The industrial revolution in the 1800s heralded a radical change in the social matrix that we recognise as the modern western civilisation. Around the new technological capabilities, fundamental social changes emerged on a massive scale – nation states rose on the back of the changes that were occurring. Industrial competition and the constant striving to create even more efficient and cost-effective solutions to previously intractable production problems abounded.
The patterns of life for people, whether they were the factory owners or the workers within them, changed. The small, widely spaced rural communities revolving around farming and agricultural practices morphed into larger, more concentrated industry-based towns and cities. Work became regulated by the timepiece rather than the sun. An improvement in food production techniques coupled with strides in medicine resulted in substantially better health outcomes and a population spike.
The world of work, and the way we live, was changed forever. Almost two centuries later, and another society-shaking change is occurring.
In the post-COVID-19 world of work and industry, a new set of rules is becoming clear. While not all sectors of employment will be able to facilitate all these aspects, aspects of these will be universally applied no matter what endeavour is undertaken.
- Physical distancing will be expected
- Personal protection equipment use will be normalised
- Physically attending a workplace to perform your job will be less common
- Working with people you have never actually met will no longer seem unusual
- Employer obligations to provide a safe workplace will have additional connotations
- Employees’ personal responsibility to adhere to mandated practices will increase.
The most universal change in non-manual and trade-based activities will be the rise of fractionalised work forces: FWF.
Similar to WFH, FWF is a term that will hold an understood meaning around the world. Already we are seeing 3/2/2 or 4/1/2 work force fractions being applied to the labour force.
- 3/2/2 is three days in the office, 2 WFH and 2 days break.
- 4/1/2 is four days work, 1 day optional and 2 days break.
The principal measure of achievement is productivity – not the number of hours “clocked on”. Supporting this is the concept of "core hours". These are the nominated hours during a designated work day that an employee must be available for immediate contact and interaction. Outside of core hours, that ability to schedule and promote meetings and conversations are at the option of the employees involved.
In a similar way that the change from agrarian "sun time" to industrial "clock time" caused a fundamental shift in societal norms, the change from industrial "clock time" to productivity "earned time" will result in changed labour patterns across the world.
Governments and regulatory authorities will become increasingly concerned with the need to maintain awareness of population and public health events, and the effect that these will have on the way that people interact and their movements. This will promote the sense that the greater good may be served by physical distancing of people during infectious health events – WFH and FWF will be a tool used to achieve this.
Employers will need to use fractionalised workforces to ensure that they maintain the physical distancing requirements and personal separation. This will be considered beneficial for the employees and the employer, as having a virus decimate an office workforce is bad for both groups.
Employees will gravitate to the fractional work time that they can use to be the most productive and create a new work-life balance, whilst maintaining connections with people within the organisation.
Already we’re beginning to see job ads that are incorporating some of these ideas in order to attract appropriately skilled talent.
Consider that there are two ads for a highly skilled Customer Experience designer. Both require a minimum of 5 years’ experience, a demonstrated portfolio of work, excellent references and communication skills. They are for recognised organisations, have similar pay and conditions and are located in new, modern buildings. However, one offers the opportunity to negotiate a fractionalised work relationship with suitable support for non-commute requirements. Which ad is going to attract the best candidates?
So, we can see that this will change the relationship between employees and their work, and between the employer and their employees.
This changed relationship extends far beyond the confines of the traditional workplace.
A fractionalised worker can extend their choices across a range of different aspects of their new work-life balance – like where they choose to live.
Rural Australia is witnessing a surge in property purchases from workers who can now work remotely and are choosing to do so. The choice of where you choose to live and work from home will have a greater effect on lived experiences than just the absence of a daily commute. A greater number of people choosing to abandon the urban confines of the cities will promote the need to cater for the provision of other goods and services to further level the perceived, and real, differences between rural and metropolitan lifestyles. The compounding effects of the fractionalised work force will be pervasive and long-running.
Rural communities have long lamented the slow and inexorable decline in services that are provided from crucial organisations such as financial institutions, supermarkets, telecommunications providers, and tertiary service providers. Once FWF employees begin to demand, and pay for, these services, it will re-establish the need to ensure that they are provided back into rural and remote communities. In fact, the very definition of rural and remote may well change from one based on physical distance to one based on the level of service provided to the communities.
Changes of this nature will promulgate outwards from the initial service industry into all of the elements of the supply chain. Production, storage, logistics and transportation, customer service and engagement, sales – everything will be touched.
Ageing concepts such as “food-miles”, “think global, act local”, “support your local community” and the “urban village” will take on refreshed meaning as community identities are reshaped. New ideas will surface that are not yet conceptualised, and they will be based on the work-life balance that has been established as a result of a global change in real and perceived relationships with employment.
2020 has been a challenging and surprising year for most communities around the world and will be remembered for bringing into sharp relief how unprepared many of us were for the effects of a viral pandemic. It may also be remembered as the boundary between the old post-industrial work world and the new fractional work world.