After four months of working from my home office, equipped with a laptop and cheap earphones, my work style has transformed. Whereas I once strictly stuck to a traditional work schedule and preferred working amid my coworkers, I find myself happy with a haphazard schedule. I’ll work an hour here, a couple of hours there, take a mid-afternoon walk.
I’ve not only adjusted to working from home but I’ve found that I enjoy it. The laissez-faire work structure suites me. Many of us find ourselves in a far different work environment than a few months ago. And more change is coming.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has altered the workplace for the foreseeable future. Only 7% of the U.S. workforce had the option to regularly work from home pre-pandemic, but now a significant number of jobs have shifted to remote work.
According to a survey by Global Network Analytics, the number of people working from home could stabilize to 30% in 2021.
That’s more than five times what it was only four months ago.
For those of us who return to in-person workspaces and offices, the environment is expected to look much different. How different is hard to say, but we can expect social distancing policies to be enforced at the very least.
But these are not the most important changes we will see in the American workplace in the coming year. Right now, companies are still struggling to adjust to the new normal. When the worst of the pandemic is over and the dust beings to settle, we will be forced to face the economic damage, which we are still only beginning to understand.
Impact of the pandemic
The Covid-19 economic downturn brought a surge of layoffs, increasing the number of unemployed from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May. According to Forbes writer and sociologist Tracey Brower, this will induce an age of entrepreneurship and creativity in business.
In the midst of widespread unemployment and financial struggle, companies and individuals alike will be forced to reassess expertise and explore new skills.
“When the coronavirus finally abates, businesses will be in a rush to re-establish their value, re-energize their product flows and do so quickly. In this way, even the most mature, well-established organizations will become like start-ups.”
When the economy does begin to rebound and this entrepreneurial age rushes in, companies will need individuals who are flexible, motivated, and creative to propel the business forward right out of the gate. The recovering economy will make the professional world look more like Thunderdome, and businesses will need people with a fresh perspective and smart ideas to give them the advantage.
People seem to be getting the memo
Online course enrollments have spiked in recent months. Udemy, an online course platform, saw a 400% increase in enrollments between February and March alone. Digital marketer Jeremy Hayes tweeted about the opportunity for career development during the pandemic, going viral.
“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either: (1) a new skill; (2) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business; (3) more knowledge; you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline.”
Though Hayes’ severe stance was considered controversial by many, the sentiment has been endorsed by many in the professional sphere. And from looking at the jump in online course enrollments, it seems like the general public concurs.
With the impending race to get a leg up in the decimated economy, people seem to intuitively know what’s coming. The old model for success has been dead for a long time. Staying with one company, specializing in one field, and climbing the proverbial career ladder no longer works. Instead, members of the workforce are encouraged to learn a variety of skills and stay connected. Now, this shift will magnify.
Staring down the barrel of the next work renaissance
This time, instead of an explosion in the arts and sciences, we will see an explosion in innovation, collaboration, and creativity.
Tracey Brower anticipates more collaboration across companies, more flexibility in work, and more innovation in the future workplace. She also expects to see companies embrace diversity.
“[A]llowing people to work from home has made way for more people to contribute in new ways. Companies will realize how much those with differing capabilities are able to contribute. As a result, we will see an expanded view of how lots of people can bring their best to work — through inclusive design, new policies and practices, and new approaches to teamwork that support different ways of working.”
Some people will naturally thrive in the coming era. Whether you call them renaissance souls, polymaths, or multi-passionates, these individuals are pulled in several directions, inspired to create and learn in many fields. They are the modern Da Vincis and Galileos.
While these individuals may have felt stifled in the career-ladder culture of the twentieth century, they thrive in the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of the twenty-first. Some call them directionless or indecisive. Others call them artists, creatives, and dreamers.
But not everyone is a renaissance soul
Some people knew what they wanted to pursue by the age of ten. And while many aren’t that decisive, the majority of people tend to stick to one field. Renaissance souls aren’t rare, but they represent a minority of the population.
How can the majority of us prepare for the impending renaissance age? How can we prepare to thrive in a work culture that celebrates ingenuity over expertise and creativity over loyalty?
According to research by the University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the answer is curiosity. Csikszentmihalyi conducted dozens of interviews on creatives across many disciplines. For individuals who made a novel contribution to their field, intelligence or expertise wasn’t the distinguishing factor. Rather, they were marked by their curiosity for life. They didn’t box themselves into a single category and appreciated the riches in all disciplines.
Mario Livio similarly interviewed several creatives and found the same pattern. Livio concluded that they all demonstrated an exceptional interest in multiple domains and were open to tackling challenges in new areas. “Wide-ranging interests and broad knowledge can inspire prodigious creativity,” explains Livio.
The point is not to eliminate expertise. We need experts. Without them, we would be missing out on the contributions of geniuses like Mozart and Einstein. But there is something we can learn from renaissance souls that will help us get through the next few years. By looking beyond our field and opening ourselves up to other disciplines, we broaden our scope of knowledge and increase our capacity for creativity.
Creativity is simply finding new ways to do or think about something familiar. By learning new strategies, processes, and skills, we can think about how we can innovate our current systems. This is the exact type of thinking that will be highly valued in the coming years.
Whatever your position, resources, or field, there is something you can do now to prepare for the impending renaissance era.
How to prepare
The key is to observe. If another field has a unique system that increases productivity, consider how you can incorporate that thinking into your company.
Alternatively, take a leap and learn new skills, even if they don’t seem to apply in your current position. Take an online coding class, learn a new language, or read some engaging, thought-provoking books. But whatever you do, keep your mind open to how you can apply interesting ideas, skills, and concepts to your current job.
Or if you’re one the many who lost their job during this pandemic, use this time to build up your resume by learning unique, applicable skills. This is will very beneficial when the job market kicks back into gear.
Whatever your position, resources, or field, there is something you can do now to prepare for the impending renaissance era, even if it’s just practicing your conversational skills in the mirror. But these skills have to be utilized and communicated. Creativity is useless if it’s not acted on. Talk to your boss about your new ideas or include your new skills on your resume. If you don’t employ your talents, they cannot benefit you.
In many ways, the coming renaissance age will be beneficial for many of us. It can provide a fresh start, where your skills and creativity are valued over your titles. But in order to thrive in this culture, we must meet the standards. That means using this time to become more knowledgable. The good news is that you shouldn’t feel confined to learning things within your field. Take a course on something you’ve always wanted to learn, even if it’s completely left from your career path.
It’s time to start thinking beyond singular career paths and embrace that knowledge is knowledge. And knowledge will get us through.