• The recent switch to remote working consolidates a longer transition towards the ‘intangible company’
• Business leaders are obliged to pay more attention to managing external factors, as hierarchical control structures are dismantled
• This could have knock-down effects for employee rights and sustainability
The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively kicked off a new era in our working lives. Instead of assembling in offices, more fortunate members of the workforce gather virtually, via conferencing software. Our days, seemingly shortened by the freedom from commuting to and from offices, now include juggling personal obligations and catching up on workloads as we can, when we can. Conditions are unlikely to reset to “normal” when the pandemic has passed. This means that, since human cultural norms are established by observation and socialization, corporate culture is certain to become less tangible in this new, remote work environment. Welcome to the age of the intangible company.
While all this feels dramatic and sudden, it is merely the latest step in how corporate life has been growing less material. Leaders’ efforts to enforce hierarchy, make decisions and control corporate reputations were broadly challenged by the fraying of institutional boundaries. The once-reliable division between “internal” and “external” factors had blurred across a range of dimensions, leaving a far tighter, less predictable feedback loop between a company’s actions, impacts and reputation. Organizational boundaries around time, space, information, hierarchy and strategy have been all becoming more porous and contested. But the global emergency has decisively punctuated a long-term transformation in how companies establish their values and identities, regard their interests, and interact with society.