How the Coronavirus Has Changed the Future of Work

Here's what you can expect your leadership role to evolve in the new normal.
How the Coronavirus Has Changed the Future of Work
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It only took a couple of months for the coronavirus to completely change the world as we knew it. But, if you’re patiently waiting for things to return to normal, I have some bad news for you: I don’t think that we’ll ever ultimately return to a pre-COVID-19 world.

So, how has the future of work been altered? Well, here’s a glimpse into what to anticipate going forward.

Permanent flexibility.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5 million people were already working from home at least half of the time. Since then, according to research from Salesforce, 61 percent of the workforce is working from home. Even more astounding is that 53 percent of employees began doing so because of COVID-19. And, guess what? They’re more productive and communicative.

Because of this, expect flexible working arrangements to become the norm rather than just a trend. Twitter recently announced that most employees would be able to WFH permanently, and even more traditional companies like Barclays and Morgan Stanley have implemented this policy.

"It's obvious at this stage that remote working will be viewed with entirely new importance post-COVID-19," said Ben Rogers, president of platform and technology clients at the National Research Group (NRG). "Investments in platforms and technology will need to be made to maximize efficiency in this new paradigm.”

Does this mean employees will never leave their homes again? Of course not. They may visit the office one or two days a week for in-person events. Also, there will be some jobs where working remotely isn’t an option. But, we can be certain that the days of the traditional 9-to-5 daily grind are behind us.

Say goodbye to many in-person meetings.

Because of the coronavirus, virtual meetings have become more popular than ever. And just like remote work, expect the trend to become the new normal. We've seen Zoom pick up in a big way and many significant innovations with other virtual meeting platforms. COVID may also lessen a lot of business travel.

But, don’t just expect an uptick in video conferences. Anticipate replacing even more of your meetings with email and instant messages. No disrespect to face-to-face interactions, but these types of communications will likely be faster and more efficient. But, when it’s time to build rapport, rely on video conferences and try out team-building activities like virtual lunches.

Related: 7 Mistakes Leaders Make When Managing a Remote Team

Share employees in cross-industry talent exchanges.

“As leaders," say Ravin Jesuthasan, Tracey Malcolm and Susan Cantrell in HBR, "we must all ask ourselves: How can we tap into the broader ecosystem of talent to build the resilience of both organizations and people during these challenging times?”  

The answer? “One innovative response is to develop a cross-industry talent exchange.”

What exactly is this? Well, it’s where unemployed people, because of this crisis, temporarily work at “organizations that have an excess of work,” such as logistics. Why is this beneficial? It helps avoid “the frictional and reputational costs associated with letting people go while supporting workers in developing new skills and networks.”

Companies like Kroger, for example, have “borrowed” furloughed employees from the wholesale food distributor Sysco. “Months earlier in China, companies also creatively started sharing employees,” the authors add. “In these arrangements, the companies receiving employees define which skills they’re looking for,” explain Jesuthasan, Malcolm, and Cantrell. “They then work with the companies sharing their employees to define the length of the exchange as well as the implications for pay, benefits, and insurance.”

Adaptable, agile and innovative companies will thrive.

Which companies are going to come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed? It’s going to be those with a work-at-home model. Obviously, this is because they have limited fixed costs, such as real estate, and they’re light enough that they can change directions if they must.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom for businesses with physical locations or products. Case in point: distillers that have pivoted from making spirits to hand sanitizer. Or, clothing companies now making masks to meet the demands of customers. Another example would be offering online services. Take a gym, as an example. Clients could pay for virtual training sessions instead of physically going to the gym. 

Related: How Agile Leaders Help Organizations Thrive

Focus on outcomes, not time.

As we adjust to new working arrangements, there’s a temptation to monitor our team. Currently, employers are keeping tabs on their teams with keystroke monitoring, reading Slack messages, or analyzing what screens you’ve shared on Zoom. But, constantly monitoring your employees could backfire.

Employees may feel like their privacy has been violated. As a consequence, they may leave your organization. It also stifles innovation and signals that you don’t trust them, which decreases motivation and productivity. So, in small doses, this may work, but encouraging ownership may be the better option.

“The role of leaders will shift to further attention on empowering their employees, energizing them around a common mission, and measuring the outcomes of their work,” writes Bill George, author of Discover Your True North. “Instead of measuring employees’ inputs, companies will shift to results and forward-looking metrics like market share and customer feedback.”

Related: Work-Life Balance Is Simple. To Succeed at Work, Get a Life.

Employee health and well-being will be at the forefront.

Team wellness is now at the forefront of employee and company priorities. While we are still in COVID and may be stranded for some time to come, keep working on making sure your team is doing well mentally and physically. Maintain team activities.

Depending on your industry, this will vary. But, if you’re expecting employees to physically return to the workplace, then you need to step-up your cleaning and sterilization game.

You may also have to implement mandatory on-thee-job screenings. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks have been taking the temperature of their employees. There may even be an “immunity passport,” like the one being discussed in the UK.

Expect face masks to be worn around the office. Watch for the rebels and bullying that happens in the circumstances to make others feel foolish about their mask-wearing.

Additionally, you may need to assist your team with their mental health — regardless of whether they come into work or work remotely.

“On an individual level, unfortunately, there are some people who are going to face post-traumatic stress,” said Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School. “The encouraging news psychologically is over half of people report a different response to trauma, which is post-traumatic growth.”

“Post-traumatic growth is the sense that I wish this didn't happen but, given that it happened, I feel like I am better in some way,” explains Grant. “It might be a heightened sense of personal strength." Or, "it could be a deeper sense of gratitude; it could be finding new meaning, or investing more in relationships.”

To assist with this, show empathy and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. You should make sure that your insurance plan covers therapist visits, and you can refer them to teletherapists, apps like Headspace or crisis hotlines.

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