The coronavirus swept the globe in the spring of 2020. What we thought would be a temporary illness for some has become a pandemic for all, for months on end. While the continuous spread of the virus might be coming to an end shortly, the wounds are deep. Work-wise, the impact is mixed; some negative and some positive. As I began pondering the future of work post-pandemic, I found I had more questions than answers.

If you read my article from last week, you know that remote workers aren’t interested in going back to the office full-time. However, they are also missing the collaboration and community that in-person interactions bring. Companies are happy to reduce their expenses by not paying for large office buildings while maintaining a productive workforce. But they also recognize the need for some physical space at least part-time.

The future of work will move towards a hybrid model. Gone are the days where all employees commute to the same building and sit at the same desk from 9-5. However, working in isolation from makeshift home offices 100% of the time will not become the new normal. Companies will allow purpose to dictate the use of office space and employees will have a choice. But more is unknown than known about work in 2021; these are the macro questions I’m grappling with…

Will remote work be an equalizer or widen the gap?

Remote work might provide more opportunities for underrepresented populations to thrive in the white-collar job market. On the other hand, going virtual might be one more thing that boxes them out. Specifically, I am interested in the impact remote work will have on women and gender inequality in the workforce. In a BBC interview, Melinda Gates said that women were clustered in low-paying jobs pre-pandemic, and therefore were 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs. Women who didn’t lose their jobs were forced into balancing housework and work in an environment where they are both constant and competing.

In my eyes, there are two potential paths. First, remote work will help partners share household duties more equitably. Plus, the flexibility will prevent women from having to make difficult choices between children and career. Without long commutes and strict office hours, both parents will have the ability to work full-time if they choose, and participate in household chores such as cooking dinner, doing laundry, and picking up the kids. Men can spend more time inside the home engaging with their children and contributing to household chores, giving women more time to advance in their careers.

However, just because they can doesn’t mean they will. Jean-Nicolas Reyt states that women have a more difficult time advancing professionally because they are more likely to prioritize their family responsibilities over their careers. In the future, working from home might intensify these feelings making women less present, focused, and productive.

Future of Work, Hardly

Will companies start to employ a more international workforce and what does that mean for domestic workers?

Remote work has expanded opportunities for international teams, but are domestic employees still more desirable? This year, our company hired four international employees, all in different time zones. From Thailand to Japan to London, Hardly has been able to pull talent from every end of the globe. Part of me thinks we are trendsetters. Without location being a factor, the talent pool is only narrowed by language and experience. With new platforms to make working with international teams seamless, distance will play a less prominent role in hiring.

Now, we have a “virtual first” style of work: designed for the remote worker rather than adapted. Everything will be saved to a cloud, and onboarding processes will be automated. Hiring international remote workers won’t require managers to do duplicative work or go out of their way, it will just be the standard. While there are many positives to hiring internationally, there could be negative consequences for the domestic workforce. US workers might be pushed out by companies trying to maximize profits by hiring people from countries where the cost of living is significantly lower and therefore, so is their wage. But currently, companies are rewarded for supporting America and Americans through job creation. Just like there has been a push to buy local, hiring local might become a new grassroots movement.

Future of Work, Hardly

In the future, will workers and companies alike be dehumanized?

The pandemic has caused many of us to become more humanitarian. While some believe a shutdown is the best way to save lives, others believe keeping the economy running is the protection we need. Either way, we all agree that human lives have value and should therefore be treated with care. But what makes someone human and what makes us care about them? Without the break room chats or company holiday parties, the person on the other side of the email becomes faceless. 

Some say they know less about their coworkers since working from home. People don’t discuss their children in passing, their quirky habits aren’t observable from across the room, and personality goes unseen with more communication via email. Without the ability to connect in-person, we run the risk of being degraded to worker bees.

However, some have had the opposite experience. Zoom has provided them a window into coworkers’ lives outside of the office in a very real way. A colorful painting in a colleague’s living room may lead to a conversation about their experience in Thailand, or seeing books may lead to a conversation of Russian authors.

If video chats and Slack conversations aren’t enough to help management form relationships with their team, they might not be as empathetic when a personal matter comes up. Employees won’t feel cared for and therefore won’t feel connected.  On the company side,  a lack of physical spaces makes it more difficult to embody a mission or culture. In other words, companies could become empty shells where people simply work to earn a paycheck and nothing more. A soulless company attracts soulless employees who only complete the bare minimum because they don’t believe in the work they are doing. To avoid this, companies will have to encourage coworkers to converse on a personal level and find a way to keep the company’s personality alive and well in a virtual setting.

Final word

If I’m honest, I have so many more questions about the future of work. Will people become more or less defined by their work? Will there be a great migration from urban areas to small suburbs? What new skills do you need to be a competitive candidate in the remote work scene? These topics may be seeds for next year’s articles but until then, use them as food for thought and if you have any predictions about the future of work, leave us a comment on our social media below!

Years ago when I lived in DC, I would get off at Farragut North Metro Station every morning and pass by the WeWork on K Street.  I would imagine myself sitting against the huge windows sipping a cappuccino, signing up for speaker events and book signings, and networking with fellow young professionals of all industries.  To me, coworking spaces were lands of opportunity; symbols of working on my own terms, community, and collaboration. Flexibility at its finest. Lack of structure left room for pervasive creativity, and the flow of people breathed new life into each day.

Coworking Space, Hardly

Fast forward to 2020 and the realization that I could potentially be living in San Francisco after leaving Japan.

I was excited about having the opportunity to join a coworking space. In such a big city there was a variety to choose from; some dedicated to providing a space for female entrepreneurs to network, some marketed towards those in the arts who want to be in an interactive cultural hub, and some focused on becoming your one-stop-shop for morning coffee, conferences, lunch dates, and happy hour cocktails. One coworking space even had yoga rooms, nursing areas for new moms, and beauty counters! I promise I’m not the only one who was buzzing about these new spaces. Prior to the pandemic, coworking spaces comprised less than 5% of the market but were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate, said Forbes. In fact, they were expected to make up 30% of the market by 2030 according to JLL.

Here comes Covid-19! So what now? The pandemic that many of us thought would be over by now has changed the way we do life and business forever. A Stanford study found that remote workers are 13% more productive. A recent Gartner study suggested that 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. In addition, the whole reason people were told to work from home was to prevent them from gathering in one space, so I initially thought that COVID would be the death of coworking. However, after careful consideration, I have done a 180.

My prediction: coworking spaces will begin to thrive during and post-pandemic and here are the three reasons why:

Coworking Space, Hardly

People miss the social interaction and sense of community

I am a social butterfly. Too long in isolation and I am itching to see another human. Yes, I know we have these cool techy devices that allow us to FaceTime, but it’s not the same as striking up a conversation with someone next to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility and that my commute to the couch takes two seconds. But I don’t think the pajamas and pancakes make up for the camaraderie I feel when I’m in an office setting. Humans are social beings. We are better together!

Now, you could make the argument that Zoom meetings and chat platforms provide just as much opportunity for social interaction, but 9 times out of 10 I am more engaged in a conversation when I am physically with the person rather than looking through a screen. An Inc. article stated that 45% of those surveyed said they specifically missed social connections at the office the most. 

Coworking spaces provide a solution to this. We can be unsociable worker bees for three days out of the week and then get to interact with our team members in a rented space for a couple of hours on Monday and Friday to bond, brainstorm, and feel the sense of community around us.  

Coworking Space, Hardly

People want to create more separation between their personal and professional lives

One of the difficulties with working from home is that there is no physical delineation between work and home. This makes it difficult to mentally draw the line too. Using the same space for our personal and professional lives causes work time and playtime to blur. Yikes! 

While there is the perk of being able to do loads of laundry or prep dinner between traditional work hours, we are also answering emails and working on deliverables after six o’clock. For those of us who live on busy streets or with a roommate, it’s hard to get the peace and quiet we need to focus on the task at hand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who are trying to run a daycare or 3rd-grade classroom while working.

Bottom line — people are starting to remember some of the benefits of commuting to a secondary location where their only job was to do the job they were getting paid for! Coworking spaces could provide the perfect balance between going into a corporate office and working from our living rooms. You won’t be expected to show up at 8 a.m. sharp  or take sick leave every time you have a dental appointment, but you will have a place away from the distractions of your home to work efficiently. Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too?

Coworking Space, Hardly

Conventional corporate offices are unnecessary and expensive, but companies realize employees need a place to work together in person

It’s no surprise that companies are thrilled that productivity is up and expenses are down. Fast Company stated long-term lease signing in NYC plummeted 72% in the second quarter of 2020. Companies are either relocating their headquarters or nixing them all together.

Companies are finding that “remote only” is not a sustainable long-term solution. Collaboration, onboarding, and team management are just a few aspects of work that are done better in person and affect company culture and profitability. Once again, it could be coworking spaces to the rescue. 

Instead of wasting money on huge office buildings 365 days per year, coworking spaces allow for companies to make office space purpose-driven rather than obligatory. With the ability to sign short-term flexible leases for the month or reserve conference rooms by the hour or the day, companies can save goo-gobs of money and still provide employees face-to-face interaction when needed.

So what do coworking spaces need to do to become the future of work?

For one, safety is key.  Remember, gathering in a space with a bunch of strangers is counterintuitive to being COVID conscious. Therefore, plans for sanitation and spacing are key.

Secondly, marketing might need to shift more heavily towards corporations playing into their desire to save money and have a flexible office space.

Thirdly, coworking spaces have to continue to innovate and maintain their personalities. Instead of being a skeleton for companies to fill, coworking spaces should still have their own theme or mission and attract companies and individuals based on that. As usual, it’s all about finding a happy medium.

Would you join a coworking space? Why or why not?