COVID-19 changed work. In some ways, for the good. In other ways, for the worse.
Now, HR pros, managers and employees on the front-line will want – and need – to embrace and adapt to many of the changes.
The good news is, many people are happy with how things have evolved. Mind you, it’s not exactly panacea for everyone. And some changes require undesirable adjustments. But, researchers found most changes have been for the better.
“The world has been through a painful yet dramatic learning process over the last two years. The question is how leaders of organizations will capitalize on those lessons to make their organizations fit for a modern and challenging world of work,” says Andrew Mawson, managing director at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), which did research on the biggest changes and challenges employers face now.
“Those that grasp modern ways will reap the rewards. Those that do not will find their organizations increasingly out of step with a rapidly changing reality.”
So, to get ahead – or just stay on top – of post-COVID-19 workplace trends, let’s look at the seven top shifts and ways HR can navigate them.
New work models emerged
Leaders talked about increasing (what we used to call) telecommuting and work-from-home models for years. Employees listened – and even advocated – for them, as well.
But the rapid onset of the pandemic accelerated the transition to (what we now call) remote and hybrid work models. In some dramatic cases, employers transitioned 100% of their employees to remote work situations in 12 hours.
Now, nearly everyone who works behind a computer expects it. In fact, most employees in a Qualtrics study say the changes they want to keep most after the pandemic’s over are fully remote, hybrid and flexible work.
While you consider or revamp return to work plans, keep in mind that what’s most important to employees is stability. Regardless of the work model each employee prefers, researchers found nearly everyone wants to keep doing what they’re doing.
Aside from the few employees who need totally structured environments, most employees want – or go so far as to demand – flexibility nowadays. In fact, it could be the biggest way COVID-19 changed work.
But it takes on greater meaning for employers now. Turnover is higher than ever in many places because employees are solely looking for and accepting jobs that offer flexibility.
On the bright side, that doesn’t mean you have to offer every employee or job candidate flexible work arrangements.
That’s because employees want autonomy more than anything else, according to Harvard Business School research. Yes, they want flexible schedules and/or hybrid work circumstances. But they want control over when and where they work – all the while respecting responsibilities, bosses, colleagues and fluctuating work demands.
The box became smaller
Before the pandemic – and probably too long for any catchphrase to exist – we wanted people to “think outside the box.” But the box – the building where people worked and the like-mindedness that grows inside company walls – was already big.
Forced remote work made a lot of the things that once seemed impossible, possible. For instance, jobs and functions that we considered too dangerous to take off-site – such as big banking and processing confidential information – are commonly done remotely.
And all those meetings we felt we needed to have in the conference room worked just as well via Zoom.
Point is, employers and employees want to review how and where they work. Talk about it at least annually so you’re as effective and efficient as possible.
Office space changed
Employees moved home, and offices went vacant. Now, most offices are partially vacant all the time or completely vacant some of the time.
Plus, more offices – or space that is now considered an office – sprung up in homes. And after the initial sudden uprooting, employers helped employees set up efficient workspaces at home.
Meanwhile, businesses reconsidered their office space.
What’s trending: Many companies turned old cubicle farms into a central hub. The space is more open for collaboration on the days and times employees are on-site. That allows more idea sharing, team building and bonding. Then employees can focus on quiet, solo work when they’re off-site.
Remote leadership became a ‘thing’
As if front-line managers didn’t have difficult jobs before the pandemic. Now many have to straddle in-person and remote management responsibilities.
AWA researchers found managers who oversee virtual and hybrid teams succeed when they established “social cohesion and trust.”
- encourage team members to take responsibility for how they show up to work
- give them tools and time to develop and maintain relationships within the company, and
- regularly clarify expectations, outcomes and results.
What’s more, if your entire company stays remote or hybrid, you’ll want everyone to get coaching on how to lead in the new work reality. You’ll also want to rethink how and why people are promoted into management and leadership, and then document the new standards and expectations.
Well-being is better
As COVID-19 changed work, employees spent more time with family and less time with colleagues in the last two years. And that changed many people’s outlook on well-being.
The Qualtrics study found when it came to:
- work-life balance – 43% are better off vs. 18% worse off
- job satisfaction – 39% are better off vs. 20% worse off
- career progress – 36% are better off vs. 17% worse off
- family life – 40% are better off vs. 19% worse off
- overall happiness – 41% are better off vs. 24% worse off
But it’s not all good news: Employees requested more mental health assistance than ever before. They were stressed throughout the pandemic, and they often don’t feel supported.
The good part: Most organizations stepped up their mental well-being resources. Employees have more tools than ever. What to do: Regularly remind and update employees on the tools and resources available to help them manage mental well-being.
On the lighter side, Qualtrics identified pandemic-era words and catchphrases employees want erased. Those include:
- The new normal
- Social distance
- The Great Resignation
- Remote work
- Virtual happy hour
- “You’re on mute”
- Essential worker, and
- Unprecedented times.
What can you eliminate from HR communication?!