It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.
We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.
Below is an answer from Melissa Gregg. She’s a senior principal engineer at Intel, where she focuses on user experience and sustainability. She’s also the author of several books about work, most recently Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy, which was published in 2018.
Coronavirus will fundamentally change the notion of trust between employers and employees. In five years, many of us will still be working from office settings, but we will do so less often, with trepidation. Workplaces will need to prove their relevance and safety, especially to employees who they require to be far from home, across a city or across the world.
When I first started researching the experience of working from home back in 2007, people still joked about whether they could stay productive outside of direct supervision. Staying online and available to colleagues on mobile phones and laptops was a way to handle this anxiety, even while it normalized the culture of off-hours email checking, constant notifications, and pinging. After so many months of enforced homework in 2020, there is no doubt that people can be trusted to keep performing their jobs. In fact, our research shows they are doing this often to their own detriment. Eye strain, sore backs, headaches, and ear damage from headphone use are common ailments of the diligent remote worker.
It raises the question: Were workers who once sought the odd day at home ever a real threat to the company? Whose miserly idea was it to force families apart for hours, five days a week, commuting separately in gridlocked traffic, all in the name of productivity? Why were these rituals considered the strongest evidence of employee loyalty? A deadly virus that thrives in contained spaces with large numbers of people makes us conscious of the many ways we have been held captive in our personal and professional lives until now. In five years’ time, the onus of proof will be flipped: It will be on employers to prove to us why they can be trusted to provide the safest locations for our labor.
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