The Covid-19 pandemic upended every aspect of normal livelihood around the globe. Things shifted to sometimes unrecognizable extents overnight. In response to lockdown measures, companies have made significant efforts to adapt.
2020 brought WFH front and center. Future Forum research shows that remote work is here to stay. Changes in policies, upgrades in technology, and shifts in individual expectations prove that. Companies strive to live up to the challenge and to reap the benefits.
The transition will not be easy, as there are few companies 100% ready for remote work. The era of the headquarters is ending, and analog work draws its last breaths. Companies invest in organizational-scale plans to stay abreast with the future of work. These will allow them access to broader talent pools and more competitive employees. The considerable time and cost savings are other essential benefits, as HBR notes.
Remote work proved to be the catalyst for essential changes in values and priorities. Here are the five most visible shifts in workforce dynamics brought on by the pandemic. These will continue to shape the way we work well beyond the end of Covid-19.
1. Increased focus on soft skills
We need to focus on a new set of skills to keep up with the surrounding changes. Companies are aware of this shift. Recruiting now prioritizes soft skills, such as adaptability, creativity, and emotional intelligence. Developing emotional intelligence is the key to building resilience in trying times. It also turns teams into support networks, despite geographical distribution.
Fast learners have a definite advantage, both as new hires and for internal talent mobility. Continuous education will focus on more than technical abilities. Employees must prove themselves willing to tackle the challenges in a proactive manner. Upskilling and willingness to learn are crucial, no matter the industry.
2. The advantages of autonomy and flexibility
The WFH revolution put flexibility and autonomy on everybody’s lips. Faced with unprecedented challenges, employees learned to juggle life and work. New routines have started to set in. Commuting time became family time. Long and unproductive meetings got a fun makeover via the many online meeting tools.
The newfound freedom to work and live on their terms will be an attractive perk for employees in the long run. They will be willing to prove that performance does not depend on close oversight. They will soon trade-in cash raises for free time, rest, and personal development. A sense of control adds to life and job satisfaction. People can now focus on what matters to them as employees and as individuals.
3. Employers as well-being leaders
The pressure to perform outside the established structures can lead to emotional problems. Feelings of helplessness, disconnect, and burnout can eat away at morale and productivity. Managers have the difficult task of juggling corporate targets with well-being measures. Mental health becomes the main focus of people management practices.
When the lines between work and personal life are blurry, lack of boundaries can become a problem. Setting healthy limits is vital for both work results and personal life satisfaction. It takes transparency and a vulnerable approach to our humanity to balance the two. For sustainable results, top management should lead the way in empathy and compassion. This starts with prioritizing mental health programs and modeling a healthy work-life balance.
4. The office, reimagined
The office-centric culture as we knew it shifts as work embraces remote arrangements. For prominent corporations, offices will remain a sign of status and economic power. Behind the scenes, technology, design, and ventilation will become key investment directions.
Satellite office arrangements will develop to cater to the needs of remote workers. Daily schedules will consider face-to-face interactions as a crucial commodity. There will be no more wasted hours in meetings that could fit in an email or a Slack channel. Time is precious and will receive the utmost care.
5. A new dimension of digital transformation
The pandemic sped up the digitalization of office work almost overnight. One day everyone was at the office, in a glass and steel building. Smart devices, cloud technology, and collaboration platforms were already at their disposal. The next day, physical offices closed and loosened the grip on office hours. The entire technological infrastructure became mobile. It was a matter of survival.
Moving forward, companies will look closer at the benefits of early technology adoption. It can start as simple as with an employee management tool for the remote manager. All the way through to high-end encryption, every aspect of office life will benefit.
Agility will replace scale when it comes to market advantage. To rise to this challenge, companies have to move fast and become digital-ready. Digitalization efforts will focus on enabling remote work and flexibility, with safety and privacy in mind. On their part, employees will have to keep up with new technologies. These will become essential instruments for efficiency and support.
Versatility might be the most important lesson to take forward beyond the grim days of Covid-19. As the pandemic proved, work from home is not one-size-fits-all. Flexibility, adaptability, and creativity play an essential role in the new era of work. Human connection turns individuals into teams, no matter the physical distance.
Clear purpose and strong core values will shift the paradigm of knowledge work. Companies have the tools and resources to empower their employees. They have to double that with a willingness to go past the office walls and office hours. It comes down to a culture that embraces differences as much as similarities. It comes down to meeting employees where they are and supporting individuals as they are.
Derek Jones spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets, and communication. With a focus on Healthcare, Derek helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor costs in line and build award-winning workplaces. Derek has over 16 years’ experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.
The pandemic has taught us many things, not the least of which is remote work can be more productive and provide a better work/life balance than in-office work. So, what will happen when employers reopen their offices and employees don’t want to return? How should employers engage with employees who want to keep working remotely? And how should employees who want to keep working remotely engage with employers who want them to return to the office?
To find out the answers to these and other questions on the minds of professionals, managers, and executives across the country, we spoke with Rhiannon Staples, the chief marketing officer of Hibob.
As the Covid-19 delta variant gives rise to new hotspots, it's understandable that workers nationwide are wondering how it will affect the return to offices. John Macomber is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, veteran of the real estate industry, and co-author of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity (Harvard University Press; April 21, 2020).