead of laying down the law and forcing colleagues back into the office, some employers are beginning to change their stance on office-based working and actively considering and endorsing a hybrid work model, in which employees can come in one or more days a week and stay home the rest of the time.
Apple colleagues famously pushed back against a forced return to the office, and it’s likely that many more will hear similar complaints if internal concerns aren’t heard. But given time, there is the real possibility that we might want to relive the times of old.
Face-to-face social communication and collaboration has taken a tumble, and there are clear benefits in having physical interactions with colleagues. Plus, as horrible as it has been, the pandemic has also served as a catalyst for change in industries such as construction, one that’s been notoriously slow in moving towards digital transformation.
Employees that were once chained to desktop PCs now find themselves with no constraints whatsoever. Armed with new mobile equipment, many of those that thought they’d always be confined to the construction site have benefited from being able to work at home and on the move.
Beyond laptops and tablets, the industry has also accelerated the boundaries of innovation when it comes to new technology.
Through digital twins, engineers forced to work from home could keep urgent projects running as usual by diving into a virtual replica of key infrastructure. Add in mixed reality headsets, and engineers could make use of real-time collaboration with colleagues to view, share, and edit designs, timescales, and project plans.
We had no choice but to get on this rollercoaster—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn to enjoy the ride.
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The future of work is already here
Questions around the future of the office will continue to be debated, but what can’t be questioned is the commitment of our employees and their ability to change at a moment’s notice.
From our own perspective, Bentley has opened most of our offices across the world. Most of the open offices only have a portion of people going in everyday right now, so although the offices are open, they are not being fully utilized. People are being cautious and don’t want to rush back so soon. We have a Covid task force, which makes sure that all local guidelines are being adhered to at all times, whether it pertains to opening in the first place or what happens when the office is open. We want to make sure that people feel comfortable and safe while we work on setting out a long-term plan for our colleagues dotted across the globe.
Despite a lack of social interactions, vacations, and colleagues around us, we’ve all proven that we can be trusted to get on with the job at hand—wherever we are and whenever we do it.
Whether we go back to the 9 to 5 office life, stay at home full time, or enjoy some sort of hybrid arrangement, the future of work will be firmly shaped by the hands of the business and its employees.
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Claire Rutkowski, CIO, Bentley Systems