With social distancing restrictions easing across much of Australia, a big question remains: what will life be like when we return to normal? Dave Cook, a PhD Researcher of Anthropology at University College London, has attempted to answer this question by identifying five big trends he believes will shape working life after lockdown ends. Cook anticipates that one trend to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is that bad email etiquette will no longer be tolerated. As Cook’s research shows, sending out-of-hours emails is considered not only bad etiquette, but it ‘creates a coercive work culture that requires people to be available 24/7.’ This aspect of modern working life can lead to burnout, anxiety and is increasingly being considered a form of bullying. Cook argued that upon returning to work, people will begin to respect personal boundaries and engage in more courteous communication. A second trend Cook anticipates is that video calls will be limited. As research shows, Zoom video calls can be more draining and tiring than in-person meetings. And while video calls are appropriate for some meetings, researcher Gretchen McCulloch found that that there has been a shift back to phone calls. Another trend Cook anticipates is an increase in co-working spaces. When lockdown lifts, Cook anticipates that workers will turn to cafes and open working spaces to get a break from their home offices. Before COVID-19 hit, co-working spaces were projected to increase more than 40% worldwide. Cook explains that the paradox of remote working is that people crave flexibility but also need personal contact to boost productivity. Cook’s research showed that over time remote workers crave the physical closeness that comes with just being alongside other people. That’s why Cook projects that local co-working spaces will do well.
Alysia Blackham, Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, said that while the coronavirus crisis is slowing down, people are likely to face discrimination and inequality in the workplace moving forward. Around the world, COVID-19 has resulted in massive layoffs in tourism, bars, clubs, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and casinos. And while Australian Government has focused on offering social security and JobKeeper payments to compensate job losses, Blackham argued that there has been ‘little acknowledgement of the potential inequities that accompany these broader trends.’ Blackham argued that unless these are recognised and managed, people will face long-term disadvantages in employment long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Blackham explained that casual and insecure employees will be placed at the greatest disadvantage as they have few protections against a reduction in shifts or dismissal. This is likely to disproportionately affect older and younger workers, as they are over-represented in insecure work. As Blackham points out, 73.9 per cent of 15 to 19-year-old employees and 43.1 per cent of Australian employees aged 20 to 24 fall within the insecure work category. Meanwhile, 34.5 per cent of Australian employees aged 65 and over are insecure workers. Blackham said that these groups are placed at a disadvantage because of the lack of certainty around the duration of a job, unpredictable working hours or pay and having little or no voice to determine working conditions. Accordingly, Blackham advocated for an intersectional approach to ‘recognising how different forms of disadvantage, across grounds such as gender, ethnicity, disability, age and socio-economic status, are compounded and interlinked, perpetuating inequities in workplaces.’