12 May 2020
Author: Chris Sanderson
When the lockdown is relaxed, why believe your structurally-challenged IT, HR and OPs departments are suddenly going to deal well with flexibility and the level of proactive innovation required to retro-fit an inter-Covid workforce into a pre-Covid environment? According to research from the University of Chicago economists Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman, as featured in a recent article on Forbes.com, it is estimated that approximately 37% of jobs in the US can be ‘plausibly done from home’. This is an important consideration when many managers are wrangling with the nutty issue of how to ‘get back to normal’ (or move on to the ‘new normal’).
My first prediction here is that we’ll have much more rigorous guidelines around what meaningful distancing should include within the workplace. All the research to date is supporting the fact that regular and scrupulous personal hygiene protocols, such as handwashing and not touching your face remain the most important prophylactic activities when it comes to minimising infection, over and above standing two metres apart or wearing a face mask. And let’s start talking about professional distancing so that we can begin to separate what happens in the workplace from home or the public, social arena. This I believe will help to ease the anxiety that the term social distancing has already caused, and the way it is driving a wedge between the emotional and physical connections upon which we humans thrive.
Next, and before I make another prediction, consider the importance of uncoupling the disruption coronavirus has caused from the manifestations precipitated but undeniably extant prior to its emergence. All our research in 2019 pointed to a growing number of citizens exhibiting the following behaviours: a conscious deceleration of lifestyle; a desire to consume more sustainably; an acceptance of living with less, an imperative towards being rather than doing; a fundamental reset from the mechanisms which defined capital success in the last century.
It’s these underlying shifts in the mindset of our society which will have a greater impact on the shape of the professional arena in the years to come than the disruption caused by coronavirus. Our response here in the 21st century has not been that of our forebears who endured the travails of war; we’re all itching for change and expect to see it effected. As employers and managers, we’re still not ready for a workforce who believe what they do outside of the office is more important than what they do in it; that they are less driven by salary; that not only will they stay with us for a shorter period of employment, they will ceaselessly retrain and flip careers; that a mercurial mentality is as sure a marker of professionalism as once was a suit, collar and tie.
Long after we move from the inter-Covid-19 years to the post-Covid-19 era, our society will look back and, with hindsight, draw comparisons to the unpreparedness for 9/11 – described by the US Commission report as ‘a failure of imagination’. Then we were shocked at the awesome scale of terror, destruction and death another human being could bring upon another. In this instance we’ve been poleaxed by our lack of immunity, the frailty of our systems and the immutable facelessness of this particular enemy.
Covid-19 is the harbinger of far more disruptive forces we can expect during The Transformative Twenties, the decade upon which we have just embarked. The changes that will come after it will be more profound and far reaching. What we can hope to learn in the short term – at work, at home and in public – is that our global interconnectedness, so cheaply negotiated in the 20th century, will be dearly paid for in the 21st.
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