The 21st Century Workplace

Welcome to May and the beginning of Week 8 of sheltering in place in northern California. With nearly 1.2 million, the United States continues to lead the world in COVID-19 cases. We’re also the leader in deaths with 67,498.¹ Given the relentless pace of new confirmed cases and deaths in this country, we are sure to be the world’s leader in both categories for the span of the pandemic.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths varies dramatically by state. In California, the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents (139) is less than in 34 states. The number of deaths here per 100,000 residents (6) is equal to or lower than 31 states.¹ Tragic as every death is, these numbers are a testament to the foresight and fortitude of public health officials in northern California — the first region in the country to issue a shelter-in-place order — and to officials throughout the state who soon followed. So, to those who protest state and local governments’ ongoing pursuit of health and safety, to those who verbally attack retail employees who ask you to wear a face covering in their store, to those who carry anti-Semitic signs to protest state and public health officials who are Jewish² (in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Colorado so far) and to those eager to reopen the country at any cost, I say, ‘Wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, and think of the innocent you are imperiling.’ Your lack of concern for others, especially the most vulnerable, is on full display.

As is widely known, the best preventative measure we have to the virus is to stay apart from each other. Even with all of our technology and pharmaceuticals, and even though the year is 2020 and we are ever-closer to discovering warp drive, physical distancing is our only real defense. We have nothing else, not even testing. Until that changes, which it eventually will when there is a vaccine, let’s do the only thing we can and stay away from each other. COVID-19 is nasty and kills people. Let’s avoid it.

Speaking of something to avoid, why return to a workplace plagued with gaping flaws? As we turn our attention to reopening businesses, why not take the opportunity to build on our recent experiences of working from home and incorporate sound measures to protect the health and well-being of every worker? Let’s be thoughtful, clever and mix in some breakthrough thinking based on behavioral psychology to create an innovative workplace for the 21st century. Something more welcoming, more engaging, more inspiring, and something far more human. The pre-pandemic workplace is so last month. Let’s build something new, exciting and, importantly, conducive to producing outstanding results.

Last week³ we outlined six components of the workplace screaming for redesign, enhancement or flat-out creation, including:

  • Establishing a new ‘work day,’ one not defined by the typical 9:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m. shift
  • Enabling people to work from home regularly, eliminating the need to commute daily and, in the process, putting less stress on the roads, the environment and the millions doing the commuting
  • Using enhanced technology for effective team meetings, presentations, training and social interaction
  • Building a workplace culture of personal space and hygiene
  • Creating a culture of health, in which coming to work sick is neither valued, appreciated or respected, and
  • Designing a culture of shared and personal growth, in which leadership, supervision, communication, teaming, career planning and skills acquisition and growth are redefined and enhanced for the post-COVID-19 world.

Members of my team and I have seen firsthand the significant performance gains made by organizations that have committed to even one of these components. More importantly, organizations having taken specific steps toward what we call ‘The 21st Century Workplace’ report measurable improvement in productivity, quality, and employee engagement. Employees in these organizations, not surprisingly, believe that leadership is more concerned for the health and wellbeing of workers and their families, is more trusting of them, more appreciative of the work being done, and focused more on true leadership and less on supervision or the dreaded micro-managing. Employees tend to work longer hours — given the time gained by avoiding an arduous, soul-draining, time-consuming commute — devote more energy to their tasks, collaborate more with colleagues and coworkers, take a more personal interest in producing strong results, and, among many other desirable outcomes, consider themselves more productive, something the data supports.

Take note CEOs: Your CHRO will tell you that these perceptions are worth their weight in gold, and they’re right. The performance gains are significant and, importantly, appear to last.

As businesses across the country and around the world begin to consider reopening, let’s not miss this unique opportunity to design and install a workplace for the 21st century, a century we’re already 20 years into. An update is long overdue, and is critical as the nation reopens. Consider bringing a team of your most creative people into a virtual room with us to work through a process of discovery and invention. Together, we can take your organization from its current state to one far more conducive to attracting and retaining top talent, utilizing the skills and abilities — and passion — of your staff, and one capable of producing exceptional results. The 21st Century Workplace awaits and it’s exciting. Let it be one of the positives to emerge from this pandemic.

¹ As of 7:00 p.m., ET, May 3;






Alan is a consulting psychologist with a long and storied history of helping organizations of all sizes become more enriching, empowering places to work.

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Alan Schnur

Alan Schnur

Alan is a consulting psychologist with a long and storied history of helping organizations of all sizes become more enriching, empowering places to work.

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