As we start the year 2021, there is no shortage of talk about how the 2020 pandemic has profoundly changed all aspects of life.
For me, this got personal too.
Even though fortunately so far I have not had a close encounter with COVID-19 in my inner circle of family and friends, I have felt the impact.
On the eve of Labor Day weekend, 2020, after receiving a phone call about a medical crisis with one of my relatives, I decided to fly with my niece from the U.S. to where this family member was in Taipei, Taiwan right in the midst of the pandemic.
Some of you may know that Taiwan is one of the top countries for comprehensive COVID-19 control protocols. From the minute we arrived at the Taiwan airport, my niece and I were asked to switch out our cell phone SIM cards so the government could do contact tracing through our GPS location if need be.
We were also put in separate quarantine hotel rooms for 14 days with three meals delivered daily and had an assigned handler checking on our health and every move three times a day.
It was absolutely a life-changing experience, because for the first time I could relate to what physical freedom means to a human being, as we were, in effect, imprisoned.
One saving grace was that I had TV access to local and international stations such as CNN and WIFI access to the internet. These technologies allowed me to have contact with the outside world and to conduct my business, with little or no interruption.
Interestingly, due to the time zone difference with the U.S., I could only work for about 4 hours every day. And yet what I found was that I was much more focused and efficient. So in the end, I was able to accomplish more with less time spent.
In almost all cases, my business acquaintances had no idea that I was out of the country as long as I showed up on the Zoom calls on time.
As I reflect on this, what I realize is that as we rethink the workplace of the future, we have to fundamentally start from a new assumption.
That is, what the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that life as we knew it will no longer exist. Exceptions are the new norm: natural forces such as climate change, pandemics and man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks and wars will be the constant X factors. So businesses now have to rethink how they can support their employees as they grapple with all these breaks from “normalcy” and continuity.
It can no longer be a linear planning mentally where everything can be predicted, and it can no longer just be about the individual employee at work because what happens to the employee’s life around work is just as important.
We saw this play out this past year with employees with young children having to work from home and the challenges created if there was no child care. Or older employees having to be given schedule flexibility as they were now primary caregivers for aging parents whose hired in-home supports could no longer come because of COVID.
What’s unfolding in front of us, in my view, is that we are now entering a stage where a work-life balance or work-life integration model no longer works.
Life demands now have a much higher priority than work. So for forward-looking or enlightened organizations, there needs to be new thinking to support not just a “whole self” but also a “whole life” concept. We may have to rethink policies and move permanently to supporting employees working remotely or working from home based on life needs and adopting a gig economy workers’ preference for work schedule flexibility.
Technology would be used to enable seamless access anywhere, anytime by anyone safely and securely.
I returned to the US after a six-week stay in Taiwan. This experience gave me a glimpse into a future-of-work scenario where I could travel on a moment’s notice to attend to my personal need to care for a sick relative. With the right technology support, while “on the go” I could not only maintain but grow my business.
As we plan for the future, I call for a focus on and respect for the fluid demands of life, so the future of work is to work with life.
— Essay originally published on January 1, 2021 on Linkedin.com