Future Of Work: Forget “Back To Normal”

Future Of Work: Forget “Back To Normal”
It’s time to change how we talk about the future of work, and focus on moving forward to new ways of working.
  • Too many conversations around the future of work are focusing on ‘back to normal’ or the ‘new normal’. 
  • If the words we are using focus on going back rather than moving forward, what does this mean for us, for what lies ahead? 
  • It’s time to change how we talk about the future of work, and focus on moving forward to new ways of working. 

If you read the news regularly, chances are you’ve read plenty of articles about going “back to normal”. You’ve also read plenty of articles about the “new normal”.  

It seems to be the talk of the year.  

But it shouldn’t be.  

The focus of news stories and trends around the future of work is slightly flawed: we’re focusing too much on what’s behind us and too little on what’s ahead of us.  

Quick disclaimer: Allwork.Space, especially myself, have erred on this issue plenty of times over the past 15 months.  

Here’s What’s Wrong with “Back to Normal” or the “New Normal” 

 Someone recently asked me: why would we ever want to go back to normal? It implies moving backwards, and why would we want that?  

I get it, nobody likes change—or at least not too much change too fast; but to think about going back to normal seems counterproductive; rather than thinking of what’s ahead and opening ourselves up to opportunity, we’re confining ourselves to what we already know…and that certainly does not lead to innovation.  

Think about it: 

Would we go back to horses? Back to candles? Back to no internet?  

Not really, so why should today be any different? 

As for the “new normal”, here’s the thing: if it’s new, then it can’t be normal…at least not yet.  

Granted, the mistake is likely a wording and phrasing one. At least I want to believe so. However, language—and how we speak—shapes our beliefs and how we think. If the words we are using are focusing on going back rather than moving forward, what does this mean for us, for what lies ahead? 

It’s time to change how we talk and think about the future of work.  

Forward into New Ways of Work 

Truth is, there’s no going back to how things were. At least in the realm of work.  

  • There’s no going back to cramped offices. 
  • There’s no going back to the traditional 9 to 5.  
  • There’s no going back to work-life separation. 
  • There’s no going back to mechanical and analogue technologies.  

Can you imagine a future of work where: 

  • Employees are expected to be in the office every day from 9 to 5? 
  • Employees do not rely on digital technologies to collaborate and work? 
  • Workers are happily and willingly commuting every day to go to the office? 
  • Employees are able to leave work at the office and fully forget about it at home? 

I, for one, cannot.  

The coronavirus pandemic has completely upended the world of work.  

How Has Work Changed?  

The better question is: how hasn’t it? 

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Here’s a quick—and by no means complete—list of how the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing worldwide lockdowns have changed the world of work: 

  • Remote work  
  • Flexible schedules 
  • Bye, bye business travel 
  • A greater focus on wellbeing and mental health 
  • Digital transformation 
  • Hiring and onboarding 
  • Less commute time (or no commute) 
  • Highlighting the importance of learnability and upskilling.  

What Lies Ahead? 

As we think about the future of work and what lies ahead, we need to think about ways in which we are already, and will continue to, reimagine work.  

At the top of my head, here are two elements that I believe are not going “back to normal”: 

1. Remote Work 

Remote work is here to stay.  

Google may not think so, having recently announced that it will expect workers to go back into the office in the fall; but the reality is that most companies will embrace some sort of remote work.  

Companies that do not embrace remote work will quickly see their top talent flock to other companies. Despite the fact that surveys have found that workers miss the office, many employees will not be as willing to commute every day of the week to go into the office…let alone to stay in the office for 8 hours a day.  

2. Parenting during the Work Day 

Remember the video interview the BBC did with Robert Kelly back in 2017?  

It went viral because Kelly’s daughter walked in while he was interviewing live via video. Back then, such a situation was unimaginable, and Kelly apologized on screen for the interruption.  

Today, children interrupting virtual meetings is much more common. What else can we expect if parents are expected to work from home while schools and day care facilities remain closed?  

While it certainly is common, it’s not yet normalized. And this is an issue.  

Moving forward, companies will need to normalize parenting during the work day. Last year, there was an exodus of women from the workforce, and this exodus needs to be reversed sooner rather than later. To attract parents—and most importantly, women—back into the workforce, companies will need to allow for parenting to take place during the workday.  

The line between life and work has been completely eliminated. We cannot go back to keeping our personal lives and work lives separate; we need to start thinking of ways in which we can better integrate them.  

For working parents, it starts by having permission to parent and work at the same time.  

Reshaping the Conversation 

We can’t go back. We shouldn’t want to go back.  

As we continue to think about the future of work and what lies ahead, let’s think more about ‘new’ and less about ‘normal’.

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