Based on what we’ve seen over the past year, a large percentage of staff—especially professional and technical staff—are working remotely, and the overwhelming majority of that work has gone much better than anyone ever expected. So the trajectory of moving into the next 10 or 15 years has really been accelerated. Business doesn’t need to go on as it did pre-COVID-19.
What American capitalism is all about is profit, the bottom line, and nonprofits want to minimize expense. So what’s happened already, and I don’t see it stopping, is brick-and-mortar organizations—which require that staff be in the office at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.—became part of history.
I think what’s going to really suffer is spontaneous interaction and spontaneous growth—growth that comes out of personal, in-person relationships, not on Zoom but over a cup of coffee or during a brief break when you go out and you sit in the sun and think through an issue with colleagues from another area—and eureka. That’s not something that you can schedule; it’s organic. And I think that’s going to be where organizations are going to be challenged.
Management will need to be really innovative and creative, and I think they really will have to borrow from psychology, sociology, and anthropology to learn how to sustain culture. Organizational culture is an intimate thing, and it’s shared, in many ways, informally. So there will need to be an opportunity for groups to get together and have face time—weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
The ability to do that will certainly improve with the vaccine. But even if tomorrow we have a situation where COVID-19 is largely neutralized, I don’t see a wholesale return to pre-COVID-19 work.