by Steve Anderson, Luanne Smulsky, Paul McTaggart and Jim Tierney
Are you tired of hearing about it yet? We are.
Even so, it is inescapable. Impacting our lives. Every. Day.
For some of us, especially those who cannot telecommute such as medical professionals, restaurant, and manufacturing workers, it has been at times devastating – personally and professionally. For others, the impact has been more of a nuisance than anything else.
But it has also been transformational in ways we never imagined.
Entire government market space sectors have gone from a fundamentally brick-and-mortar, 9-5, show-up-at-the-office mentality to facing a completely different future work environment:
- Many Federal agencies are now contemplating scenarios where 30 to 50% of their workforce may never work in the office again
- For those that do return to the office, work schedules may be staggered. Telework will be a part of the normal routine several days per week to keep worker-density below CDC guidelines to limit virus transmission
- Employees starting or changing jobs today are often on-boarding without ever meeting a co-worker in person – IDs, laptops, cell phones, etc. are arriving by courier
- Video teleconference demand has expanded immensely; one example, the VA transitioned from providing 2,500 video telehealth sessions daily in early March to 25,000+ sessions daily by June 24th – more than a 1,000% increase in just under 4 months (Source: Federal News Network 24 Jun, 2020).
Since February 2020, quantum increases in telecommunications usage largely occurred without apparent impact on service quality – which speaks volumes about the flexibility and resilience of telecom providers.
Yes, the crisis has forced societal changes. For some changes, our culture was arguably moving in that direction already – increased telecommuting, for example. But the crisis accelerated the pace and acceptance of those changes. Other changes, such as the drastic reduction in vacation travel, were extreme reactions to the pandemic response rather than an acceleration of trends already in motion. While we may revert to earlier patterns when it is safe to do so, how much and on what timeline are very much open questions.
So, it is interesting to contemplate how different the world will be in 2 or 3 years when life does settle down. Some things that have crossed our minds:
- Brick-and-mortar workplaces – including Federal facilities – will become more blue-collar as organizations plan for maintaining at-work social distancing. While jobs that can be handled by teleworking will likely shift to home-based work
- Urban areas, often a hub of Federal employment, may see permanent traffic reductions as more people telework and stop commuting and local small business may be challenged by the reduced foot traffic
- People in business development will have to evolve their approaches away from the tried-and-true ‘office call’ culture as their customers may rarely be in the office
- Workers, freed from needing to live near their workplace, will migrate away from cities and industrial centers, changing population demographics. This will drive changes in infrastructure needs such as telecom and transportation infrastructure. A shift in investment focus from urban to suburban and rural areas may be the result
- Makeup of the workforce will change permanently in ways that are difficult to foretell
- Will businesses that have shuttered or declared bankruptcy return or be replaced?
- How many of the jobs that are gone now are permanent losses and how will we, as a population, adjust?
- Will workers, who are able, retire earlier since they are home more?
Or later because working from home is not as stressful as commuting to the office?
The pandemic’s full impact on the workforce, including Federal workers is … well, who knows?
Doubtless, the consequences of these times will include some surprises. Flexibility and resilience (as with telecoms) would appear to be the advisable catchphrase of the day.