New Work
New Work in the Corona era

Seven effects which Covid-19 will have on the working world

The path back to normality will pose great challenges to employees and companies. The “new normal” will be different to how it was before the Corona crisis, with the exceptional circumstances creating paradigm shifts for employees and companies alike. Both parties will be faced with new processes, which they’ll have to adapt to within a very short space of time. This emergency situation brings about a whole new dynamic with regards to the subject of  New Work and provides the opportunity to review traditionally accepted processes, thereby adapting the working world to the current needs and goals. Recognising potential and harnessing it for the good of the company after the crisis is now the name of the game.   The following seven significant changes have already become evident. 

Proposition 1: Massive increase in digitalisation

Many companies have been forced to massively increase their digitialisation as a result of the Corona pandemic. Companies which had thus far been unwilling to take the next step in terms of digitalisation, or whose industry sector had meant they lacked an urgent need to do so, see themselves now forced to give serious consideration to the use of digital solutions. Previously untapped potential – whether in work processes, in the organisation of work, or even in communication - is now coming to the fore and will ideally be reconsidered with a view to the future. The dynamic which this sets in motion will invoke a spirit of change and optimism  across several sectors in the coming months and years. This situation will namely provide them with the opportunity to manage processes and structures, which had partly become routine, more efficiently, or purposefully. In many ways, Covid-19 acts as a test run for a new era of digitalisation.

Proposition 2: Virtual meetings versus face-to-face

The crisis has once again shown that not all meetings are alike. In practice, it’s easy to  determine which meetings absolutely must take place face-to-face and which can easily be held virtually. This situation also gives rise to opportunities which companies can actively use after the crisis is over, such as giving serious thought to meetings and differentiating them. This includes the question of the extent to which gains are to be made by sending various groups of people from different locations to one place for every routine meeting. Cost-efficiency and time-saving measures speak for themselves. In terms of the environment, virtual meetings are a prime example of climate protection in action.  On the other hand, meetings which are supposed to stimulate team creativity, quickly reach their limits in the remote working era.  In this case, face-to-face meetings are clearly the better option. Indeed, when it comes to creative processes and many other areas, working face-to-face is absolutely essential and should not be replaced by digital solutions. Personal exchanges and interaction in face-to-face meetings have the potential to be of considerable additional value for all involved.  These meetings will very likely take on a higher level of significance after the Corona crisis and will, in the best-case scenario, be used more effectively.

Creative meeting at CSMM, Photo: Eva Jünger

Proposition 3: Remote working has its limits

For many companies, remote working is opening the door to a new working era. Companies whose existing processes had meant they had never before considered agile working, have been presented with new possibilities due to the change to remote working. However, remote working as one of the many facets of agile working, inevitably reaches its limits and doesn’t have to be pursued in this form per se. Essential aspects such as informal communication and personal interaction mostly disappear completely in this scenario. Therefore, remote working should be viewed as one of several agile working options, which can release a company‘s untapped potential. The task now is to assess the usefulness of the newly acquired knowledge and to adapt opportunities to each company individually.

Proposition 4: The office as hub & home

After several weeks of restrictions and isolation, it is more apparent than ever how important the office is as a hub for social interaction and a platform for creativity. With all the independence which digitalisation brings with it, people still need a sense of stability and closeness. As social creatures, humans also long for a place in the working world which creates a sense of identity. An inspirational working environment serves as an emotional  binding agent to the company and increases the sense of well-being. The trend towards hybridisation, that is to say the creation of a hybrid of the previously separate systems “office hub” and “home”, will continue to develop, so that the office will increasingly have to fulfill the need for belonging. This will lead workers to rediscover and reappraise the concept of the office, in particular the communal meeting and communication areas.

Hub & Home is the office future – CSMM owe this term to their cooperation with the Institute for Social Research in Munich.

Community area and innovation lab at BSH Hausgeräte. Design and Concept: CSMM, Photo: BSH Hausgeräte

Proposition 5: Realms of possibility instead of individual cubicles

Even if isolation and keeping one‘s distance are currently shaping the overall picture of everyday life, the developments to date towards the open-plan office as a realm of possibility, that is to say as a space for development, meeting others and team work, will continue. A return to the individual office is neither likely, nor is it conducive to the well-being, identification and productivity of the employees. What is now needed, is the promotion of team spirit and the ability to innovate. Companies who want to retain a competitive edge in the market need space for empathy, creativity and inventiveness, not individual cubicles for working laboriously through tasks.

Flexible workspace at Reply. Design and Concept: CSMM, Photo: Michael Neumann

Proposition 6: Downsizing of the workplace reaches its limits

The social distancing which goes hand in hand with the Corona crisis will also have an impact in terms of the size of the workspace. The continual reduction of the space per employee will come to a dramatic halt for the time being and many companies will have to rethink offices which are too cramped or too densely populated. With one eye on possible future crises, many companies will reduce the number of employees in one room, or increase the distances between them. However, it’s not only the distancing issue which will have a significant impact on the planning of new offices. Hygiene will also be one of the aspects which will now have to be taken into consideration when designing offices.

Generously designed workspace at Virtual Identity. Design and Concept: CSMM, Photo: Christian Krinninger

Proposition 7: Acid test for co-working and desk-sharing

Over the last few years, a large number of business models – be they automobile, residential, or workspace related - have been designed with communal use in mind. In the current crisis situation, these models are starting to falter. Co-working spaces, which until recently were still being hyped, have now taken on a bitter aftertaste. The notion of co-working, creating a dynamic and flexible space which complete strangers share, will really be put to the test when people finally start returning from working from home.  The in-house variation of desk-sharing will also have to undergo renewed tests to be approved in companies. Nonetheless, the availability of flexible co-working space is unlocking new opportunities for companies: for example, they could rent additional premises in order to spread their employees out, away from their current office environments which are too densely populated.

Coworking area at Siemens Real Estate. Design and Concept: DNA, CSMM, Foto: Ortwin Klipp

The article is an opinion piece by Timo Brehme, founder and managing director of the architectural and consulting company CSMM. For more information about CSMM click here.

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