Evolving Work Challenges

I happened across a sub-stratum of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently. It seems likely that every publication has addressed the concept of work in the modern world. Long before there was a (this) pandemic, technology had begun to facilitate work environments that were less dependent upon physical presence and office environments. But, some contend that what we have lived through will be viewed through the lens of history as an event that changed the world. This, they contend, will be true regardless of whether we label it the "great pandemic," or "the 2020 pandemic," or a variety of less sensitive labels one might contrive. See Vaccination Implications (February 2021). 
I have striven to discuss workplace pandemic challenges. See Loss and Change (May 2020); Ask Three Questions Daily (July 2020); and Great Resignation (October 2021); Little Black Boxes (December 2021). There is little doubt that the workplace is evolving, and some are embracing that. One lawyer explained to me how that firm has shed real estate, downsized offices, and saved money. Another explained how a South Florida firm employs sophisticated paralegals in Kansas to process various case aspects. Yet another lawyer explained that a firm partner has decamped to the countryside, with no intent of returning to the office, and continues to effectively practice daily. Of course, attending hearings and mediations live may return to vogue or even to mandate.
Despite my interest in this topic, and the stream of various perspectives in the news, understanding the implications of an evolving work world has been challenging. I was therefore pleased to run across the BBC sub stratum "Hello Hybrid." In a near exhaustive series of articles, a variety of proponents, detractors, academics, and more address hopes, fears, successes, and failures of the much-touted "new normal" of the hybrid work environment.
The volume of article titles alone is a draw. They are all listed below. Working through all these titles may well be tiring. However, there are gems here for those who would manage a business and the rest of us that subsist or thrive through our employment at one. 
My favorite title, however, and the one that drew me to this Aladdin's cave of perspective, is Why hybrid is emotionally exhausting. This highlights an employee frustrated with hybrid after only a few months. The "novelty . . . soon gave way to hassle." Pressure came from "a stop-start routine," and a "constant feeling of never being settled." Huge majorities (83%) wanted hybrid in a May 2021 survey, but "optimism . . . soon gave way to fatigue." Notably, the absence of routine is cited as a major contributor. Also included are the effort of moving resources back and forth, the challenge of remembering what is where, "digital presenteeism," and even burnout.
There are many titles in this collection. To say that these various chests are full of treasure is an understatement. Certainly, there are points and perspectives here with which any reader will unquestionably agree, and others which will evoke a more dubious response. Of course, your favorite for most credible may well be my most distrusted. We are, after all, different people with varied backgrounds, foundations, and biases. Can we, for once, admit that and simply discuss differing perspectives without invective, snark, and worse? Can we have collaborative and yet disagreeing discussions without being disagreeable?
I have not tried to distill each article. Instead, I identify here some points that perhaps are worthy of discussion, and potentially can be worthy of consideration by both employers and employees as we proceed through our present and focus on our future path beyond SARS-CoV-2 and its wake. For each article, I have selected a singular point for consideration, and recognize your takeaway from that article might be completely different. I would love to hear your perspective. They are:
"employees of all kinds across many industries have proved that flexible work can be highly productive"
"In the US, a whopping 72% of managers currently supervising remote workers would prefer all their subordinates to be in the office."
"even if workers are highly productive at home, they risk no-one noticing that output"
"The choice is theirs to make. The expectations are quite simply to get the job done"
"This halo effect can also cause leadership to excuse the poor performance of those in their proximity, while not properly valuing the skills and expertise of those with whom they have less contact."
“around 50% to 60% of work across different occupations need to be done in a site-specific way”
"suggests recreating aspects of your work-from-home environment in the office to make the switch feel less jarring"
"more and more, it’s a hub of operations that’s a lot smaller, with a few people helping to coordinate those who are working in all different places.”
"As the world moves back into offices, the expectation is we’ll have to give up at least some of that new-found control – a transition that may prove jarring."
"it’s not a good idea to present your hybrid working request as an indefinite arrangement. Instead ask for a trial period, then get a meeting fixed in your boss’s calendar for an honest discussion of how it’s gone."
"18-to-29-year-olds are most interested in a hybrid work set-up, working two to three days a week from home, and the rest in an office."
"Rather than abandoning them entirely, many companies will . . . develop their spaces to meet the demands of a hybrid workforce that wants choice and flexibility for where and how they work."
"there’s also a risk of widening the long-standing gender gap in housework and caring responsibilities that’s already been exacerbated by Covid-19."
"It is fraying. It is hard,” “It takes a lot of inner strength and sustainability without the energy that you get from being around other people.”
"each delay further entrenches flexible working patterns – rendering a full-staff return less likely."
There are emotional issues at play, among employees and management alike. There are challenges involved for management, workers, collaboration, productivity, and more. One of the articles even mentioned the potential for workplace injuries in an unsupervised and perhaps poorly designed or maintained home premises. Should employers become engaged in selecting home-office furniture, posture, and process? One article notes that many who work from home are doing so primarily from their bed (I am typing this in bed). In all, there is stress from the uncertainty, the temporality, the distance, the collaboration, the meetings, the technology, and more.
In all, perhaps we can all agree on a few things. First, the workplace and occupations will evolve. Second, some jobs will always require a physical presence. And, finally, the answers are not presently clear; only time will tell how we all adapt to and are affected by whatever the "new normal" ends up being.
By Judge David Langham
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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