Covid-19. Will it change corporate culture forever?

When China confirmed the outbreak of an unknown virus in Wuhan at the beginning of 2020, it took the Chinese government almost a month to lockdown the city and then the province of Hubei – affecting 57 million people and forcing millions of Chinese to work from home for the first time. 

A few months later, in the US, specifically in Seattle, where the first cluster cases of COVID -19 were confirmed, companies including Amazon and Google quickly encouraged staff to adopt a remote working policy in the midst of the crisis. Twitter soon followed suit, and, as the virus continued to spread, the company made it compulsory for staff worldwide, to work from home.

“We understand this is an unprecedented step, but these are unprecedented times,” said Twitter’s head of HR, Jennifer Christie at the time. “Overall, working from home doesn’t change your day-to-day work, it just means you’ll be doing it from a different environment.’’

With almost all countries in Europe now in full lockdown – and severe restrictions on movements outside the home (in France you need a permit just to walk the dog), many non-essential staff in the UK are choosing to stay away from the office. And with COVID-19 infection rates still rising, they could be away for some time.

So what sort of impact is this crisis having on the culture of work? Time will tell – but if the workforce can prove they are just as productive at home in a time of crisis, then perhaps enterprise will be open to offering them a more flexible working model in the future?

For large companies it is relatively easy to implement, as they can fund the upfront investment employees would need in order to set up a home office. Twitter’s Jennifer Christie has already promised to pay back employees for the expenses required to work from home.

It might be more difficult for smaller companies however. Workers will need a secure VPN, specialist digital technology, maybe a lap top and a proper desk. But in the long run both enterprise and employees will reap the rewards.

Remote working has been shown to increase productivity and saves an average of £8,000 per person, per year (according to Global Workspace Analytics). There are additional savings to be had on reduced office costs as well as commuting costs (not to mention reduced carbon emissions). It also means that employers can hire anyone from anywhere in the world, opening the door to a larger and international talent pool.

FlexJobs suggests almost every industry could offer flexible working and lists IT, sales, project management, customer service, accounting and finance as some of the best careers to choose from. Virtual and personal assistants, online tutors, copywriters or accountants are others who could work easily from anywhere with minimal fuss. All workers would needed is the following:
• A computer
• A good and secure internet connection
• Chat and conferencing applications
• A dedicated workspace (preferred)
• A phone
• Self-motivation and discipline
• A strict routine
In China, the experience of working away from an office environment has been received with a mixed reaction. Some people say they’re distracted by family members and find it difficult to focus or complain that bosses don’t trust them to work from home. Others say they don’t miss the commute and enjoy improved productivity – and even report better love lives! (although hopefully not during working hours).

Whatever the take home for the Chinese is, experts say the impact of COVID-19 on the culture of work worldwide will be huge. It’s been a social work experiment that few companies would ever have be able to implement on such a scale.

One has to wonder if we will ever return to work in an office in quite the same way?