In Spanish, we say “No hay mal que dure 100 años” (nothing bad can last 100 years). We know that all things, good and bad, must pass. And hopefully sooner, rather than later, we will get through this Coronavirus crisis. When life gets back to “normal”, we will notice that the “new” normal isn’t identical to the “old” normal that existed just a couple of months ago.
The work-life world will be dramatically altered after this crisis passes. We all must accept that the only constant in life is change. Once in a generation events like COVID-19 accelerate the normal, steady trajectory of change. As entrepreneurs, we cannot throw the dart where the dartboard is or where it was, we have to aim to where we think the dartboard will be.
How will business be done differently after this crisis? How will we work differently? My predictions are:
We will see tremendous numbers of people working from home one or two days a week, and flex hours will become more normal.
For example, instead of everyone working from 9 am to 5:30 pm, clogging highways and mass transit at the same hours every day, more and more businesses will allow their employees a “sometimes work from home” arrangement. This will be wildly more efficient. Working from home will save many employees one or two hours a day on their commute. And since more employees will work from home some days, flex hours will naturally happen. For instance, employees can decide to work from 9 am to 2 pm then go pick up the kids/help with homework/be a parent and then “reconnect” to the office from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, or some other arrangement that better suits them and their families. A work-at-home environment fosters a greater focus on results rather than time spent working, so “hours” spent “punched in” become less important.
This trend of a “sometimes” distributed workforce will force companies to redouble their efforts to “create culture”. Work teams will have daily and weekly scheduled video conference meetings to touch base with their teams. But they will find that those virtual meetings aren’t enough to build culture. Companies will need to schedule more team-building events outside of the office.
In-person meetings will be reduced by at least 40%.
During this crisis, hundreds of millions of people around the globe have participated in their first video conference call via Zoom, Skype or some other platform. Those initial experiences with this seasoned and tested technology have been positive. Everyone I have spoken to is wondering, “Why didn’t I do more of this sooner? I could have saved so much time.” And, of course, the advantage of a video conference is that you can have people focused while avoiding the inconvenience of actually meeting in person—the time lost in traffic or flying to get to a meeting, the time spent sitting in a conference room waiting for the meeting to start, and on and on.
These first two trends will lead to companies reconfiguring their office layouts.
Since not all employees will be in the office each and every workday, more employees can work out of the same square footage. For instance, if 2,500 sq. ft. comfortably accommodated 8 employees before the crisis, perhaps 12 can share that same space in the future. Employees will come and go more frequently, so perhaps in my example, though there are 12 employees on the payroll, there will be only 8 people working in the office most days.
Thus, offices and work areas will be much more shared space, than assigned space. In a sense, every office environment will evolve to have a bit of a “co-working” (WeWork) feel.
Employees who aren’t in the office two days a week will simply find a different place to work each time they are in the office, depending on who else is in the office that day. Just like with video conferencing, the technology to support people working from home has been around for almost a decade. The technology to be paperless has been around for at least 10 years and cloud-computing frees employees from needing much more than a laptop, a power source, and Wi-Fi to be productive.
The only impediment to the wide adoption of these technologies has been a cultural distrust—“the only way to connect with someone is to be with them in person”, “employees cannot really work from home”. The paradigm shift we are now seeing reminds me of how 10 years ago so many companies were reluctant to put their data “in the cloud” because of concerns regarding privacy and security—as if having that data sitting on their (often insecure and vulnerable) mainframes was somehow more secure and better protected. Then a wave of security breaches, and data storage as a service, forced a change in the mindset.
The changes in the “new” normal won’t only affect how and where we work. There will be important cultural life-work balance resetting as well. For instance, as is often the case after a crisis where many people got wiped out, the younger generation, in particular, will prize quality of life over money or career. They will have just watched the generation in front of them lose a lot, despite all their hard work and sacrifice. And those sacrifices will not seem worth the effort.
And there also will be changes in terms of how people spend their leisure time. For instance, people in urban centers will begin to cook at home more and go out to restaurants less frequently. I always ask people, “What has been a positive experience from the quarantine or social distancing?” The almost universal answer is always “I have rediscovered the joy of preparing meals as a family and eating together.”
The Coronavirus, a biological adaptation in itself, is forcing the world to adapt and change in reaction to it. As entrepreneurs and investors, we have to consider what these changes mean for our businesses. As in surfing, the waves come and go but never stay the same. And when a very large wave is coming at you, you really only have two choices. Do you stay in place and risk getting swallowed by the wave? Or do you jump on your surfboard and figure out a way to ride that wave?
Read La Escuela del Sur, a series of columns he wrote as a part of our partnership to promote Latin American entrepreneurs.
Also, check out his new podcast Aquí & Ahora where he has 30-minute conversations with TecnoLatino leaders and offers tips for entrepreneurs, investors, and TecnoLatino fans.