It is no novelty that COVID-19 had deeply impacted our lives and brought several changes in our daily routine and social behaviors. The safest way to react to the uncertainty of the pandemic - staying home and keeping the social distance - made us develop new habits that had profoundly changed our routines.

As the situation slowly gets better in many countries, we wonder what life will be like after what we have lived through the last year and a half. 

Will there be a new normal? 
How will we perceive the long-term effects of the pandemic?

Although the answers may vary, I believe we can all agree that things will not be the same after COVID-19. And maybe the most noticeable change is the one that shifted our entire routine: where - and how - we perform our daily work.

The pandemic played a fundamental role in accelerating the development of ways of working. Companies had to adapt quickly, and the employees had to set up and organize their lives to adopt more flexible working practices, including remote working. Teams had to readjust and start using new technologies, software, and apps to stay in touch and keep collaborating. 

But how would it be after the pandemic is over? Are we comfortable working from home or eager to go back to the workplace, to having face-to-face meetings and socializing with our peers? 

According to Global Workplace Analytics, the demand for flexibility at work is not recent. It has been building for decades, as surveys repeatedly showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. The pandemic enhanced this desire and forced companies to adapt very intensively over a short period. However, the concept of remote work has been on the agenda for ages.

The youngest generations strive for new forms of work that include a more balanced routine that allows them to fill their lives with more than just work. They have grown up in a digital world with access to several possibilities - including career paths - that did not exist in the past decades and were not available for the previous generations. They want to be able to develop themselves wider than the offices.

Deloitte highlights that the Millennials and Gen-Z consider flexibility the most critical employee characteristic for a successful business. The study also shows that the top non-financial business priorities are ensuring work-life balance and supporting employees' mental health - both intrinsically connected.

Another study, The Born Digital Effect, shows that 90% of millennials and Gen-Z do not want to return to full-time office work post-pandemic, and  51% prefer the hybrid type of work - but would rather work remotely most of the time. 

Several organizations are taking the lead towards this new future of ways of work. To quote a few, Twitter, Shopify, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, Slack, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Salesforce have extended their work-from-home options.

Microsoft affirms that hybrid work is here to stay and that remote work will create new job opportunities and positively contribute to the development of work-life balance for employees. Adopting hybrid work should be a priority for companies that want to attract and retain the talents of the new generation. That is one of the conclusions from the 2021 Work Trend Index research, conducted with more than 30.000 people. According to the report, 73% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, and 66% of the leaders consider adopting the hybrid model. 

But working remotely is not all the new generations strive for. Studies have shown that flexible practices should also embrace the number of hours and the level of productivity of the workers. 

According to Gartner's 2020 Reimagine HR Employee Survey, only 36% of employees were high performers at organizations with a standard 40-hour workweek. “When organizations shift from this environment to one of radical flexibility where employees have a choice over where, when and how much they work, 55% of employees were high performers.”

Iceland has recently shown great results in adopting a four-day week practice. Through years, it had conducted a trial with more than 2.500 workers that concluded that productivity remained the same - or even improved - and workers felt less stressed and had improved their health and work-life balance. 86% of Iceland’s working population are now on contracts that have either moved them to shorter working hours or give them the right to do so in the future.

Remote work also has benefits extended from the employees to the company and the environment.

Working from home is more sustainable: when workers don't commute, they reduce their CO2 imprint, causing less traffic in the cities, which positively contributes to the environment. It also affects the cities structures - when people don't need to live close to their work, they have more freedom to choose other cities to explore, which helps reduce the concentration of people in the city centers.

It can also reduce organizational costs: companies can reduce the size of their offices, save on renting spaces and other bills. According to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, "a typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time."

On the other hand, there are also several concerns about this practice that need to be taken into consideration.

When working from home, it can be hard to separate personal lives from work, which leads to a worsening in life-work balance. Some people also feel the pressure to be online and available all the time or keep checking their emails even at night. For most of these situations, there is one main rule: set boundaries. The technologies we use to facilitate our communication and collaboration should not hold strength upon us. We must be mindful in defining a working schedule, having a specific place to work from, and making sure the people around us know we are busy. You may need to develop new routines and create habits to support the working remotely practice. 

It has come a time in which organizations need to make an effort to understand how they can implement more flexible working practices.

Because one thing is for sure: this is not a trend. This change is here to stay. It may have been enhanced by the pandemic, but it has been building up for ages, and it only tends to increase and consolidate with the working expectations of the Millennials and Gen Zs.

And as we saw over the last years, adapting to a world full of challenges is the key for organizations - and people - to thrive. 

As part of these younger generations, I hope to see, sooner than later, more companies adopting the hybrid models and paying more attention to their employees' mental health and work-life conditions. 

It is time to accept we need to embrace change - and I look forward to seeing who will be leading the way.

Have a great and impactful week!

Natália Cantarino
MSc Student at CATÓLICA-LISBON and Research Fellow at the Center for Responsible Business & Leadership 

This article refers to edition #95 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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