The second half of the year 2020 (2020.5) is in the very near future. In the next few months, what will life be like in our factories and offices? One thing for sure is that we will not be going back to the way things were before COVID-19. Now that we fully realize how vulnerable we are to germs that cause world-shaking pandemics (no, this is not the script of a horror movie anymore; this is real life), we have to change the way we do things.
Here are some of the more evident changes that will occur (and are occurring already) in today’s workplaces. In cities, commuting will be different as we try to avoid sardine-packed subways, buses, trains, and elevators. Employers will stagger work hours so that fewer people come to work at the same time.
For those who have to work in office spaces, changes are in the works. For one thing, walled cubicles are coming back. Gone will be that “open concept” workspace fad, which has been so common over the past few years. We will be back in Dilbert-land soon enough, as distancing will be the order of the day. Forget those office kitchens with everybody’s dirty coffee cups piled in those filthy sinks. Thank goodness that will be gone! And let’s not even go there, when it comes to those office refrigerators filled with Chuck’s and Joan’s abandoned lunch bags, even though Chuck retired in 2012 and Joan left six years ago! We’ll all be on our own, making sure we keep our food and possessions to ourselves.
Companies will be buying Purell and similar disinfectants by the truckload. Doorknobs will be replaced by loops that can be opened using your forearm. We are entering the world of designer face masks. We will soon have 10 years of supplies of toilet paper in our homes, never mind in our workplaces where it will be kept under lock and key and supplied on demand.
But all those changes are for people who actually go to work. Many people who have been working from home will be staying there. Some of the large companies have already announced that their employees will be working from home at least until the end of the year and possibly longer. This might be one of the good things to come out of this pandemic as people realize that they can get a lot more done on their own schedule, in their own time, and with fewer interruptions like meaningless meetings or endless recaps of what happened on “The Masked Singer” last night.
There are other good things coming out of the “new normal” of working remotely. For one thing, it won’t really matter where people live anymore, which means the hiring pool will be greatly expanded. Someone working for a Silicon Valley high-tech company could live and work in Texas or even Maine.
This trend of working remotely has had a very shallow growth curve for many years, but suddenly, as more and more people are working from home, this will become the norm. Think about that for just a minute, and you can come to some pretty amazing conclusions.
Work communities will become at least national if not international, making the world an even smaller village. The exchange of ideas will lead to more innovation and creativity than ever before. We have already started to see this with the cyber meetings that are going on right now. My library board meetings, church council meetings, and even my church services are all happening online. I have given more short webinars in the past two months than in my entire career before the pandemic. Next week, my doctor’s appointment will be via Zoom.
Companies like VIRbela are offering virtual campuses and classrooms, sales conferences, military training, and whatever else we will need using realistic Avatars and venues. This is the wave of the future that’s happening right now—not a new idea, but an idea whose time has come.
We have had virtual meetings, YouTube webinars, remote workers, and distance learning for years, but they had been a virtual underground until now. Most of us knew these things were happening somewhere and that somebody was using these communications technologies, it just wasn’t us. However, we are all using these new technologies and loving them (well, most of us are anyway).
And we’re only getting started. Who knows what the post-pandemic (I hope) future holds for us? Who knew on January 1, 2020, what we would be doing on May 18, 2020; all I know is that we certainly didn’t expect this! But people are strong, innovative, and creative when the chips are down, and I am confident that—as we have always done before—we will find a way. I can’t wait to see what will happen next, so hang on! We are about to take one wild, supercharged ride into the future.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.