What is the Future of Work?
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
This is part 1 of a series of blogs, looking into changes in the working environment over the coming months and after Covid-19. In part 2 we will be investigating how law firms might adapt to an unknown future.
Whilst the question, ‘what is the future of work?’ has been hotly debated in recent months due to Covid-19, it is something that a lot of businesses have been contemplating over the last few years, even if they haven’t actioned anything or expected to have to change their working model almost overnight. Our working lives have changed, whether we like it or not and now, our future in the working environment looks very different. Recent guidance from the UK Government aimed to clarify the next steps after lockdown but unfortunately left more questions unanswered than answered. Tom Friedman in a New York Times article recently coined the phrases BC (before Covid-19) and AC (after Covid-19), which highlights just how this silent killer will change life as we know it for a very long time. People talk of ‘normal’ and returning to it. But realistically, the normal we knew isn’t something that we can return to. So, what will the ‘new’ normal look like AC?
Working from home.
This is probably the biggest and most obvious change in our working lives. What this period of lockdown has shown us is that many businesses can function well with their staff working remotely. Where it has been successful, it will be difficult for businesses to request staff back into the office 5 days a week. Obviously, there are certain industries and sectors that can’t accommodate remote working, but with doctors, chemists and medical staff able to conduct their consultations over video conference, we expect to see this becoming the new normal. And particular to the legal recruitment industry, we have already seen how quickly the interview process can be handled and completed with online/video interviewing.
If you weren’t already wholly dependant on your phone and laptop, it is safe to say, that now more than ever these technologies have really come into their own. As an early adopter of technology, I’ve always been fascinated with how far I can push my gadgets and I’m pleased to say that they haven’t yet let me down. One area that had already made its way into our homes was voice assistants. Of course, BC, they were popular in homes but not necessarily aligned with your work. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked Siri and Alexa to call one of my clients or candidates whilst in lockdown. Similarly, using Siri on the Apple Watch to set reminders or send a text. BC, these would have been exclusively personal but AC, this is my new norm and I’m sure many of you are doing the same.
For some, this may become a thing of the past. There are many who were based in say Manchester or Birmingham and spent three or four days in London. It is unlikely that they will need to, or want to, continue doing that. Similarly, for those London based workers who live in the suburbs, using trains, tubes and buses to get to the office – will they still be happy to do this, five times a week? When the UK Government on Sunday 10 May started to ease the lockdown, they suggested that certain workers (where it was possible) should return to work, but avoid using public transport (again, where possible). This puts people in a real state of uncertainty, especially if the tube or bus is their only option.
And, if they do commute, will the new norm be people wearing gloves, masks and carrying hand sanitizer with them? Will train companies, certainly in the early stages of ‘after-lockdown’ enforce social distancing by limiting how many people are allowed on a carriage? Much to consider when a full workday can be so much more productive if the worker can work at home.
The New Office Experience.
The UK Government have already started to suggest actions that companies can take to make the easing into ‘new normal’ smoother such as staggered working times, removing or adapting densely populated areas such as communal kitchens, sitting staff members apart and allowing a certain number of people in lifts. The question for many people, will be, how safe do they feel putting themselves back into that situation? And, if they have successfully done their work based at home, why do they need to be in the office? What becomes the new ‘criteria’ to choose the office over the home? For many, seeing someone from outside their home will be very welcome, but there will be some fear, understandably, if people are still in danger of being infected. Trust amongst office workers will have to be re-built.
If fewer people are commuting, then it is safe to assume that travel expenses will fall. We expect to see business journeys being made only where necessary. Similarly, commercial real estate costs will fall, as businesses realise that they probably don’t need as many buildings, floors or space as they did BC. As such, we expect to see businesses reviewing and downscaling real estate where possible.
AC, it is likely that HR teams will become less busy based on the fact that with fewer people working in an office and therefore fewer people in the same place at the same time, there will be less reported issues and as such fewer investigations. Obviously, mental health and well being is something that has been better documented recently but can only improve. Ensuring that staff members’ well being is monitored is very important and this will be something that we expect HR teams to be fully appraised of and be on hand where necessary.
It is clear that companies that are agile, creative and able to adapt are probably the companies that will do best in the AC environment. Companies and firms that were already encouraging remote working and flexible hours are the businesses that we expect to successfully weather the initial AC storm.
New Roles and New Skills.
As businesses adapt to the new working environment, we expect to see a number of new positions being created, not only to ensure the smooth transition to the new normal but to also plug obvious gaps that will naturally appear in the workforce (especially if there is a divide between remote workers and those based in the office). In a recent article from McKinsey, they highlighted a number of steps business leaders and Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) can take to ensure their workforces are ready for AC. Interestingly, McKinsey estimated that in 2017 14% of the global workforce (as many as 375 million workers) would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 due to artificial intelligence and automation. In a recent survey, 87% of executives said they experienced or expected to encounter skill gaps in their workforce but had no real plan to combat the problem.
Like Covid-19 itself, when it comes to the future of the workplace, it seems that for many, there are more questions than answers. In the coming months, more tough decisions will have to be made by business leaders and not all of them will get it right! In part 2 of this series, we will look at the future of law firms and how some of these and other suggestions apply specifically to the legal market.
This article was written by Peter Robertson for CarterJay Legal. Peter can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07834 436775. CarterJay Legal is a boutique legal recruitment agency based in London. They specialise in private practice roles with a large variety of law firms, catering for associates and partners alike.
We just wanted to assure all our candidates that are currently in the middle of a legal recruitment process (or about to begin one) that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the process moves forward as smoothly as possible. Like our clients, we are following all the guidance available and implementing it as best we can. For the foreseeable future, we will proceed with interviews using video conferencing (including Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Teams or equivalent). Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about this. Thank you for reading.