The coronavirus pandemic has upended the structure of businesses all over the world. Companies have scrambled to create temporary fixes, from work-from-home options to layoffs to total shutdowns. With no end in sight, uncertainty pervades the workplace. Recorded June 16th, this new TED talk could not be more relevant. James Ludwig, vice president of global design and product engineering at the office supply company Steelcase, engages in conversation with TED curator Chee Pearlman about the long term future of organizations. Here are some notable insights into the talk and James' perspective on the future and potential reopening.
3 Insights About The Workplace Illuminated By The COVID-19 Pandemic
1. This is a massive technological shift and generation-defining moment
Ludwig proposes the idea that there is “now, the near, and the far” for companies. We are only just beginning to understand and approach the “now”, which is to remain safe within the pandemic. The near is how companies will return to the physical workplace, if ever. The far, long-lasting impacts of this crisis are not yet conceptualized. Ludwig refers to this time as an “experiment” for companies, and in a sense, it is. It is a test of resiliency at all levels, from employees to CEOs. But, it is also an opportunity for change.
2. People need to physically collaborate and connect to sustain most workplaces
Ludwig makes the claim that it’s simply unsustainable for most companies to stay remote forever. He emphasizes that being together as a team shapes the culture of brands. Competitive advantage is formed through this culture, through interpersonal connection and cultivation. For many businesses, Zoom meetings and emails can’t recreate the ecosystem of a good team. Connecting as individuals, pushing each other and learning from each other, sharing food and humor, growing and adapting together—this is what makes a good workplace.
3. Now is the time to see what is truly essential for offices when reopening
Taking a step away from the cookie-cutter workplace allows the opportunity for tremendous positive change. We can delve into individual-focused design that supports employee wellbeing both physically and mentally. Companies have the chance to be creative and strip away redundancies that hinder productivity and safety. Additionally, how businesses respond to future crises is contingent on how workplaces are shaped right now.
To follow up with this point, Ludwig lays out what is essential to the generations of now and the future. He sees a technologically-rich, human-centric environment with strong values that connect individuals as key. Ludwig claims that after the pandemic is over, people will continue to lean into what is authentic and fulfilling in the workplace. After spending months in lockdown working from your couch, you get a better grasp of what is really necessary to be productive and what you sincerely miss about your office. A high-walled cubicle or private office may now seem constrictive.
So, looking for the insights during this unusual time seems to be a good strategy for organizations. While quarantines and forced remote work scenarios have challenged many, this time also presents unique learning opportunities.
Questions to Consider
Here are just a few questions to think about as you work to gain greater insight into the impact COVID-19 has had on you and your work. What redundancies can you identify in your work processes that may slow down productivity? Also, are there things you miss about working in an office environment that you previously took for granted? What components of your work flow are most important to keep you productive, organized and happy? Are there long term changes would you like to see implemented at your company or on your team, that were inspired by this pandemic? Plus, what does a thriving office culture look like after reopening? Asking these questions will help ensure a strong organization, and safe reopening if and when the time is right.
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