So much of the talk about COVID-19 has revolved around location. Going out? Watch where you are at all times to maintain properly socially distance yourself from others. Staying in? Hope you enjoy that home office and those Zoom meetings, because forget about going to work or sitting around a boardroom table. I won’t even get into the many places that we have not been allowed to visit for months now, like restaurants, bars, concert halls, and most stores. Sigh.
Location, though, actually matters less and less all the time. The dialogue about life under C-19 is moving more to the notion that physical location is irrelevant in some key ways. So much of life has changed that we are adapting to a new normal where we enjoy the same things, but in a different way. First-run movies are skipping the theatre to premiere at home. Takeout is the new night out at a restaurant. Some of this involves real sacrifices, especially when it comes to our need to be social creatures and interact with one another in the real world. But life also finds a way. Things go on, even during a pandemic.
Nothing demonstrates this maxim more effectively than work. We are moving to a new society where the focus is not so much on where we go to work as on what we do for a living, and how we do it. This turns much of the old working world on its head, placing the focus more on the individual than the company. With flexible working arrangements, workers can craft their lifestyles around where they want to be and how they want to experience the world.
No longer will their worlds be structured around their careers and the location of their corporate office. Instead, people will be able to choose where they want to live. They will be able to enjoy a life that is more about them and not as much about commutes, daily grinds, and the expense of big-city living.
Aspects of this new normal will also be beneficial to employers. Companies will be able to attract employees without paying any heed to geographical restrictions. The talent pool will dramatically increase in size for everyone. Flexible working arrangements will also trigger a psychological shift will be a boon for workplace productivity. With an employee’s focus shifting from “going to work” to simply “work,” a lot of extraneous complications will be cut loose. This will remove office interruptions (I don’t care that you had a flat tire on the weekend, Steve), but also the drain of the daily commute, the grind of daily life in a big city, and so on. Without all those distractions, employees will be able to keep their attention on their real jobs and get more done.
Of course, the shift to working remotely also means that management will need to change. Where the workplace that we were all accustomed to revolved around being chained to a desk, nose to the grindstone for those 35 or whatever hours per week, the new workplace will need to be more results-oriented wherever possible. New ways will have to be found to assess productivity. Expect this to be a net positive for both employer and employee. The former will be forced to look at measurable results instead of a time-clock, while the latter will be freed from daily drudgery and feel more like part of a team, someone who is actively contributing to workplace success instead of just warming a seat for eight hours a day.
So forget about location. The new workplace will be just about anywhere we want it to be, whether that means a home office, a cozy breakfast nook in the kitchen, the corner of a local coffee shop (or so I can dream), or yes, even at the corporate HQ for a little hotdesking every once in a while. And the new work will be just that. Work. Without all of the attendant annoyances like commuting in city traffic, big-city mortgages for tiny houses or condos, and more. For all that C-19 has made us focus on our current locations and the societal lockdown, the final legacy of the virus could be one of freedom.