The Post-Virus Working World

How your office may exist in the “new normal.”

Posted Apr 14, 2020

Stockfreeimages
Source: Stockfreeimages

We are all waiting to see what the new working world will look like when the COVID-19 virus finally subsides. There are many “losing categories” in this pandemic, which we have never experienced in the modern world from a global impact perspective: jobs; crushing demands on our healthcare systems, products, and employees; our 401ks; restaurant owners and service employees; travel-related entities; toilet paper users; and our sinking peace of mind and rising anxiety.

There are some early “winners”: toilet paper manufacturers; Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service; Netflix and Hulu; the national and cable news channels (and their advertising rates); trucking companies; and Zoom.us. Everyone, including even your saintly grandmother, is now a Zoom fan. On this meeting platform, we’re seeing business meetings, virtual playdates with kids, long-lost relatives connecting again, virtual Scrabble games, and the shift back to online training programs.

As a trainer, I’ve used Zoom since it started in 2011. My clients enjoy the convenience and it eliminates travel costs for training. I certainly like standing in front of a live and lively group to do my programs but sometimes it feels nice to dress down (shirt and tie on top, swim trunks on the bottom) and teach a class online, with no bumpy airplane trips, rental cars (I just paid for my second cracked windshield this year), and lookalike hotels. The platform is much more stable than Skype and user-friendly for even the most technophobic out there.

For all its benefits, Zoom and similar connection platforms fall into the scary category known as the “Creators of Unintended Consequences.” Using Zoom means less need to hire trainers for certain subjects or at the least to ask those trainers to lower their presentation fees since no travel is necessary to do their sessions. But take this small example and grow the population to include salespeople (no need to meet at the customer’s facility to demonstrate the product); IT consultants (just install it for us remotely); or banking and financial professionals (no need to audit us here; we’ll send you the files).

The community of business people who don’t or won’t want to travel to do their work impacts the employment of airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and restaurants. Each of those primary categories has many employee subcategories: airline pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, gate agents, jet mechanics; hotel desk clerks, maids, and maintenance people; rental car counter agents and maintenance people; and restaurant host staff, wait staff, bartenders, barbacks, busboys, dishwashers, cooks and chefs. And don’t forget the small business owners and franchisees, who either have to figure out if they can operate with a skeleton crew (of overworked and scared employees, who obviously don’t relish making face-to-face contact with the public) or close their doors forever.

I was just talking with one of my friends who is a construction engineer for a water district in California. He said he called a construction subcontractor in the field to do some repairs at a job site. He was able to show the foreman, using the blueprints onsite and FaceTime on his iPhone, exactly what needed to be done and where, all from his home office.

As many employees have become rapid adopters of Zoom, this has led them to question the need to "go to the office" at all. My pal was talking to his boss and they are discussing decentralizing the majority of their water district employees to work from home, once the pandemic is over. Work from home saves companies lots of money on office rents, furniture, supplies, and coffee. (There are issues related to distance management, worker’s comp coverage, and the need for real human connections to be discussed.) Maybe job recruiters will be enticing new candidates to work from home by saying, “You can stay in your pajamas! We have the best IT servers and the highest Internet speeds!”

We know plenty of examples where technology will create as many or more problems than it solves. Driverless semi-trucks sound awesome until one hits a disabled school bus full of kids because the onboard computer doesn’t recognize the driver waving from the side of the road. Drones that deliver from above sounds like a cool way to get a pizza until one hits the power lines and darkens the neighborhood.

The late management guru Warren Bennis once said, “The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

Can we agree that even if we have products and services and exciting new technologies to optimize those things, we will still need real people, not only to supervise the equipment but to engage with each other, in the same room?

Dr. Steve Albrecht is a webinar trainer, HR consultant, and employee coach.