Business United States

A glimpse into the post-pandemic workplace

Working from home is the name of the game for most people still able to work right now. Many companies that were reluctant to provide work-from-home flexibility to their employees before the pandemic have been forced into it – for now. But what will happen when we are able to go back into work? And what new mindset will employees bring? Plus, learn the English expression “big picture.”

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  • A glimpse into the future of the workplace

    Hi everyone, welcome back to Plain English, lesson number 255. I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and you can find the complete lesson at PlainEnglish.com/255.

    How will COVID-19 affect the future of work? On today’s lesson, we’ll indulge in a bit of speculation about how the workplace will change after we all get back to work. The expression is “big picture.” And of course we have a video lesson and the exercises at PlainEnglish.com/255.


    The future of work post-COVID

    Nobody can know the future; if this year’s pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that. However, that shouldn’t stop us from speculating, right? So herewith is a bit of speculation on the future of the workplace.

    First, flexibility. Of course, not everyone has a job that can be done at home. However, many of us have jobs that can be done at least partially at home. But many employers around the world have been reluctant to embrace a work-from-home culture. Bosses have thought, if I can’t see you, how do I know you’re working? The fear of lost productivity and a lack of trust have prevented many companies from embracing any type of remote work.

    That’s all out the window. Some companies, of course, had a strong work-from-home culture, so this was nothing new for them. But for many others, this was a whole new thing. And the crisis has forced them to embrace remote work. One boss was skeptical of remote work before COVID and didn’t let anyone work at home. Now that everyone’s working at home, he says, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” That means, there’s no going back to the way it was before.

    Now that doesn’t mean everyone goes to a full-time remote work arrangement. But maybe we don’t go back to the full five-day-a-week in the office routine, either. It could be that companies are more flexible about the time you spend in the office versus at home, or the exact hours of the week that you spend working. Imagine deciding to go to the movies in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. No one would dare. But in the future, we might be a little more relaxed about what exact hours are work hours, if we’ve learned to be flexible.

    We will all go back to offices—so what will those look like? In recent years, the office design trend has been to cram more and more people into smaller and smaller spaces. Private offices were knocked down in favor of wide-open spaces, no privacy. It was good for collaboration, they told us; but we knew also knew it was about saving money on office rent. I’m not sure things totally go back the other way, but you might see some more personal dividers, some more space between desks. Hoteling, or as some people call it, hot-desking, may not be quite as popular as people shy away from shared spaces.

    We’ve all gotten used to working at home, and having some of the comforts of home available to us during the workday. Might some of that find its way into office design? You might have a casual brainstorming session on a couch, sit with a report at a high-top table as you have breakfast, or—heaven forbid—take your computer outside on a nice day. Enterprising employers might try to bring some comforts of home into the office. There is, we’ve discovered, no law of productivity that says you must be at a boring desk to be working.

    Let’s think a little bigger. We’ve done without in person meetings for over a month now. Will people re-think how many of those long and boring meetings were truly necessary? What’s more, we’re now all embracing more video and technology at work. Could we take a meeting—which is what’s called a synchronous communication, meaning that everyone has to be there at the same time—could we take a meeting and turn it into a webinar? Or just an online video? That’s an asynchronous communication; not everyone has to be in the same place at the same time to consume it and get the same benefits.

    How many times has a meeting just been one person talking? That’s not a meeting: that’s a seminar. That can be recorded and sent out, even preserved for the future. One of my hopes for the future of work is that we’ll spent less time together in meetings—but the time we do spend together will be necessary and quality time.

    Here’s another big picture question. We’re all working at home, independently. We’re making the most of technology. We’re balancing a lot of priorities, more so than before. Is the time right to challenge the idea that every professional must have exactly one job? If you can get a traditional, professional your job done in, say, four days a week, you might be able to work part time somewhere else—dedicate just one day a week, or maybe one week a month, to another job that only needs a little extra work done. Imagine having a primary job that’s 80 percent of your attention and represents your long-term career trajectory, but then having a 20 percent job with another company. That can be your passion project, or a way to exercise some skills that aren’t in demand at your primary employer.

    This is a taboo idea these days. Employers say, we want you to bring your whole self and whole attention to work. Employees just go along with it. Part-time work has a stigma to it. I don’t necessarily think it should. There is, again, no law of the universe that says your only contribution to the economy can be with just one employer for one hundred percent of the time.

    A lot of people like the safety and security of having a single employer provide a big and regular paycheck. But I also think a lot of people will appreciate the freedom to be free agents—to do an amount of work in one place, and an amount of work in another place. And if the coronavirus shows that it’s possible to work remotely and independently and flexibly, then we might be ready for a revolution in the way we organize our work lives. A generation ago, it was common to work for a single company for your entire career. Today, that seems quaint; we can hardly imagine an arrangement as rigid as that. The next generation may scoff at the notion that you had to do all your work for just one employer at a time.


    The transition to the new web site is well under way—ahem, Lesson 251. It’s well under way because I started a long time ago—back in December, I really got going—and it has really progressed very well. We’re going to have a lot of new features, both on the free side and as part of Plain English Plus+ . New look and feel, new colors. New organization. The changes are all on the web site, by the way—the audio program you’re listening to on Spotify or Apple Podcasts won’t change. But the web site is going to be a great companion to the program. A lot of you are interested in what these changes are going to be, so we set up a landing page for you to get the latest news on that—sneak previews, special offers, things like that. So if you’re interested, come visit us at PlainEnglish.com/new .

    Big picture

    The English expression we’re talking about today is “big picture.” What does it mean to look at the big picture? Or to have a big picture idea? It means to have a wide or complete perspective. It’s the opposite of being obsessed with small details. You’re thinking about the big, strategic questions when you’re thinking about the big picture.

    Let me give you an example. Zoom and Microsoft Teams are two different ways of holding an online meeting. A detail-oriented question might be, Which is better for organizing an online meeting, Zoom or Microsoft Teams? A big-picture question might be, “What can we do to improve the quality of our online meetings? Do we even need to have online meetings at all?” That’s a big-picture question.

    Earlier in the lesson, I was talking about the way work might change. And I started with some tactical things—how an office might be designed. But then I pivoted to some big-picture questions. Do we need to work for just one employer at a time, or can we be free agents? The arrangement of the desks in the office is a detail-type question; asking, do we even need to be in an office is a big-picture question.

    Have you ever been in a discussion and you think people are worrying too much about small, inconsequential things? Here’s something you can say in that situation: We need to be thinking about the big picture. Let’s think about the big picture here. I mentioned I’m redesigning the web site. Let’s pretend JR and I are together having a strategy session. I’m worried about the text on the top of the web site. What size is right? Should it go across the whole top of the page, or be on the side? Should you see a promotional video right when you load the new home page?

    Then JR stops me. Let’s look at the big picture. What do people need to know right when they load Plain English for the first time? I was all worried about the size and positioning of the text and elements of the page. But JR is worried about the big picture: what is the page trying to accomplish? Let’s start with the big picture and worry about the details later. Good advice, JR!

    One thing that worries me about the coronavirus pandemic and response is that we’ll re-arrange our whole society around the threat of a virus or a pandemic. We’ll put space between us. We’ll stop touching things. We’ll have to wear masks. We’ll stand six feet behind each other in line. But the fact is, all these things have a cost too. Can we think about the big picture? What is all this separation going to do to society? Is it going to make people lonelier? Is it going to make it harder to connect with others? These are big-picture questions and I’m worried they’re getting lost in our rush to re-arrange lines at take-out restaurants.

    Sometimes people who say, “Let’s look at the big picture,” are providing valuable perspective. But other times, they’re avoiding the pesky details. Some people are more comfortable working in the details—they’re about operations and execution. Then they hear someone say, “I’m a big picture thinker” and all they do is express these grandiose ideas without ever having to do anything besides talk. Those people drive me nuts! The big-picture thinkers who can’t be bothered to think about details—ever! There’s a time to think about the big picture and a time to think about the details; that’s what I say.

    JR’s song of the week

    This is a long lesson already, so we’ll be quick here. The song of the week is “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers. It was featured in the TV show “Supernatural” and I picked it this week—JR was hard at work when the time came to pick a song, so I picked the last one I added to my Deezer playlist. I heard this song as I was waiting in line the other day and thought, I need to hear this again. So I added it—“Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” by The Avett Brothers.


    That’s it for today. Congratulations on finishing another Plain English lesson! And as we count down toward the release of our new web site, you can sign up to receive a special preview, vote on new features, get a sneak preview of the new design and logo, and much more by visiting us at PlainEnglish.com/new .

    We’ll see you right back here on Monday.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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Robinho19
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Robinho19

Wonderful topic! It’s highly relevant to my situation and my current employer, who has been skeptical about idea of home-office for many years till now. I am really curious whether we as their employess will be able to work from home after situation will come back to normal, because a lot of my colleagues have noticed numerous advantages of remote working.

Jeff
Admin

Do you find that you yourself are more, less, or equally effective at home?

CeciliaJR
Member
CeciliaJR

Before the closedown, I was assigned to update a Catalog, (that was meant to be done by a professional designer… I am not! ) it was hard for me to start working on it, I was procrastinating for almost a month (there was no rush either), as soon as we started working from home, my creativeness came back to me, I finished no one but 2 catalogs in less then 10 days! … And let me highlight that my boss told me they looked way better than what they were trying to accomplished. So, in my opinion, this is a… Read more »

Jeff
Admin

Yeah, sometimes a change of scenery is just what we need. I sometimes find that to break through on something, I need to go to my dining room table (near a big window) with a blank pad of paper, no computer, no devices, and just take notes and make a plan. Simply moving to a new place can be so helpful to jumpstart a stalled project.