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Coronavirus: How COVID-19 will change the way we work in the long-run

Work from home meetings in a lockdown. (Getty)

Since the coronavirus lockdown was introduced in March, the way we are working has transformed. While medics, supermarket staff and other key workers are more stretched than ever, many of us are continuing to work from home to help stop COVID-19 from spreading.

Offices are now empty, meetings are taking place online and we’re having to create our own schedules at home.

“For most of us, we have been fortunate enough to not have had to live in a warzone or even undergo any widespread virus like conditions prior to this current pandemic,” says Karen Kwong, an organisational psychologist and director of Renoc Consulting.

“As such, I can safely say that most of us will have never experienced an upheaval like this. So for every one of us, our lives personally and at work will likely change quite a lot.”

Many people are waiting for things to go back to normal as soon as it is safe. But some things have likely changed for good – particularly when it comes to the way we work.

More remote working

This is the first time many people have had to work from home – and the first time a lot of companies have had to embrace flexible working. While some firms will want employees to head back to the office as soon as they can, others are most likely going to encourage flexible working arrangements.

READ MORE: What might social distancing look like in the workplace?

“Flexible working where traditional hours of 9-5 or 8-6 will be less prevalent and vary according to the needs of the business and the requirements of workers,” Kwong says. “There might also be an increase of flexible and part-time workers.

“Many office buildings may become a little more obsolete,” she adds. “Perhaps instead of the whole building, they might have two floors for those who have face-to-face meetings or for those who want to work in offices. The co-working space model will be the preferred option for many businesses to keep overheads low, whilst many others will opt to work from home.”

More use of technology

Things aren’t just changing for employees, too. Leaders and businesses will have to support their staff in different ways to accommodate changes such as flexible working.

“After all these changes present a new set of challenges – where on the one hand, staff members will prefer this autonomy, but on the other hand, collaboration and team innovation and creativity may change as a result of less face-to-face interactions,” Kwong says.

“Most likely, there will be an increased dependence on technology – be it for online interactions between clients and service providers, all the way to providers of that technology to enable those conversations to occur.”

READ MORE: How to set yourself a routine when working from home

We will also need to get used to video conferencing and communication apps like Slack, but ensure workers don’t lose out on the benefits of face-to-face contact with colleagues.

More focus on transferable skills

Millions of people around the world have been made redundant, been furloughed or lost income as a result of the current crisis. Whole industries have ceased operating, including the travel and restaurant sectors. Recovery will take many years and because of this, there may be more of a focus on transferable skills because of this, as people try different avenues for employment.

“Those who have a skillset that has been underused, for example, tech skills or project management skills, now is the time to share those skills with others,” Kwong says. “This is relevant on a business level too. Look at how the F1 engineers turned their skills and expertise into making ventilators.”

More focus on work-life balance

Perhaps most significantly, the coronavirus pandemic will likely change our priorities and values when it comes to work and our personal lives. As the lockdown begins to lift, many people will see family and friends for the first time in months – and want to spend more time with them.

“The lockdown has taught us so much about balance. I’m reading more, exercising more and spending more time with my kids,” says Simon Paine, the co-founder and CEO of the PopUp Business School. “Yes of course we all want a sense of normality, freedom and connection but going back to how things were is not an option.”