Adapting Work Culture Amid Covid-19

Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic (‘Covid’) has forced people to review and make changes in the manner they live their lives. It has impacted the manner in which people engage in their work. As such, many of the organisations are changing the manner in which they work (Radio New Zealand, 2020). The example of this is the emergence of the concept of ‘Zoom Towns’, which is one of the significant and lasting effects of the pandemic on the society (Levine, 2020).

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This essay will explore the effect of the pandemic on the way organisations will bring changes in the working style. It will critically discuss the effect of the pandemic on the meaning of work and the manner of how organisations will work in the future.

Remote working – the new normal?

Prodoscore, based on about 100 millions data points from 30,000 US based users, reported that in 2020 remote workers are 47% more efficient than the onsite employees (Business Wire, 2020). Across the globe, the lockdown has made remote working a viable replacement in both the private and public ogranisations. Companies can quickly mobilise resources to make remote working a large part of the employees. This is seen with Microsoft that has established that remote working routines would be continued until the COVID problem (Marinova, 2020).

Before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a normal practice where workers and employees have a default choice of living in the urban centres, which were close to or within the commuting distance of their workplace (Levine, 2020).

Covid has caused a kind of migration of workers from the urban areas to the rural setting. It is observed that the pandemic has made many office workers in the USA leave crowded cities in search of a more rural setting. Holiday spots are viewed as preferred places for remote workers to live and work. Such spots are referred to as the “zoom towns” and are increasing in number as remote working increases (Levine, 2020). As such, according to Ernst & Young, remote working will become the new normal. Remote working is a form of sustainable working with the benefits of medium to long term work (EY Belgium, 2020).

Remote working or working from home has become the only option to continue working and minimisation of risk of virus exposure. The problem of uncertain duration of the pandemic coupled with future contagion waves has led to treat work from home as the ‘new normal’ of working (Bonacini, Gallo, & Scicchitano, 2021). This new normal will continue (Baert, Lippens, Moens, Weytjens, & Sterkens, 2020) bringing flexibility in the workplace in the future (Alon, Doepke, Olmstead-Rumsey, & Tertilt, 2020).

Irrespective of the argument for work from home or remote work as the new normal, there may be a few challenges against the ‘new normal’. For example, remote working may not work for those workers who cannot work from home. One such example is that of the social workers. Working from home may disrupt the secure team base that workers have access at normal working space. For example, in case of social workers, Social work teams can provide a secure base for social workers, supporting them to manage the emotional demands of child and family social work (Biggart, Ward, Cool, & Schofield, 2017). However, the disruption due to COVID has caused workers feel disconnected from their team due to loss of physical connection to the team. This has disrupted the secured team base. Remote working also imposes challenges to worker to adapt to new form of working digitally or virtually. This physical disconnect led to the loss of their team as secure base. As such, it cannot replace the crucial position that face-to-face contact occupies in sustaining secure base relationships (Cook, Zschomler, Biggart, & Carder, 2020).

Remote working cannot be the new normal. It will not be successful unless there is appropriate investment from the government. This was seen with the case of use of video consultation in telemedicine. It was observed that there was limited success in progressing from the pilot adoption of video consultation to mainstream adoption. During the UK Covid-19 lockdown, video consultations were encouraged (Bidmead & Marshall, 2020). However, its mainstream adoption was limited by factors such as clinician resistance arising from technological problems, disruption in routines, increase in workload, decrease in work satisfaction and lack of organisational readiness. One major reason for the lack of large scale adoption of telemedicine was due to lack of government’s investment (Bidmead & Marshall, 2020).

Remote working may not be able to be implemented on a large scale and in all the industries. Jobs that need to be performed onsite cannot be performed remotely. The later sections will also discuss some changes in the work form and the manner of work caused by COVID.

A new structure of shared economy?

COVID has shown what technology can do. Technology has enabled workers and organisation coming together on a digital space on a large scale. The disruption caused by COVID has changed the perspective towards a more digitally enabled work space.

Technology is now normally referred to while speaking about the future of work. The rise of the concept of ‘sharing economy' is caused by the increase reliance on technology. This concept identifies with the principle of commercial 'peer to peer' sharing economy (Codagnone & Martens, 2016).

The rise of practice of knowledge economy and advancement of information technology are disrupting norms that were established in an industrial era. The knowledge economy is digitalised. It is innovative, and collaborative. The new information technology is interconnected (Hu, Spatial disruption and planning implication of the sharing economy: A study of smart work in Canberra, Australia, 2019).

These have enabled an operation on a shared economy accessible to workers at anytime and from anywhere. COVID has started a compulsory practice of smart work subjecting workers to adaptability and smart work. This has put the perception and practice of smart work to new test. It has imposed a critical thinking of how to use the conventional office, which is based on an industrial and functional thinking (Hu, 2020).

COVID has brought about a digital transformation, which is shaping the manner people work and the expectations in work environment. The focus is not merely on the salary and extrinsic factors, but more on the intrinsic factors, such as workers’ motivation in the area of personal interests, enjoyment and satisfaction (Helmold, 2021). More focus is on good work-life balance and development on professional and personal level. The use of digital space is enabling flexible working, giving more autonomy to workers to choose preferred hours and location (Helmold, 2021).

The digital transformation has enabled people to access flexible and remote work. However, it has also caused certain social and economic challenges. Workers have less access to healthcare and paid sick leave. Job losses are increasing. There is difficulty in managing a global office of workers working remotely. This also increases technological costs. There are challenges workers face in balancing work and family life (World Economic Forum, 2020).

The prevalence of the challenges in the form of a humanitarian crisis, such as mentioned above, cannot justify the concept of a shared economy. Workers losing jobs, work-life balance or companies incurring costs due to the pandemic cannot be characteristics of a shared economy.

COVID has also changed the manner companies operate and in which the office space and layouts are used. It has reduced office spaces as more virtual teams are created and workers are remotely working. The security measures in place must also concern the safety and precautionary measures in regard to the COVID safety concerns. Risk mitigating measures and measures to motivate employees are occupying companies’ priorities (Helmold, 2021).

The change in the form of office space and operation from the traditional office space to the virtual office space is a required transition. However, such scenario has also caused loss of real estate revenue, loss of jobs of workers that are needed to man the physical structure, and more expensive operation of the company infrastructure.

COVID has also cause social issues. The most vulnerable groups may be affected the most. The pre‐existing lack of pay growth found at the bottom of the household earning distribution may become worst due to sate’s inability to insure economic disruption due to the pandemic (Blundell, Dias, Joyce, & Xu, 2020). COVID has affected the economic activity and may increase the pre‐existing inequalities. Younger workers with low incomes and self‐employed workers are more likely to lose their jobs or economic activities (Blundell, Dias, Joyce, & Xu, 2020).

The increase opportunities for work from home may not equally distribute labour income among employees. Opportunity to remote working may favour older, highly educated and highly paid employees. This is an indication of pre-existing inequalities (Bonacini, Gallo, & Scicchitano, 2021). Work from home will affect wage distribution and income equality. The issue of income inequality has already formed prominence in policymakers’ debates in the western countries (BA, 2015; Beckfield, 2019).

COVID may increase the reliance on technology in forming shared economy where organisations build virtual teams and smoother operation of companies’ businesses. However, the virtual transition cannot occur at all the aspects of a company’s operation. Transitioning impacts the physical infrastructure of a company operation leading to job’s loss and higher technological costs. It creates a divided amongst employees by dividing them into key and higher paid employees who have better access to the shared economy and income than those at the lower income distribution. The transition has also impacted social life and the work-life balance with costs on mental health issues.

Preference to work in office?

A survey of 4,500 people conducted by Zurich Insurance found that 59% of them would prefer to work at home more than half their working week. They prefer to have flexibility to both work at office and at home (Owen).

Alternatively, it is also argued that younger workers may prefer to work in an urban setting once COVID subsides or a vaccine is found. Younger people may not prefer to continue staying in a rural setting if they regain the option to work in the urban settings. They would prefer to enjoy the opportunities to socialize or to network within their relevant work environments (Semuals, 2020).

Further, the concept of zoom towns would be successful if there are comparable technology and internet infrastructure. If the rural settings cannot provide such infrastructure, they cannot perform their work functions, which will be heavily dependent on technological infrastructure (legallysociable, 2020).

From the discussion in the earlier sections, the only way that has changed in the manner of work and the type of work that people do is in the virtual shared economy including remote working. COVID has started a new virtual work and employment space, which allows workers flexibility and autonomy in terms of their work functions.

COVID has also led to loss of economy, jobs, mental health problems, and challenges to adapt to new work space. COVID has also shown that the new concept of work or the manner people work may be limited to a few sphere of the work that people or to those services-oriented work. There are workers who cannot stay at home. Further, viewing the mental issues and challenges of work-life balance caused by working at home, it will also be a good argument that people may want to work at offices.

Conclusion

COVID has definitely changed the operation of a company. It has not changed the meaning of work and the manner of how organisations will work. The change that is seen now is a coping mechanism adopted by or new tools learnt by workers or the organisation. COVID has changed the work environment in the form of the virtual work space in addition to the physical work space. It has defined areas of work that could be handled virtually and that could not be. For example remote working can be associated with online related works that are services-oriented. It cannot be employed for on-site works.

The new work environment will thus be a hybrid model of work and the manner of work. Organisations and workers will create workspaces specifically designed for virtual space and for supporting physical interactions that cannot occur remotely.

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Bibliography

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