How COVID-19 is transforming the world of work as we know it

Changes to the physical office space are likely to be only temporary and largely superficial.

An employee wearing a protective face mask and face guard works on the automobile assembly line during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the factory of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. in Kawasaki (photo credit: REUTERS)
An employee wearing a protective face mask and face guard works on the automobile assembly line during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the factory of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. in Kawasaki
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite the initial challenges and organizational teething problems, remote work and Zoom meetings have become the new normal within just a few months.
Now, as the COVID-19 outbreak subsides in many countries, many employees will now start returning gradually to the workplace. The office experience is likely to be slightly unfamiliar, of course, as employers take extra precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Changes to the physical office space are likely to be only temporary and largely superficial. At the same time, much greater changes are quickly bubbling up to the surface, promising to transform both the workforce and the workplace.
According to Prof. Guy Mundlak of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Law and Department of Labor Studies, the coronavirus outbreak has “expedited a lot of prophecies” regarding the world of work that would otherwise have occurred incrementally and quietly.
“If reports by international organizations talked about the changing workplace in 2030, we can now see some of these predictions about the workplace or labor market in March 2020,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
The current outbreak has sparked a series of debates, Mundlak said, citing discussions surrounding the threat of a “jobless future” as various sectors cease operations, the feasibility of remote work and the relationship between man and machine at a time of increased automation.
“Following this crisis, some employers and employees who experienced remote work will realize that it is a catastrophe, and others will see the advantages,” he said. “Maybe employers will ask people to work one day a week at home, which would be a major benefit for the ecological crisis. Transitioning into the future of work would be part of a greener economy.”
The emergence of the so-called “gig economy” has been a key workforce trend in recent years, with Gen Y or millennials perceived as the primary driving force behind the increasing preference for freelance or independent work.
Could the coronavirus pandemic have dealt a blow to the gig economy trend? Mundlak said freelancers have quickly discovered during the crisis that they lack the social-security protections available to salaried employees.
“All kinds of spontaneous donations from social-security systems to freelancers do not extend the same coverage or entitlement of a right that unemployment funds offer employees,” he said. “Are we satisfied that a growing share of the workforce will work in precarious forms of work? The answer is probably that there is a large problem there.”
At first glance, co-working spaces would seem to be among those most threatened by the pandemic. Despite their incredible rise in recent years, communal kitchens, lounges and other spaces are ill-fitted to the social-distancing era.
WeWork, the global leader in co-working spaces, announced a series of measures in late April, seeking to ensure distancing requirements while still enabling collaboration. Modifications include “de-densified lounges,” reduced-capacity meeting rooms, single-use cutlery and increased disinfection of common areas.
Despite any fears, WeWork Israel general manager Benjy Singer, who manages 14 different locations in Israel, said the “coronavirus crisis” should be called the “coronavirus opportunity” for his company.

 An illustration of a common area at a WeWork office during the coronavirus pandemic. (WeWork) An illustration of a common area at a WeWork office during the coronavirus pandemic. (WeWork)
“Every company will now find themselves in a situation where they look at their space differently, not just in terms of size but also value received from that space,” he told the Post. “Until now, we saw a consolidation of workspace, with companies wanting to see how to bring people together. Now, they are looking at how to become more efficient. We have a great opportunity over classic landlords.”
As companies shrink their workforces and seek to balance enabling both remote and in-office work, Singer believes the flexible office model provided by WeWork will boost its success.
“WeWork is the most flexible office model on the market, meaning that you can sign a one-month agreement here,” he said. “We’re now looking at models of how to bring that down to a weekly model or even a daily model.”
Singer said he is negotiating with one company to rent an office for three days a week, enabling another company to rent for the remaining two days.
WeWork’s offices have remained open 24/7 throughout the crisis, and it has launched a virtual platform for Israeli customers working at home, offering online and on-demand events and workshops.
The concept of trust will be vital for all companies operating in co-working spaces, Singer said, adding that 90% of members have a private office.
While communities may spread the virus, they also represent the solution, he said.
“The bottom line is that people need to go to work, and people will be next to one another,” Singer said. “People will be taking public transportation to get to work, taking buses and subways, going to restaurants, movies and theaters.
“The coronavirus was transferred through communities. The tighter the community, the faster the virus spread. The flip side is that the solutions are also in the community, both from a social and business perspective. We are entering into a world of doing business, which will need to be more efficient and with a lot more collaboration.”
As the Israeli workforce returns to a sense of normalcy given the declining coronavirus infection rates, Singer said WeWork branches in many countries will be looking toward Israel for guidance as they roll out protective measures in the weeks to come.
Amid soaring unemployment and shrinking workforces, there is a general consensus that the labor market has quickly shifted from an employees’ market to an employers’ market. Rather than headhunting, employees are those who must lure potential employers with their skills.
According to Jolt IL general manager Doron Aaronsohn, as organizations undergo rapid and frequent changes, employees must be willing and able to be both agile and almost omnipotent to remain relevant.
“If an organization needs to be agile, it needs an agile organizational structure, and that impacts the employees who need to adapt to the market,” he said. “Employees must be willing and capable of changing their positions in the organization quickly. Being an expert on a certain topic might not be enough. They need to train themselves, and that needs to happen all the time.”
Jolt was established in 2015 and describes itself as a “business school for the self-made,” offering videoconferencing lectures on 21st-century work skills and business methodologies at its Tel Aviv and London campuses. A New York hub is currently under construction. All lectures have been moved into the digital realm in recent months.
“We are now talking about a world where it takes much longer to find a job,” Aaronsohn said. “People who are unemployed for 10 months or a year will need to bring money home and will be willing to work gigs or part-time jobs.
“At the same time, employers are looking to cut down expenses and maybe just fired a lot of their workforce. Gigs and part-time jobs can also fit their needs as they look for something ad hoc.”
As companies seek to boost the agility and skill sets of their workers, Jolt has received a surge in demand for its “Jolt for Organizations” courses, which provide training for employees on a wide range of topics beyond their core responsibilities, including digital tools and adapting to change.
“What I see right now in the market is that all the parts are reshuffling,” Aaronsohn said. “I talk with many executives of different companies and sectors. For everyone, everything is changing. Some is for better, and some is for worse.
“Many of them really understand that and the need to change their mindset. The only constant thing now is change.”