During the pandemic, we’ve all become experts in virtual communication. Claudio Hidalgo, head of WeWork Latin America, and David Díaz, head of Zoom Latin America, chose this format to talk about new habits that COVID-19 has created in the workspace. Renowned journalist Susana Sáenz moderated the event, which addressed the past, present and future of workspace habits.
‘Humans created the first office space around 1700. In this office, employees worked eight hours a day, five days a week, in the same place,’ Sáenz said as she kicked off the event. Sound familiar? Up until February of 2020, this continued to be the predominant model in almost all fields worldwide. But COVID-19 changed all this and forced us to examine how well this model works in today’s world, especially if we consider the changes and advances in technology over the last few centuries.
Familiar tools, new habits
Both Zoom and WeWork were already banking on innovation in the workplace. So when the pandemic arrived, both companies were solidly positioned with the support they needed to continue working during the COVID-19 crisis. ‘As the days and weeks went by,’ said Hidalgo, ‘we realised that our spaces were ready for this flexibility.’
Of course, no one was immune to the changes that swept the entire world. For WeWork, the first steps were focused on members’ safety: stepping up hygiene protocols and implementing new sanitation measures. But once WeWork was ready to bring members back, the company was pleasantly surprised to discover that the market was growing. After the initial frenzy to work from home, the situation began to stabilise as people started looking for a hybrid model, which is exactly what WeWork offers. ‘Rather than going to a single building, we started to see our clients going to lots of different ones, depending on which was closest to their home. And this began to revitalise the use of our locations,’ Hidalgo explained. WeWork provided companies with solutions for their employees: a flexible workspace that meets safety and hygiene standards, equipped with the technology they need for a successful working day. ‘The moment people step into one of our spaces, they fall in love,’ Hidalgo said.
Shifting perspective to Zoom, Díaz shared how his company has grown during the pandemic. ‘About a thousand employees were recruited in recent months, and they’ve never even seen their physical office spaces or have met their bosses in person,’ he said. They’re experiencing firsthand what it’s like to work completely virtually, as well as the benefits and needs of this model. Zoom understands the importance of incorporating collaborative, dynamic and creative features into its products to enhance customers’ virtual experience. Zoom has enabled companies from various industries to continue working, and with the changes it’s implemented, Zoom has also been able to support the culture and community of these companies.
Hybrid is the future
Both Hidalgo and Díaz agree that the capacities developed during the pandemic are here to stay, because they’ve improved quality of life and optimised our time. ‘The way people work has changed forever,’ said Díaz. Beyond what companies like Zoom and WeWork can offer, Hidalgo thinks that the decisive factor for the future of work will be leadership decisions about how they want their employees to work.
There’s no question for these two industry leaders that the future of their companies will be a hybrid model. This means developing new ways of working that allow employees to swap between in-office work and remote work, without overlooking the need for human interaction. While tools like Zoom show that we can be constantly connected, in Díaz’s opinion, the workspace offers something that no virtual experience can replace.
Similarly, when Sáenz asked what the workspace might look like in 10 years, Hidalgo maintained that the work itself could be done from anywhere. The only thing that can’t be done virtually is developing connections between people: community, interaction and interpersonal relationships. These aspects open the door to creativity, brainstorming and innovation, and drive employee productivity. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that people working for the same company have to be together in the same building. Interaction with people from other organisations, which is one of WeWork’s benefits, can help us drive our own business as well.
Nothing is lost, everything changes
Before, people had to work at a physical location and now they want to do so. Working from home isn’t sustainable in the long term, but spending several hours a day commuting to an office isn’t either. These two companies may appear to be opposing forces: Zoom encourages virtual options, while WeWork supports in-person collaboration. But there’s actually a synergy between them. Both approaches will be essential to the future of work, beyond COVID-19.
Many companies have grown by connecting with their customers virtually, Díaz said at the end of the discussion. That will be part of the new normal. Investments will need to be made in cutting-edge technology to continue supporting this hybrid model.
But it isn’t hard to imagine what the future of workspace will look like. ‘We’re excited to be ready,’ said Hidalgo. ‘The future of work has already arrived at our WeWork spaces and we can begin to enjoy it now. We can benefit from all the positive things that have come out of the pandemic. We don’t have to wait. They’re here now and we can take advantage of them.’ But changes still need to be made. ‘We have to change labour laws quickly to embrace flexibility and have the tools necessary for changing the history of work forever,’ he concluded.