It can feel like we’re in a work time warp. So much has changed so quickly, and we’ve entered a new era of navigating the future of work expectations that will impact us for years. Depending on your perspective, some for better, some for worse.
Since March 2020, when Covid-19 first caused shutdowns in the U.S., the world of work has changed so much that it can be difficult to keep up. In fact, we’re not keeping up; we’re just experiencing changes on the fly and trying to figure out what the next move might be.
Let’s admit, it’s stressful.
I’ve been studying the data for the past year to understand these changes. I’ve conducted scientific and social media surveys, interviewed CEOs and HR professionals and read countless research and popular press articles. I’m also the CEO of a company, and we’ve gone through the stress of changes ourselves.
Here are the highlights of what I’ve learned.
Covid-19 accelerated our thinking and action
Who would ever have imagined that both business and government could move so fast? But they did. If you wanted to continue operating, you had to think and change fast.
We collaborated with our coworkers and broadly as a society. Standing back, it’s fascinating how we accelerated so much action related to working from home, virtual meetings and employee engagement while simultaneously experiencing and addressing anxiety and stress.
I would not say we’ve done it perfectly, but as we come out on the other side, we need to understand what will stick and why.
We learned that even low-innovative organizations are capable of fast thinking, action and change. Just about everyone did it, and if necessary, we could do it again. One funny example is the growth of touchless urinals and toilets. Many companies and governments had old bathrooms. During Covid, when it was thought that touching things transmitted the disease, a lot of organizations changed out their flushing systems. That’s a benefit for cleanliness all around!
5 Ways the Workplace is Changing
Navigating the future of work has not been easy for all involved. Below are key learnings from this tumultuous time.
Working from home is now acceptable
It might be full or part-time, but the stigma has been shed around a lack of productivity when employees are out of the office. There are still some managers who don’t get it, but without question, productivity did not suffer; in many organizations, it flourished. One study showed productivity rose by 5%.
In my own company, I was suspicious. I did a lot of checking in with staff early on and found everyone was producing at a higher level.
While navigating the future of work, once my company recognized the benefits of flexibility, employees embraced the opportunity to work early in the morning or in the evening to match family responsibilities.
Some dealt with serious family illnesses and appreciated the flexibility to attend family doctor appointments. One employee found two extra hours per day by avoiding his stressful commute in heavy traffic—a widespread side benefit experienced by many people.
We saw so much gratitude for this flexibility that everyone wanted to do the best job they could.
Managers may need to approach their jobs differently
It is incumbent on managers to change how they engage with employees to get work done. Many managers learned they must manage to the completed task rather than worry about measuring how each employee puts in the time.
For some, this is a tough transition. Managers must assure their employees are being accountable and take this one action to bring employees on board: They must put the responsibility for communication on the employee.
Wa? That’s right, put the onus of engagement and updating the manager on the employee. Clarify the dates or days of the week when the employee will report to the manager, and make them responsible for it. If employees want the benefit of working from home, they must take on the responsibility of reporting on their progress.
This may seem easier on managers, but it’s just a different form of management. Employees must recognize their responsibility to be accountable.
Your employee value proposition must match or be near your competitors
Simply said, some companies are just not compensating enough. That’s part of why there are worker shortages in low-paying jobs like school bus drivers and restaurant and delivery workers.
People are looking closely at the hours required and the wages and benefits offered and choosing carefully.
Recognize there is a significant administrative cost to hire a new employee. Not only are there direct costs in advertising and personnel devoted to the effort, but time-to-hire has lengthened for many positions, in some cases from three to nine months and more. You need to know today if you can live without certain positions for an extended period. If you can’t, then offer better compensation and flexibility to your existing employees.
If you are not an employer of choice, staying in business may be a challenge. Will there be upward pressure on prices? Yes, and as a society, it looks like we’re entering a phase of modest inflation.
Collaboration must be intentional
Many employees feel most engaged—and will even accept less than the highest wages—if they feel involved in the company.
Focus on three things: First, supervisors should communicate regularly with their team, getting to know individuals and what’s going on in their lives; second, establish a clear strategic direction for the organization, and make sure everyone knows how their individual contribution helps accomplish the mission; and third, offer feedback with the intent to encourage and improve, not reprimand or belittle. Stay connected, and check in regularly with those you manage.
Many younger employees expect flexibility
Many of the best organizations are carefully navigating the future of work with their need for in-person working and offering flexible schedules.
This doesn’t mean everyone works from home; on the contrary, the majority of employees want to work in the office. Some feel as if their opportunities for advancement are better when they are noticed in person. Evaluate your needs and remake the organization accordingly.
For those who can work remotely while maintaining productivity and engagement, let them. Schedule all-hands days where everyone comes into the office to collaborate.
Recognize it doesn’t have to happen every day. In my office, we were more productive during the pandemic because we engaged weekly and planned better. As the CEO, my personal goal is to maintain that positive vibe and output.
Workplace stress is real and must be addressed
Some employees are hesitant or anxious about returning to the office, primarily because they fear catching Covid from careless or unvaccinated colleagues who don’t follow health safety protocols. However, they might be able to handle being in the office if the rules are reasonable and followed.
But—and this is important—it is not the employee’s job to maintain Covid safety in the workplace; that responsibility rests on management.
If managers do not take health issues seriously, your company is likely creating excess employee stress. Take an honest look at your company culture and practices, get your management team on board and be accountable for creating a safe and positive work environment.
The Future Holds Many Options, Accelerated by Innovation
Because we changed so much and so fast, everyone can see what we’re capable of. Here are a few of the expected changes:
The use of independent gig workers may grow. Staff will likely receive some office accessories in their homes. I think commercial real estate will suffer, as will nearby restaurants that support worker lunches and business dinners. Here’s an interesting prediction: Look for some commercial buildings to convert to apartments and condos.
Cost savings abound and will shift. We need to stay on top of these changes to improve efficiency and grow the bottom line.
Barry Moline is a keynote speaker, 25-year CEO and author of Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate for Success in Business and Life. He offers effective, connective ways to communicate, which help your success in both the workplace and beyond.
Download his free 30+ Workplace Icebreakers to Use Right Now and start opening up and branching out!
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