Employees have changed. Management has changed. Work has changed. Now it’s time to adapt to the post-COVID workplace realities.
How, where and why we work are different than before the coronavirus.
Here’s what researchers and experts found – and how HR can proactively manage the new workplace realities.
Normal is still on hold
Nearly all employees and managers don’t expect work and life to return to “normal” until later this summer or early fall, according to The MindEdge/Skye Learning’s fourth annual Future of Work survey.
What’s normal? Probably not what it used to be. Many employees’ responsibilities shifted or increased. Some employees will continue to work remotely, and others hybrid.
Much of the workforce think “normal” in a post-COVID workplace will be when they get back on a schedule, rhythm and career path.
Tip for post-COVID reality: “In this ‘new normal,’ it is critical that companies find ways to upskill and retrain their employees. Efficient and effective professional development courses have become a business necessity,” says Frank Connolly, director of research at MindEdge Learning.
Safety will remain center stage
Nearly half of managers expect the increased health and safety protocols will stick around for the long-run, the MindEdge/Skye Learning study found.
State mask mandates may loosen and COVID-19 vaccinations may rise. But employees will feel safer if they know their employer will continue with health and safety diligence. That could mean efforts to continue social distancing, requiring masks and meeting virtually.
Tip for post-COVID reality: The bottom line is employers want to stay in compliance with CDC and local guidelines. Beyond that, you may increase health and safety measures based on feedback from employees. Make them part of decisions on how to keep everyone physically and mentally safe.
“Ask and listen to your workforce regarding what they need, but also what they value. And for the actions that you do put in place, connect it back to their feedback and thank them. This builds the trust and the reinforcement that you care,” said Ann M. Powell, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Bristol Myers Squibb, in The Conference Board’s Building a More Civil & Just Society Conference.
We’ll measure differently
Turns out, working from home made people more productive. Ninety-five percent of employees said they get as much as or more done at home than in the office, a FlexJob’s survey found.
And that makes it hard to expect employees to work exactly like they did on-site. After all, if they can get more quality work done differently – whether that’s at 2 a.m., Saturday evening or noon on Monday – why worry about the process?
“I really, really hope that there’s a cultural shift that takes place that no longer glorifies the ‘overwork’ and the ‘always on,'” Powell said. “I really hope that sustainable success and efficiency replaces that, because that’s just not a smart way to work.”
Tip for post-COVID reality: Many companies and managers have already dropped time clocks and hour requirements. They replaced them with production and quality goals and gave employees more control to get the work done when, how and where they choose.
Employees will worry
Employees will likely continue to struggle with focus going forward. Nearly everyone worries about health and safety. Some worry because they also homeschool or take care of loved ones.
And a majority of employees worry about short-term job security, the MindEdge/Skye Learning survey found. They wonder if their hours, benefits or entire jobs are in jeopardy.
And many leaders don’t have the answers to those worries. Even as the economy bounces back, some companies aren’t sure if they can navigate the future.
Tip for post-COVID reality: Communication is more critical than ever. Encourage executives to share as much information about the health of the company regularly. Be honest where you stand in your industry and how employees might be affected in positive or negative ways. Information helps ease worries – or at least put the big picture in perspective – and helps maintain morale and camaraderie.
We’ll need training adjustments
About 45% of managers said their employees took on different or greater responsibilities throughout the pandemic. They had to work smarter and harder when colleagues left permanently or many had to work from home.
The new learning may have felt like baptism by fire. Now employees need proper cross-training or upskilling.
Tip for post-COVID reality: Pull together a team of mid-level managers to assess training needs at least quarterly. Many have department or job-specific needs, but you can find common needs for cross-training to integrate.
We’ll reinvent ‘social capital’
People in the office often get things done because of who they know. Employees across levels can ask a colleague to pitch in, give an opinion or offer insight. They did it successfully because of logistics – the other person was nearby, had helped before or shared interests.
It’s called “social capital” – and when people socially distanced or moved off-site, it went to hell, according to research from Microsoft. Employees felt isolated and group collaboration dropped. Interaction in close networks jumped while further reaching networks collapsed.
Now companies are more siloed than before, researchers concluded.
Tip for post-COVID reality: More companies than ever plan to keep a hybrid work arrangement. Without deliberate efforts to build ‘social capital,’ employees won’t be as creative, productive or happy, researchers found. Encourage managers to limit meetings, monitor workloads and check resources so employees have the time and energy to make workplace relationships a priority.