Mon Sep 07 2020 Michael McQueen

For as long as work has existed in the form we know it, the idea of a workplace has been a given. Work has traditionally been the place you go between 9 and 5, Monday and Friday, where the tasks of your job are conducted in the vicinity of your colleagues.

Recent years have seen changes in the workplace begin to emerge with the advent of automation and Artificial Intelligence. Working from home has become a viable option for many businesses in recent years as our capacity for online connection has increased and autonomous work has risen in popularity along with collaborative work.

However, this year more than any other has seen the rate of this change reach unprecedented levels as we have had to rapidly adjust to our work being conducted from home in isolation. Businesses and individuals have had to adapt to a version of work characterised by Zoom meetings, home offices and a challenging blur of work-life balance.

Society is fast discovering that the future it once envisaged for work will arrive much earlier than expected and it may take on a form that we had not anticipated.

Thinking about these changes can be assisted by 3 key questions:

1. Will we return?

Working from home has, no doubt, been challenging for the majority of people. Distractions are potentially far more disrupting when we are at home, and emails and Zoom calls can prove difficult to engage with. Remote work has brought with it an unintended extension of the work day as work-life balance is disrupted and time once spent commuting is bought back. The idea generation and creativity that was once fostered in incidental conversations with colleagues is lost as are the feelings of connection essential to an effective team.

Despite its challenges, corporate leaders are recognising the benefits of remote work: increased flexibility, greater autonomy, not to mention decreased lease payments. In the US, 82% of corporate leaders have stated that they will allow their teams and employees to conduct their work remotely for some of the time moving forward. 47% have said they will allow full time working from home for employees, suggesting a significant change in the way leaders and businesses are thinking about work. 75% of workers say that they are able to focus from home.[1]

The reality is though that people miss the social aspect of work and we are collectively learning that our workplaces serve more purposes than our mere productivity. The lack of work-life balance and the isolation from collective events is unsustainable as it prevents the establishment of rapport and creativity. Our physical interaction with colleagues is simply necessary for effective team building with non-verbal cues and a sense of atmosphere being essential for building trust and connection with teammates.[2]

Our return to work is probable, as many find that the benefits of a physical team outweigh the convenience of remote work, but the work we will return to will look vastly different to the one we know.

2. What will we return to?

The future of our work will demand our spaces to function differently. At a practical level, physical distancing will be certain and will be enabled by various emerging technologies that monitor traffic within buildings, vital signs in individuals and social distancing between workers. Health screening, contact tracing and temperature checks will be common. Hands-free technology will also become more essential than ever before with technology like gesture detection for elevator buttons and facial recognition access passes.[3]

At a more abstract level, the future that is emerging for our work will demand spaces that offer more than just a collection of desks and meeting rooms. It will demand spaces where teams can study complex issues and collaborate effectively for innovative solutions and it will also need spaces for specialised learning as our exposure to a crisis has required a fast acquisition of specific knowledge to deal with it.[4]

Moreover, a hybrid style of work will become our new norm, and we are already seeing this embraced in many sectors. Many businesses are already utilising the abilities offered by Augmented Reality to allow physical teamwork to be conducted from various locations. I know from my own work that events are fast becoming a combination of video and live audience, pre-recording and live.

3. What will our return require?

These new norms will mean a new approach to work will be necessary and much of this new approach will involve a boost in the Trust Economy.[5]

I’m sure we have all experienced a shared laugh as a family member walks past on a Zoom call or a moment of connection in an online conversation surrounding our experiences of COVID. Phone calls and online meetings like this would have once been reserved for work and work alone but, as we have been deprived of regular forms of socialisation, many have seen work-related conversations become points of human connection. Where this once would have taken place in our incidental office conversations, it now takes place from our own homes, allowing an authenticity to enter business where it may not have before.

However, these levels of authenticity and transparency come with an increased need for trust between colleagues and employers. Similarly, as COVID has brought about a need for flexibility as suddenly schedules and the management of work and home differ for each worker, trust is needed to bridge the gaps.[6]

When it comes down to it, COVID is simply alerting us to what we already knew deep down. Work is changing, technology is evolving, community is essential and ultimately the quality that will make these transitions possible and will form the connections between business and public, employer and worker and fellow colleagues, is trust.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

To see Michael speaking live, click here and for more information on Michael's speaking topics,


[1] Mims, C 2020, ‘The Work-From-Home Shi Shocked Companies—Now They’re Learning Its Lessons,’ Wall Street Journal, 7 September.

[2] Berinato, S 2020, ‘What Is An Office For?’ Harvard Business Review, 7 September.

[3] 2020, ‘Reopening: The Tech-Enabled Office In A Post-Covid World’, CB Insights, 7 September.

[4] Berinato, S 2020, ‘What Is An Office For?’ Harvard Business Review, 7 September.

[5] Ghose, B 2020, ‘Why 2020 will see the birth of the 'trust economy’, World Economic Forum, 7 September.

[6] Ibid.