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What is the Future of Work?

Jonny Whinney | November 2022

Sales Executive

You’d be surprised at the sheer range of answers that follow the question above. If you ask an 8 year old, you’ll likely hear of an overwhelmingly optimistic vision with great leaps taken in innovation and technology. Yet if you ask Elon Musk, you’ll probably hear his discourse on the immediate future, and what conditions employees must accept in order for optimal growth to be achieved.

Unfortunately for Musk, the global shift to remote work during the accommodation of Covid-19 demystified several fragile myths. Whilst certain businesses and their staff may benefit from a full-time in person arrangement, employment during the pandemic proved to many that they could be just as (if not more) productive when not travelling into the office.

Unsurprisingly, this realisation is of huge concern to many employers. Freedom to work remotely has become an important factor that prospects contemplate when considering an offer of employment. In a 2021 survey by Nature, 75% of US employees reported a personal preference for working from home at least one day a week, and 40% of employees indicated they would quit a job that required full-time in-person work.

What’s more, this is not just the US. Velocity Smart commissioned research that found 47% of UK office workers are ready to walk away from their current job if full-time in-person work is required. In other words, if your employees aren’t given the opportunity to have their needs considered, fear the worst.

"47% of UK office workers are ready to walk away from their current job if full-time in-person work is required."

Employee dissatisfaction is not a new phenomenon, and yet the increase in voluntary resignations has been so stark, ‘the Great Resignation’ and ‘the Big Quit’ have frequented the front pages. Business leaders who are prepared to offer a more flexible approach to the means of employment for their staff are well positioned to poach top talent from workplaces that don’t. Not only are people keen to have the freedom to pick which days they attend in-person, they care about the qualities and values of the individuals for whom their labour chiefly benefits. And if that beneficiary disregards your need to collect your child from school, what do you make of their values?

I was fortunate to attend the Unified Communications Expo 2022 at London’s ExCeL, where experts and business leaders congregated to engage in the latest developments in tech and research. Many panels were devoted to forecasting the very subject of discussion in this blog – the Future of Work. The conclusions across the industry were almost unanimous. Remote working is here to stay.

But that’s not to say that the abrupt switch to full-time working from home was a success for everyone, or that it came without challenges (or breakdowns). When we moved to Zoom in March of 2020, we (MCCGLC) were thankful for the ability to see each other. All things considered, the technology coped very well considering the lack of preparation.

But video-conferencing was never intended to replace the office – a shared space where work and non-work related conversations create bonds which in time blossom into relationships that foster a sense of belonging. The pandemic facilitated an experiment into the effectiveness of remote working tools on a huge scale, an experiment that produced an array of results.

In a laboratory study and a field experiment across five countries (in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia), Nature found that;

‘Even if video interaction could communicate the same information, there remains an inherent and overlooked physical difference in communicating through video that is not psychologically benign: in-person teams operate in a fully shared physical space, whereas virtual teams inhabit a virtual space that is bounded by the screen in front of each member… as virtual communicators narrow their visual scope to the shared environment of a screen, their cognitive focus narrows in turn. This narrowed focus constrains the associative process underlying idea generation, whereby thoughts ‘branch out’ and activate disparate information that is then combined to form new ideas’.

"As virtual communicators narrow their visual scope to the shared environment of a screen, their cognitive focus narrows in turn."

In other words, video conferencing can restrict our ability to think outside of the four walls of a video call. Similarly intriguing, their study also found that, whilst the generation of new ideas was compromised by remote working, other collaborative processes were not affected in the same way. When it comes to the next stage in the creative process, selecting which idea to pursue, the study found no evidence that suggested video-conferencing had a detrimental effect.

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association comprehensively researched the effects of ‘Zoom fatigue’ during Covid-19. The defined Video-conferencing fatigue phenomenon as ‘the degree to which people feel exhausted, tired, or worn out attributed to engaging in a videoconference’. Their thoroughly interesting study showed that the causes of video-conference fatigue are distinct from work fatigue- fatigue experienced at the end of a workday, and that further scientific inquiry is important to better understand the new phenomenon. They also determined that ‘group belonging’ is the single most effective variable in mitigating zoom fatigue due to the impact on behaviours during video calls. For instance, an individual with little sense of group belonging is more likely to ‘mute’ themselves for most of the meeting, engaging less but also resulting in higher mental fatigue.

So, what does all of this mean?

Well, remote working offers a range of benefits to both employer and employee. The reduced need for physical space coupled with the ability to hire for less from areas with a lower cost of living provide immediate economic advantages for employers, whilst employees benefit from the freedom to choose where they work, saving money and time with a commute that often consists of a walk downstairs.

However, video-conferencing clearly comes with certain disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages can be addressed through innovation of software. Other drawbacks of video-conferencing are best offset by combining in-person and virtual interaction with the aim to harness the best of both worlds. For employers, achieving the best of both may mean encouraging brainstorming meetings to be held in person, with the selection and execution of the chosen idea occurring remotely. The ideal balance between in-person and virtual will be relative to the industry and approach of each business. But if businesses who thrive and nurture their culture do plan on endorsing remote work, it is crucial that the benefits lost from no longer sharing a space are addressed.

"Other drawbacks of video-conferencing are best offset by combining in-person and virtual interaction with the aim to harness the best of both worlds."

The hybrid world is in its youth, yet there is not a second to lose in the pursuit for the ideal digital conditions that protect and ensure wellbeing and productivity. SPACEIN is passionate about helping business leaders optimise their efforts, applying new research to the development of our product. And we invite you to be the judge of our success.

If you’d like to know more about how SPACEIN has incorporated the research, reach out, or create your own space and see for yourself!

Ciao for now!

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