If the 4th industrial revolution is the digital connected world and automation, has the COVID-19 pandemic given us the 5th…a whole new way of working?

For the past few years in particular, there has been much talk of moving to a more flexible way of working in the UK, moving away from the 9 to 5, cutting back on business travel to protect the environment etc. But (and I know there are exceptions), in the most part large businesses have stubbornly stuck to the status quo…until now. What if the enforced ‘new normal’ actually turns out to be one of the most significant and positive changes industry and humans have seen for a long time?

Corporations are now coming round to the way of thinking that small businesses realised years ago. That you don’t need a big fancy office to operate or to be in the same place all the time.

No need for the ‘bum in seat’ at the office from 9 to 5am

The reluctance to move away from this model has been largely driven, in my opinion, by a lack of understanding that working from home really can mean working and not being sat slumped in front of the television or idling on Facebook. The inability (or lack of will) of employers to measure beneficial output rather than time spent working, has made it easier to keep doing things the same way. This recent article in The Guardian sets the tone for how major employers are making plans to reduce the number of staff in offices and consider new models.

In the past few months though, there has been enforced change and it turns out work still does get done. In fact in many cases productivity has gone up and companies are already talking about downsizing their existing office footprint and changing to a more flexible hybrid way of working. Perhaps with a ‘hub’ for their teams to meet and work together sometimes and the majority of day-to-day workload being completed at home.

No rush hour!

If we’re not all travelling into the cities at the same time, rush hour becomes a thing of the past. This could have a huge impact on the transport industry. Peak hours travel prices would almost certainly need to be restructured, as the demand won’t be there. Perhaps ticket prices would be more standardised across the day instead. Could this mean that cheap, off-peak travel becomes a thing of the past?

Healthier travel & cleaner air

Already there are changes happening in Glasgow city centre to make way for more space and more cycling. A Government scheme is paying for bike repairs to encourage travel on 2 wheels instead of 4. Less traffic to the city centre means we start making progress to the better quality of air which has been long sought after.

When your working day affords you the time (because it doesn’t have to be 8.30am arrival every day) and space (pedestrian areas, cycle lanes, less traffic) to walk or cycle to work, our cities and our health will benefit.

Less business travel, more online meetings

So much business moved online over the course of the lockdown, it seems inevitable that we won’t go back to what was before. Like flying to London on the red-eye for an early morning meeting and back the same day, when we can jump on Zoom and save the time and money!

I don’t believe it’s the end of business travel, but the start of a more thoughtful process before booking the tickets. Sometimes you can’t beat that face-to-face for best communication but often, an online video call does suffice and will continue to be a more regular occurrence.

The positive impact on the environment that reducing unnecessary travel will make, is perhaps the most important benefit for all of us and a lasting legacy to the world.

Work/life balance

The impact of all these changes could allow for a much better work/life balance as has been shown to us in the last few months. For all of the challenges, I’ve had lots of conversations with people who have said they’ve loved having more time with their family, they’ve felt less stressed due to not running around at a hundred miles an hour, they’re eating well and are exercising more by walking or cycling.

Imagine a world in which we always have working days where we can structure our time to drop off the children at school, take a walk at lunchtime, knock up a fresh homemade soup for lunch and still be able to get the day job done well.

A time where you go into the office for reasons like a team briefing, collaboration, a face to face meeting, social interaction with colleagues but work remotely as well, at times of the day that suit you and that’s possible because your boss knows you’ll hit your targets without having to have sight of you at a desk.

Doesn’t that sound nice? We can have it, in the 5th Industrial Revolution. Let’s not mess it up by doing what we have always done, rather than embrace the changes!