13 August 2020
What Will Workplaces Look Like After The Pandemic?

In many ways, COVID-19 snuck up on the world, and for the last 6 months it managed to change systems that would normally take years, and even decades to establish. For Impact Hub, it made the liquid and digital elements of our network more important than ever, and at the same time encouraged us to reflect and pivot certain aspects of how we operate and how we provide support to Impact Hubs and our members across the globe. The future of Impact Hub has been changed by the pandemic and we were prompted to ask ourselves ‘how so has this changed how we work?’ What we discovered is that we didn’t change the way we work, the virus changed us.  

It’s not working from home, it is remote crisis management.

Enric Badia, the director of human capital at Banco Sabadell points out to “not fool ourselves, we are not currently working from home. We are managing the crisis remotely.” “They point at the moon and we look at the finger”, he says while explaining that it is not what we do, but how we do it that matters. 4-6 months ago, without any planning or notice, many companies were forced to accept that working-from-home was the only option to avoid a complete halt to their activities. Very quickly businesses started to transfer traditional office work operations to a home environment, such as clocking on and off and sticking to standard work hours. Living rooms and kitchens were quickly transformed into office spaces. Albert Cañigueral, director of OuiShare, an organization which has remote work build into the company DNA, explains that remote working “involves a series of rules that [can] be summarized as working whenever you want, from wherever you want, doing it – however- in synchrony with the team’s objectives and, most importantly,  establishing a relationship of trust beforehand”. For the global Impact Hub team this setup is not new, we are used to Zoom calls and accommodating different time zones to keep connected across the many locations from which we work such as Harare, Berlin and São Paulo. Operating like this has given us an upper hand and enabled us to best support Impact Hubs in transitioning their work and communities online. 

Working-from-home still has a long road ahead 

Working less rigidly and traditionally is usually the most difficult aspect for many companies to overcome. Turning the focus around, the concept of keeping the seat warm is not unfamiliar. COVID-19 changed the way in which many companies now have placed a ‘value’ on that seat. This means that they have put a price on things such as: rent, furniture, electricity, internet connection, water, repairs, and the list goes on. Many of them have finally realized that it is not necessary to pay for these recurring costs and that on top of it all, it is very expensive. When it comes to people, in the latest report from the Bank of Spain on working from home, it is calculated that 8.3% of the active population occasionally works from home, and only 4.9% work more than half of their working day. They did estimate that depending on the characteristics and nature of each occupation, it could reach up to 30%. 

Liquid companies will be the most resilient to COVID-19

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman who received the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities in 2010, was the one who first brought up the idea of liquid modernity. This is a concept in which the whole context is constantly and continuously changing. Does liquid modernity make it possible to work without a physical space and, as Cañigueral says, to do it in line with the team and with common goals? The answer could lie in the genesis itself or way of understanding the company. According to Ana Sarmiento, a specialist in Millennials and Employer Branding, “a liquid company is a company that knows how to respond and adapt to the current model of society in which the conditions of action change before the ways of acting are consolidated into habits and certain routines”. 

Time will tell which companies will best weather this crisis, but we predict that those organizations whose concepts are closest to this definition will be in the best position to achieve their goals. What is important is not the technology or space that is being used that enables a company to operate but being able to continue operating despite this. This idea of 21st-century resilience is best summarized by a staff member of Impact Hub Madrid, Nathalie Alvaray who states thatconnections are reorganized. For many people on the planet, work is no longer a place. It is an activity or a project enabled by an internet connection”. 

After the pandemic, this non-place, digital elastic space will be the new normal. The challenge ahead is helping new ‘knowmads’ to learn how to collaborate, think, create, and connect productively. This realization has made us rethink the entire future of work and think about how communication and teamwork are more necessary than ever before. From now on, how we interact will define the space in which we do so.

Human connection and community is at the center of COVID-19 recovery

The idea that this is the end of flexible and coworking workspaces could not be further from the truth. In reality, COVID-19 has only accelerated a process that had previously been a growing trend throughout the last decade. Enric Badia explains that after the pandemic “people will need human contact and that a sense of community will be more necessary than ever.” This goes back to the ‘liquid company’ concept, which in the past was merely labeled as ‘resilience’, but now is the answer to how most workplaces will look in the future. However, when the situation goes beyond being ordinary, that liquid freezes and turns solid by surprise, the community environment that Alvaray was talking about becomes essential. 

From a historical perspective, cavepeople have long understood that living in a community increases the chances of life and longevity. This concept has evolved over thousands of years in social contracts that encourage us to live in structured societies and part of that is to start companies and as work teams. Both Cañigueral and Badia agree that the future of this crisis will lead to the establishment of hybrid work models. On one side, it will have remote working to bring flexibility and conciliation to the worker and create a results-orientated company. On the other hand, it will encompass a meeting space that enables human connection and allows people and groups to work in a community when required. 

In some ways, the new work structure will reflect a bag of marbles that gather together in groups, yet can go off and be independent when needed. We see this in our global network of social entrepreneurs who are spread across the world but together form a liquid community. Impact Hubs around the world have adapted to the new-normal by supporting their members and communities in ways that best fit the pandemic situation in each location. The Global Membership is offered to new members for free to keep them involved and connected with other like-minded people working in the Social Entrepreneurship sector. The bigger picture also has a great impact on other layers and social spheres, from family and partnerships to considerable reductions in CO2 emissions from reduced transport use, to demographic changes such as the reduction of the rural-city gap, with more people choosing to relocate to rural areas.

The crisis is an opportunity to create impact

The COVID-19 crisis has been an important setback for our social models. Its sudden disruption highlights a period of change and opportunity that can be used to address many challenges that the planet faces. Impact Hub Barcelona used this time to explore how different touchpoints can come together to a single central point. It is about the center of the Greek Y, a common space that builds community, and that enables hybrid ways of working, which makes life easier for both companies and the people who work there. Impact Hubs promote business models that have a positive impact, and support social entrepreneurs to leverage this crisis as an avenue to build and rebuild themselves in a different way. Change is often thrust upon us, and this pandemic is a great example of being forced to pivot and adapt to the external circumstances by adjusting what we can – ourselves. That’s why COVID-19 is an opportunity to transition to a more sustainable, balanced, conscious, and fair world.


The main ideas of this article were originally published by Impact Hub Barcelona and later translated and adapted into English.