The Future of the Workplace Is Already Developing

Foundation_workforce and workplace October 12, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many workplace-related trends, including remote work, changing downtowns, and the gig economy. New and updated ASAE ForesightWorks action briefs forecast how these drivers of change will develop in the future.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the move to remote work accelerated during the pandemic. Although many jobs did not go remote, a large number of office workers, including many association professionals, began working from home in 2020, and many are still remote due to delta variant threats or organizational workplace decisions.

Other pressures on workplace and workforce, including changing urban downtowns and the growth of gig work, are shaping where and how people do their jobs. What will be the long-term effects of these shifts? Several driver-of-change action briefs from the latest release of the ASAE ForesightWorks Complete Collection provide forecasts and strategies.

Remote Work Is Here to Stay

The “A World Reshaped by COVID” action brief forecasts that remote work will continue to grow in many fields. Leaders will need to address numerous changes and challenges, including determining who works remotely and by which criteria and answering new questions about flexible schedules, where employees live, and talent acquisition, compensation, and benefits. These changes will raise related questions about equity.

Among associations that are planning a return to shared workspace, many are seeking staff input. According to the ASAE Research Foundation’s  Association Impact and Policy Snapshot data, 46.3 percent of survey respondents said that staff comfort with returning to the office was a factor in their office reopening plan, second only to the availability of an effective vaccine. 

A key consideration is that remote work is popular among workers. As reported by Vox, the share of U.S. jobs on LinkedIn that allow remote work increased fivefold, from less than 2 percent in May 2020 to about 10 percent in May 2021. Those jobs are getting 25 percent of all applications. Pew research found that 54 percent of adults who said that their job could be done remotely would prefer to work from home all or most of the time. It’s not surprising, then, that many associations are more open to remote work than they were before the pandemic.

Cities Are Appealing, but Business Districts May Not Be

If people can work from anywhere, will they choose to move elsewhere? A Brookings study found that most of the people who moved from major cities during the pandemic did not move very far, to suburbs rather than to new states. If more organizations and companies shift to fully remote work, and if the number of available fully remote jobs grows, that may change. But even a modest change toward partial remote work will affect city business districts.

The new “Evolving Cities” action brief looks at possible outcomes when the appeal of cities remains, but the shape and density of those cities evolves. The brief forecasts that the growth of remote work may jumpstart a rethink about what city centers can be—or what they may need to be. Instead of centering on office space, downtowns may be redesigned as mixed-use arts and entertainment or lifestyle-centered neighborhoods to attract new residents and consumers.

If remote work options continue to grow, cities and organizations may need to consider new incentives to draw workers into downtown offices. On the other hand, existing incentives may disappear if workers aren’t drawn to the cities or locations that offer them.

The updated 'New Forms of Work' action brief notes that associations have a role to play as both employers of and networks for gig workers.

The Gig Workforce Will Continue to Grow

As workers lost jobs due to the pandemic and as the demand for delivery and other task-based services grew, the gig economy exploded in 2020. One study found that the gig economy grew 33 percent to $1.6 trillion in 2020. Associations have also turned to gig workers in the last year: Twelve percent of respondents to a series of Association Impact and Policy Snapshot surveys said that they hired temporary or gig workers in response to the pandemic. 

The updated “New Forms of Work” action brief notes that associations have a role to play as both employers of and networks for gig workers.

Economic uncertainly and employment in the post-pandemic economy are key uncertainties for this driver of change, which may make hiring freelance, contract, or temporary employees for project-based work appealing for associations anxious about replacing positions lost during the pandemic. Associations also have the opportunity to support members who have turned to gig-based work, or who have seen their fields turn to gig-based work during the last year and a half.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.