'Work will be untied from space and time'
Widely known as the 'future narrator', DANISH futurist Anne Lise Kjaer on how the nature of work, and the workplace, will change in a post-Covid world
Do you believe that our current way of life is the new normal?
Right now, we are all looking for inspiration. One of our biggest challenges in the complexity of today's world is to navigate the New Reality. We may see a whole New World Order where 'time to think' will take precedence, as we all take stock of the impact of this time/space, and people try to imagine/shape what tomorrow will look like.
What does the new 'order' in a post-Covid world look like?
No one really knows, although there's no shortage of media insights; we're all affected by a global infodemic. What we will see is not just one but several different futures - note the plural. Asking the right questions is crucial, because our decisions today will write the history of tomorrow. So, where do we start? We need to rethink the What, How and Why of our business values and leadership principles. One of the key questions to ask might be: how do we create inclusive and sustainable strategies to fulfil the emerging demands and needs in a post-pandemic society? Anyone who works with foresight and scenario planning knows that curiosity and creativity hold the keys to discover untapped opportunities and create viable future solutions. Try to view challenges as opportunities.
The landscape of work itself is changing. Is work from home the future of corporate functioning?
There are several scenarios in play here, depending on your industry and individual role. A new reality is already transforming the way we engage with each other. I see scenarios like: shorter, more flexible work weeks; alternate weeks in the office/home; being paid based on productivity targets rather than hours spent in the office; a workforce staying healthier and safe; more organisational support to grow as people; and life-long learning and education to be better prepared for the future.
The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by 2030, growth in the developed world would slow and a 15-hour work week would be a reality because: ".people would 'have enough' to lead the Good Life." Sweden tested a 30-hour workweek with success across sectors in 2012; Toyota Gothenburg introduced a morning and evening shift - workers were paid the same as before, but efficiency grew from 0.9 to 1.4 per hour: a perfect business case to work less and increase productivity; Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been trialled with success in Finland - all trends inspiring a new norm.
Do you see social distancing as continuing in the post-Covid world too?
The digital reality will enable us to socially distance ourselves whenever we need to stay safe. Global health visas might become the norm. The pandemic has shown that cultivating a culture of prevention rather than healing is paramount.
As humans, we can adapt fairly quick to a new reality. Previous pandemics have not divided us; on the contrary, they have brought us together. This too shall pass and our future success will depend on how well we deal with the present, as it's now that we plant the seeds of the future.
Virtual will never replace face-to-face meetings; humans are social animals. While social distancing will be the norm for a while, normality (if there is such a thing) is a colossal force that is penetrating online presence at the moment. Carefully curated social media personas are demolished and replaced with 'normal people' trying to cope. Perhaps the fact that we are all humans after all - even online - is the change of perception that might lead to better lives in the long run.
Are open offices a thing of the past then?
Noisy offices add to our daily stress and may potentially be a thing of the past. We might see more companies introducing health check-ins and quiet places to nurture a more caring culture to foster creative performance, as well as providing a space to think, catch up with family or simply take a nap. We may ask: why go to the office if it feels better and safer at home?
The New Era smart office will see spaces that are optimised for wellbeing, sustainability, productivity and staying safe. IoT, beacons and sensors automate the regulation and efficiency of everything from parking spaces to energy use. Your chair will tell you it is time to work standing up or go for a walk. Noise-blocking technology will make headphones obsolete, and you can work to the sound of birdsong or reggae without disturbing co-workers. Sensors in public areas will tell you it is time to stop at the water fountain and bathroom mirrors will give you a mini health assessment. Your desk will be self-cleaning and smart textiles would double as air fresheners, changing colour to match your mood.
What will constitute work culture if everyone works from home?
Work culture is affected by where we work. The office is continually evolving and tech startups have driven a wave of workspace designs that promote collaboration, innovation and healthy living. Around the world, organisations are boosting engagement using incentives such as breakout zones and play areas - these will be even more important in an era where social distancing will still be part of the workplace reality. Work is already being untied from space and time and, while this freedom is liberating, there are also challenges ahead. In particular, how do organisations respond when walls have come tumbling down between physical and digital? We are only at the beginning of a whole new era.