When COVID-19 crashed down on the economy, work as we knew it came screeching to a halt. Most employees suddenly fell into one of three camps:
- Essential workers were forced to put their lives on the line by carrying on with “business as usual” under a much higher demand, at a time in which the coronavirus was deadliest.
- White-collar professionals navigated the transition from an office environment to a remote work setting where they could perform their roles at a safe social distance, introducing an all-new set of challenges for both management and staff.
- A record-breaking number of people lost their jobs in response to temporary (or in some cases, permanent) nationwide business closures had to learn how to file for unemployment benefits due to the pandemic.
Although one circumstance might sound preferable over another, as they say, “the grass is always greener”. Whether you feel grateful to have a job, enjoy the unexpected time off, wish you could return to the office, or love working from home, there’s no certainty in how long any of these situations will last.
Many people wonder when everything will go back to normal, but perhaps the better question to ask is what the new “normal” will even look like. Faced with public health concerns, massive revenue loss, and heavy budget cuts — just to name a few unforeseen variables — if one thing’s for sure, it’s that companies and their workforce will need to evolve to stay alive.
So, what’s in store for the future of work in the post-COVID era? No one can guarantee how the next several months will pan out, but these changes are sure to be expected within industries that can choose if or when they reopen their office space.
Companies Move to a Hybrid Workforce
This decision won’t come easy, as there are so many pros and cons to support either stance. On the one hand, the demand for flexibility in where or when people work has built strong momentum over the past several years. Businesses looking to attract top millennial talent particularly understood the importance of advertising “work-from-home” days in the job description once a month, if not more.
Before COVID-19, surveys showed that 80% of employees wanted the ability to work remotely at least some of the time — but new data suggests the at-home setting might not be all that they had hoped for, because now 70% of remote employees want to go back to the office.
Remote workers have to tap into time management and concentration skills they may be unfamiliar with. If not, they could be away from their desk for a significant portion of the day, resulting in a loss of productivity that negatively impacts the company’s bottom line. Timely collaboration with colleagues can be difficult online, and there’s a good chance that socializing with coworkers might have been taken for granted before coronavirus forced teams to spread out, sheltering in place at home.
However, business owners have to calculate the vacancy rate on their commercial office lease and how much money they may be able to save without a rent payment, utility bills, office supplies, breakroom snacks, and so forth — especially at a time when forced business closures may have severely impacted sales revenue.
And then, apart from finances, there are health concerns regarding their responsibility to keep employees safe. Will they install hand sanitation stations throughout the office? Can desks be separated six feet apart?
To strike a middle ground that makes most people happy (and healthy), it’s likely that we’ll see a spike in hybrid workers who primarily work-from-home, but go into the office a couple times a week to collaborate when necessary. It’s the best solution to satisfy staff’s safety concerns and social pining, as well as the company’s bottom line.
Recruiting & Onboarding Will Present New Challenges
Whether employers intend on bringing their teams back into the office full-time, part-time, or not at all, HR will need to come up with new and creative recruitment strategies. For the foreseeable future, it won’t be possible to simply ask a candidate to come in for an interview, or to strike up a conversation with a soon-to-be college graduate about available growth opportunities.
Recruiters will be tasked with exploring innovative ways to seek out qualified job candidates and follow best hiring practices, but companies may also have to adjust their benefits package (or create one from scratch) to incentivize talented leads to join the team.
The younger workforce generation might have passed on health care insurance before, but post-pandemic, it’s sure to be a top priority when comparing career choices. The amount of available sick leave and paid time off included within benefit packages may be expected to increase, as employers can’t stand to risk someone coming into the office if they display any possible symptoms of coronavirus — many of which compare to the common cold that people are often used to trudging through at work during pre-COVID times.
Employee/Employer Relationships Demand Renewed Attention
Every company culture is unique in its own way, but nearly all will be impacted by the disruption caused by the pandemic (if they haven’t already). Team-building activities, such as weekly catering, monthly happy hours, or quarterly outings, are likely on pause for the foreseeable future, as is the comradery gained through conversations with colleagues in the office.
Managers may need to collect data, monitor time-tracking, and supervise their direct reports in ways that may seem invasive — but they should also do their part by providing employees with work-from-home tips that can help their staff stay on top of their productivity, minimize distractions, and maximize work/life balance.
Business owners might consider offsetting some of those pre-COVID, in-office perks with investments into their team’s wellbeing. Many people, no matter their age or employment status, have experienced adverse physical and mental health effects due to the pandemic; something as simple as a subscription to an at-home workout platform or guided meditation course could go along way in terms of employee retention rates and overall happiness — a key component to their professional performance.
Between the election results and flu season lingering around the corner, none of these speculations should be taken as guaranteed facts. But at the rate the pandemic is progressing, employees and employers would be wise to proactively prepare for such changes to come about.