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An elderly man stands on a balcony at a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Hubei province, China. -REUTERS pic
An elderly man stands on a balcony at a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Hubei province, China. -REUTERS pic

FRINGE does, at times, become mainstream. Though with a little help from external forces. Usually, such forces are inventions.

Telegram, telex and fax machines moved from being in the fringe to mainstream as one replaced the other. All three were replaced by computers. Again by invention.

But Covid-19 is doing the same, not with invention but intervention. Since December last year when Covid-19 began spreading, the way we do things has changed.

The business of business isn’t the same any more. With that, the world of work has changed, too.

What started in China didn’t stay in China. At press time, 120 countries and territories have reported confirmed Covid-19 cases from as low as one to more than 80,785.

Fear-gripped workers are staying home. Safety-first companies are either allowing them to do so or are requesting them to work from home.

For sure, Generation Flex (as opposed to the preceding Generation Fax) — as the International Workplace Group (IWG) calls them — isn’t a Covid-19 creation. It has been in the making for years.

But Covid-19 may have put Generation Flex on steroids. First a word on how “flex” a generation we were before Covid-19 hit us.

In a survey of 80 countries early last year, IWG found more than half of employees around the world were working outside their office for at least 2.5 days a week.

People prefer working from home or somewhere nearer. Covid-19 makes this preference possible.

Who wants to waste 170 hours a year — that is how much time Kuala Lumpur commuters spent — on the road to a possible Covid-19 infection?

Governments are also behind Generation Flex. Laws on flexible working hours are already in place in several countries.

According to IWG, in the Netherlands, employees with at least one year of service in a company of at least 10 employees have a right to work from location of their choice.

In Italy a “smart working” law gives employees the right to work remotely. Just as well. Italy, which is in a country-wide lockdown, has the highest number of recorded Covid-19 cases outside of China, with 10,419 at press time.

Covid-19 may just push legislators elsewhere to do the same.

Flexible workspace is good for businesses, too.

Some 65 per cent of businesses interviewed by IWG said flexible workspace helped them reduce capital and operating expenditures, manage risks and consolidate their portfolio. Statistics provided by The Economist, the English weekly, seem to support IWG’s findings.

Big British and American firms, the weekly says, pay an average of US$5,000 rental per employee per year. Even at that cost, only 40 to 50 per cent of tables are used. There is yet another plus for companies.

Businesses with flexible work practices appear to attract and retain top talents, according to IWG. Companies that do not adopt this strategy either fail to attract top talents or lose them quickly. And it is very costly to replace them.

In IWG’s calculation, using British companies’ salaries, such replacement costs can set back the company by six to nine months’ pay. Soon our mainstream 9-to-5 work schedule may be a thing of the past. All thanks to the novel virus.

Life-threatening though it is, Covid-19 is making work-life balance possible.

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