How the corona pandemic might permanently change our work-attitude

This article is a translated and slightly modified version of the article I originally wrote in Dutch for Bytecode. To read the original, click here.

Whether we like it or not, the corona pandemic is far from over. Even though quite some countries are slowly going back to “normal” (albeit with some more distance between each other), others have yet to reach the peak of their first wave.

We should not forget that, for most people, it will take a while to go back to the large office buildings, nearly hugging each other in the elevator while going to the meeting with everyone in person, cramming 8 people into a tiny room. Should we actually go back to this?

Working before corona times

If you think about it, the current mindset about work is pretty crazy. Why do I have to be in the office to do work that I might be able to do a lot more efficiently in other places? Why do I still have to go to the lecture hall, where I can’t skip parts I already know and where I can’t rewind if I want to hear something again (without delaying the lecture for others)?

Before the corona crisis, few people were lucky enough to have the opportunity to decide their own approach to work. Mostly, remote work is only allowed when ill. Starting earlier in the morning, so that you can finish earlier in the day? No chance of success. Starting later and finishing later because you’re not a morning person? Certainly not.

lecture hall

Our mindset about working can be improved

Is it really necessary to work in this “pre-corona” way? Do you have to be in the office for everything? Of course not everyone can (or wants to) be a digital nomad, flying across the world to work online in hotels. However, there are possibilities to make work more enjoyable for everyone. I don’t envision a shelf filler, car mechanic or electrician who works from home at times that suit him. But a translator, consultant or marketeer?

Personally, I am very attracted to the ideas from the async manifesto, a set of insights on how software development can be better implemented. The ideas come down to this: use modern tools, create a flexible work environment, do not disturb people’s concentration unless it’s urgent and only hold meetings when it’s really necessary. The async manifesto is focused primarily on software developers, but I think anyone with a non-physical profession can benefit from the tips given here.

When it comes to productivity, it seems that working from home (in a quiet office) is a lot more productive than working at the office. It is fairly easy to understand why this is the case for many people. Every time you are interrupted in a “deep-work” session, it takes 25 minutes to get your focus back. Not to mention the “this-could-have-been-an-email”-meetings that take an hour each.

How great would it be, instead of being constantly interrupted for some trivial question, to just answer non-urgent questions a few times per day? To not be disturbed by people who talk too loudly about yesterday’s soccer game? As Jason Fried explains in his TED talk, you have to be able to work long uninterrupted stretches to really get something done.

cat on keyboard tired of hearing corporate office jargon

The corona pandemic offers an opportunity to reflect on the current way of thinking

Now that a large part of us is still working from home due to the corona crisis, we have a chance to see what really works for us. Is that 9-to-5 job really ideal, or does a 10-to-6 or 7-to-3 job fit better, perhaps? Or why not 7-to-4 with an hour’s break to run a lap? And if 9-to-5 office-based work turns out to suit you best, that’s fine too, of course!

How am I actually most productive? And more importantly, how do I actually get the most satisfaction from my work? These are questions to which we will be able to find an answer in the near future, because we now have room for experimentation.

Hopefully the changes in (higher) education will also have a lasting effect, because of the long-awaited technological innovation.

I’m not in favour of closing down all the offices and changing to remote work as a standard, which is naturally unfeasible. For example, I also think that face-to-face meetings work better than talking on the phone. But I believe that - with companies large and small - a lot can be improved compared to the current situation, if the right balance can be found. Let’s hope that this will be a positive lasting effect of this corona crisis.