The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many changes to workplaces worldwide. And some of these changes are here to stay—for the better. Here are five of the most likely permanent changes to work and workplaces as a result of Covid-19.
1. More remote work. For (almost) everyone.
If employees and companies have learned anything during the pandemic and quarantine, it’s that they can survive and, more important, thrive in an entirely remote working environment. It’s astonishing how quickly and successfully organizations around the world have pivoted to create fully remote workplaces. Of course, organizations won’t continue en masse to operate fully remote workplaces when the pandemic has run its course and a vaccine is widespread. But many organizations will understand the benefit of implementing much more remote work, and remote work will increase as a result.
The cost savings alone will be worth it. Think of all the commuting, real estate, and hardware (computers, phones, desks, furniture) costs that can be saved in the long run if remote work increases. Not to mention the increased employee satisfaction, and thus increased employee engagement, and thus increased productivity that will result.
As for which roles will see a spike in remote work, all types of office professionals who only require an internet connection and computer will work remotely in larger numbers post-Covid-19. So will scores of others. For example, health care professionals and teachers of all kinds will work remotely more often, as telemedicine and virtual appointments and classes become the rule rather than the exception.
In this time of quarantine, it’s been proven that so many roles can endure the move to a remote environment. And so, if there’s one safe bet in the wake of the pandemic, it’s that remote work in large numbers is here to stay.
2. Increased work/life flexibility. And not just for parents.
Just like the idea that we need to be in an office to be productive, the idea that we need to work a consecutive eight-, nine-, or 10-hour shift is also stale idea—which, pre-pandemic, didn’t work all that well to begin with. Before Covid-19, the 9-to-5 grind had long been a complaint of parents who’ve been forced to enlist babysitters and miss large portions of their children’s lives in order to sit at a desk between certain hours of the day.
Now, thanks to quarantine, numerous people in addition to parents have come to realize that the workday doesn’t necessarily need to be 9 to 5, or 10 to 6, or 7 to 4. That is, with so many people at home taking care of children or sick or immune-compromised relatives and still able to get all their work done, it’s become clear that work hours don’t need to be consecutive. Instead, if an employee has commitments outside of work that need to be done between 9 and 5, working hours could be spread throughout the day, say, from 9 to 11, then 1 to 4, then 7 to 10—with no harm done to work output. Also, managers are finding out that their employees are indeed responsible adults—and that work output and productivity doesn’t necessarily correlate with face time in the office.
Flexibility to get your work done when you want has long been a main reason people have gone remote. But why can’t flexibility be a benefit for all workers? Can’t people who aren’t fully remote workers feel free to work when it’s best suitable for them as long as all their work gets done and done well? The answer is yes. And so, look for all workers, not just remote workers, and not just workers with children, to be given a lot more flexibility post-pandemic. It will be a way for managers and companies that have historically frowned upon remote work to increase employee work/life balance.
3. More frequent communication. Among managers, direct reports, clients, and colleagues.
During this time of quarantine, checking in with each other has become a big part of our daily lives. Family members check in with each other, friends check in with each other, colleagues check in with each other. Also, managers check in with direct reports, direct reports check in with managers, salespeople check in with clients, and clients check in with salespeople.
Most of this checking in has been pandemic-related—How are you? Hope you’re well! Stay safe!—but it’s also been work-related. And this increase in work-related communication has resulted in closer-knit teams and closer-knit relationships between companies and clients.
In this crisis, professionals are finding out that it’s beneficial to check in with each other more often—it’s beneficial to relationships, and beneficial to business. Which is why you’ll see communication among professionals continue to increase post-Covid-19.
4. More Zooming. Less flying.
Airlines have been among the hardest hit companies in the Covid-19 pandemic. And it’s not going to look too pretty for them after the pandemic is well behind us. Under quarantine, professionals across numerous industries have found that virtual meetings work nearly as well as in-person meetings—and cost a lot less.
Post-Covid-19, when companies are faced with the choice of: a) having their salespeople fly from New York to LA, stay two nights in an overpriced hotel, expense all their meals and Uber rides, only to meet for two hours with a client, or b) having their salespeople Zoom that client from their home offices for $0, it’s safe to say that “a” will win 99 times out of 100.
Also, look for fewer destination conferences, fewer destination all-hands meetings, and fewer destination training programs. Even if there’s truly nothing better than an in-person meeting to improve a relationship, the cost savings of virtual meetings and conferences will severely reduce the frequency of in-person meetings, if not make them close to obsolete.
5. More humanity.
Hard to quantify but perhaps most important, humanity inside corporations and corporate offices will increase due to the unfortunate arrival of Covid-19. In fact, even before the novel coronavirus, necessary leadership and management skills and qualities had been trending toward vulnerability, empathy, emotional intelligence, active listening, and transparency. After the global pandemic has passed, these qualities and skills will be even more mainstream.
Under quarantine and under fear of sickness (and worse), executives and professionals of all levels have been getting used to sharing their anxieties, worries, and fears with their colleagues and clients. And what’s made this global pandemic—which hopefully is a once-in-a-lifetime experience—so unique and different from other tragic events such as 9/11 is that it's affected every corner of the world, every country, every community, every company, every age group, every nationality, every socioeconomic group.
We’ve learned the hard way that we’re all connected, that our lives and livelihoods are at risk if we don’t work together.
Of course, there are those leaders and their direct reports and followers who won’t budge, who won’t change as a result of this tragedy (which is far from over). But (it's my sincere hope that) the vast majority of the planet will emerge from this crisis more empathetic, more compassionate, and more understanding of their fellow citizens and colleagues. And that will be a beautiful—and beneficial—thing.