From back-to-back Zoom meetings and makeshift desk spaces to virtual happy hours and staycation vacation days, the way we think about and participate in the workforce has changed dramatically over the past month.
But it’s not just the practical processes that have changed, the COVID pandemic has challenged how we think about work and what we prioritize, both as individual contributors and as teams. Our rocket ship transition to a nation working from home will have a lasting, dynamic impact on the US and global white-collar work landscape.
And while this period of change might be proving, well, difficult for many of us, it’s important to remember that immediate frustrations and workarounds will make way for positive, longer-term changes in the future of work.
Newfound resilience will be a catalyst for remote work opportunity
By the second week of March 2020, it felt like the entire US white-collar workforce had transitioned to working from their homes. To stay afloat, businesses in all sectors were forced to rethink how they approached day-to-day business practices and processes, and with little to no planning period. In other words, companies had to prove their resilience – not only to customers and board members and stakeholders – but to their individual employees and internal teams.
And through this newfound resilience, companies and industries who’ve fought tirelessly against the evolving ‘future of work’ landscape are now in a position where employees have proven that, yes, working from home is not only possible, but it’s a viable, productive, and fiscally efficient option for many teams.
In the months and years to come, we can expect to witness an influx of leadership teams touting work from home as not just a benefit that they’re offering to prospective employees, but as a foundational shift in what is valued and prioritized in the company’s culture. What was once a disdained option (for some) or nice-to-have perk (for many) will now become a necessary pillar of companies’ comprehensive internal structure and compensation package.
We’re challenging and evolving our communication habits
Now that we’re all working remotely, it’s important to have a consistent and open line of communication – with leadership, direct reports, and teammates alike. Tools like Slack, Hangouts, and Zoom, as well as various project management tools like Monday.com, Airtable, Notion, etc., have made it easier than ever to communicate in real-time, in great specificity, and with the relevant team members about particular projects or company happenings.
And something that many companies did not necessarily recognize before, is that the practicality of workflow and communication tools eliminates the need for many of our in-person meetings. Now that we’re working from home and left without the opportunity to meet in our physical conference rooms, we have a better understanding of how well these tools are bridging previous communication gaps.
The post-COVID workforce can expect a reduction of 15-minute “touch bases” and “check-ins” – from entry-level all the way to the c-suite, we might see a prioritization of efficiency and trust in how teams are scheduling in-person meetings and project management reviews.
That’s not to say that we will eliminate the human element of our workforce.
Going beyond the practicality of the tools, in working from home and relying heavily on written communication to convey our thoughts and ideas surrounding work projects, there’s a greater risk of teammates misconstruing the tone that we are trying to convey, misunderstanding a point we’re attempting to make, or not fully grasping a change we’d like to implement.
To avoid these issues, we’re evolving our communication processes to be more human-forward and accessible. As we transition back to our brick and mortar offices, we can expect a shift towards empathy in how we approach difficult conversations with team members, complex asks from managers, and crisis messaging from leadership.
Necessary, fast-moving pivots will encourage greater exploration and experimentation
Not every company (enterprise or startup) will survive the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic. And in the same way that companies tested their resilience in rethinking how their teams would work remotely, companies are proving their adaptability in real-time.
In the current climate, some industries cannot generate revenue, and teams must now get creative in order to sustain cash flow. CEOs and founders have an opportunity to challenge the status quo of what their company once offered and think practically about what their company could be offering in the ever-changing landscape of our new COVID reality.
Even after a return to normality, we could (and should) see companies – especially startups – lean into the concepts of exploration and experimentation. Right now, teams are being put through the wringer and are designing the “hail mary” blueprints to just survive, but in years to come, this mentality will translate into a company’s ability to truly thrive and set themselves apart from the competition.
Unexpected layoffs will press companies to up the ante on severance packages
In light of the potentially impending recession and sudden, unexpected halt in cash flow within several industries, companies are now faced with the difficult decision to cut a significant portion of their teams. Layoffs are never easy, no matter how or when they happen, but the COVID economy is an incredibly tough place to land, and employers are tuned in and hypersensitive to the difficulties that furloughed and laid off employees will face in the months ahead.
And in uncanny fashion, companies across sectors are reimagining what the severance package looks like: CEOs and leadership teams are foregoing salaries and taking pay cuts to create a budget to cover things like 60 days COBRA coverage, 14 – 60+ days salary pay-out, and coaching and next-steps services.
Perhaps unknowingly, employers are now setting a high bar for what mass layoffs of any size, during any climate might look like. Prioritizing an employee’s health and financial security, even once they’re technically a former employee, might quickly become the new norm.
A refocus on mental health is encouraging companies to be mindful of employees’ holistic wellbeing
How are you feeling, really?
Leadership teams and managers are opening conversations and giving employees the space to share how they’re holding up during the WFH transition period.
Companies are introducing new benefits like Headspace and scheduling weekly meditation practice on Zoom; vacation and personal days are still being approved; Managers are requesting that their teams sign off and unplug at the end of the workday.
Again, the human-first approach to communication and management is paving the way for a total 180 in how we think about and codify mental healthcare in the workplace.
In a post-COVID world, we might expect to see expanded health benefits like increased access to mental healthcare options, time allowance for mid-day therapy sessions, no-questions-asked mental health days off, and a general understanding and acceptance that it’s okay to not be totally okay.
Moving a country’s workforce to remote status was not – and is still not – an easy to task. Employers and employees alike will struggle, adapt, and make it work – all in real-time. And although the current climate will continue to bring new challenges, we can, at the very least, look forward to the positive and lasting changes that our absurd remote work period will have on the workforce and jobs landscape in the long term.