Israel is getting back to work, but will the office culture be different?
The unprecedented COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 confined billions of people to their homes. In some cases, businesses and services shut down entirely, but many quickly adapted to the new reality. High speed internet and advances in communications allowed people to work from home and connect via Zoom for virtual meetings. COVID-19 and social distancing may have completely transformed the way we work.
Many companies in Israel demand a 9 hour day from employees as a matter of routine. This can be a big culture shock for spoiled Olim, especially when they realise that the ‘globali’ 9 hours is often actually a minimum commitment for employees in high tech and start-ups. Factor in travel times to and from the office, and daily chores like shopping, and you’ll be lucky if you make it home in time to read your kids a bedtime story.
Israeli office culture can also be extremely stressful. In the last 10 years, companies shifted to open space office designs. Israel is essentially a Middle Eastern country and the attitude to noise and personal space is very different to North American and European norms. It can be incredibly difficult to sit in a room with dozens of colleagues and focus on a task requiring concentration.
If Yossi is playing music on his speakers, Liron and Tal are gossiping at the next desk, and Yoni is shouting into the telephone, you may find yourself quietly cursing as you try to block them out with headphones or earplugs. Meeting deadlines and completing projects can also be complicated by the Israeli passion for meetings. A big part of your week will quickly be eaten up by unnecessary conferences that have more to do with personal egos than professional requirements.
The toxic combination of open plan offices, interminable meetings, a stressful daily commute, miserly Israeli holiday allowances, plus the ordinary demands of work, can quickly take its toll. Your job can quite literally damage your physical and mental health, and that’s before we factor in the stresses of family life and adapting to a new country. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving a boardroom level reevaluation of how companies work – and may also have transformed employee expectations.
Working from a home office isn’t an ideal situation for everybody. For every grounded introvert who is happy to sit quietly at home, there is an extrovert who thrives on social contact and craves the stimulation of a busy workplace. Fortunately, most people fall between these two extremes and are adaptable. But there is one cast iron requirement for all home workers – a high level of self-discipline!
If you’re working from home it can be very easy to slide into a ‘seven day weekend’ routine. It starts by sleeping late (no commute), dressing like it’s a beach day (no manager or HR to criticise you) and taking too many breaks to surf the net, watch TV, or shoot out to the mall. If you suddenly find that you can do twice the work in half the time at home, all kinds of temptations creep in…
It definitely pays to create a home office. Ideally this is a spare room, but if you’re short on space, it could just be a quiet corner in the house. If you have kids or a partner at home, set the boundaries and insist on no interruptions. You will need to set a daily schedule and stick to it. If necessary, create a system of personal rewards or treats for meeting mini-goals and deadlines. It’s also important to set aside part of your day for physical exercise, preferably outdoors.
Not everybody is comfortable with technology. If you’re going to work successfully from home you will still require close communication and collaboration with colleagues and clients. If your physical office is 20 kms away, you won’t be able to call the IT guy over to your desk every time there’s a problem. You definitely don’t want to be the team member that crashes out of Zoom conferences, is never online, or can’t upload finished work.
During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw major movement out of big cities like New York and the European capitals. Some of this was a temporary reaction to the threat of lockdowns, but there also seems to be a profound shift in thinking. Companies have realised that they are wasting huge sums of money every year maintaining expensive office space. There is also a growing understanding that open plan offices result in higher sickness levels, lower productivity and morale, and faster employee burnout.
Environmentalists love the fact that home working massively reduces the number of cars on the road and decreases pollution substantially. Employees who work remotely don’t need to find expensive housing within driving distance of their office and can basically live anywhere they want. We may be about to see a permanent exodus of the (over 30s) professional classes from our cities in favour of quieter – and cheaper – rural locations. Why pay half your salary to live in a cramped urban apartment, when you can pay a quarter of your salary to live in a house with a garden and law abiding neighbours?
In recent years we’ve also seen a move away from the traditional career structure where workers spend years or even decades in the same company. If working from home becomes the new norm, we may see a further increase in temporary contracts, freelancing, and split roles. Work related travel may also decline as companies realise that a couple of days on Zoom comes at a fraction of the price of airline tickets and hotel bills.
Some companies are insisting on a full return to work under the old norms, but as they compete to recruit employees they may have to offer more flexible working conditions. Zoom stock rallied over 400% during the global pandemic and is currently trading at over $380.The company is now worth billions of dollars. Rival developers and investors are pushing hard to be the next telecommunications success story. The corporate world may soon be presented with a series of technological fait accomplis that send old working practices the way of the dinosaurs. But whether any new workplace culture will ultimately benefit the average employee remains to be seen.
Were you working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are your thoughts on how the workplace should evolve? Let us know in the comments below, or send us an email!