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The Future of Work Six Months Later

November 12, 2020

In May, when TRUE Global Intelligence (TGI), the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, surveyed 500 Americans and 500 Brits currently working at home, the pandemic in those countries was still young, with lockdowns still in effect in many places since March and many still learning what the new normal meant for them.

I recall a client, Robert, with two school-aged children, waxing rhapsodic about being home with his kids during the workday and realizing how much of their lives he was missing out on, especially those golden childhood hours between school and dinnertime when they were most excited to share their day and play away the energy stored up from sitting at a desk. The client didn’t want to go back, he said, to how it was before, a full-time dad who nonetheless mostly saw his kids evenings and weekends because, like most office workers, he was tied to his desk and devices.

Most of the remote workers who participated in our survey feel the same way:

  • 80% feel less tired, healthier, more human, or more connected to their family since beginning remote work;
  • 75% report working from home for so long made them realize the things they were missing out on before;
  • And 56% — including 62% of executives and senior managers, a higher proportion than non-managers — believe the relationship between work and life was broken before the pandemic.

Asked about the future, our survey respondents were not interested in a return to a pre-pandemic work-life relationship. What they wanted instead was a dialogue, not just between themselves and their employers but across society:

  • 80% are enjoying the time they are spending with their family and want to do everything they can to keep it;
  • 62% don’t want to go back to how they balanced work and life before the pandemic;
  • 94% see a need for a dialogue between management and employees to set expectations for one another based on what’s been learned during the pandemic;
  • And 91% believe we should take this opportunity to have a true discussion as a society about how work and life should coexist moving forward.

It’s now six months later, we’re well into Q4. The suspended quality of time during the pandemic will, hopefully, give way sometime in 2021 to a vaccine, and though it will not be a silver bullet, we’ll surely find time suddenly short as we approach something like the return to public life we yearn for.

Between now and then, TGI is ready to help clients think through the tough questions that will determine how we as employers, employees and society balance work and life in the next normal:

  • What have we learned about running our businesses? What have we learned about running our lives? What were we missing before? What was extraneous? What do we need and not need to reach our business and personal goals?
  • How do we ensure all voices are heard with an equal opportunity to impact policy decisions? How can we facilitate genuine, authentic dialogue?
  • What is it that we want out of the work-life relationship in our next normal? How do we avoid letting ourselves default to the previous ways of doing that didn’t work for most employees and go about making deliberate choices to create the relationship we want?

These are hard questions, and the easiest answer is to avoid them entirely, assuming the next normal will coalesce on its own into “the way things are” just like the old normal. But the old normal didn’t work, and future-forward companies have already begun recrafting policies and expectations that will become the standard against which other companies are judged as they seek to retain and attract talent.