The Future of Work Post COVID-19
Over the past year, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on labor markets throughout the world. While the short-term consequences were swift and severe, the long-term effects will last for years.
Let us take stock of things to analyze the trends that will shape our new normal to better adapt and secure our future.
Remote Work is Not Going Away
Research reveals mixed reviews on the new normal for remote workforces. On one hand, hundreds of millions of employers worldwide were forced to make sudden and massive changes to the way their employees work. However, business leaders have done a great job at adapting to these changes.
In 2012, only 39% of US employees worked offsite part of the time. In 2016 that number rose to 43% - but with the pandemic, that statistic jumped to 62%. Employees and managers alike are seeing both positives and negatives of their new arrangement.
One study found that 48% of employees display more discretionary effort while working remotely, while other managers have expressed that they struggle to maintain productivity without proximity. Many individuals enjoy the more flexible arrangements, reduced commuting costs and time, and quieter workspaces - while others miss the collaboration and socialization aspect of traditional workplaces.
Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended remote work for 80,000 of the city’s employees - signaling to many that it’s time to get back in the office. However, workers all over the world have concerns about how they will mitigate risk and stay safe. We expect the revised Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines (OSHA) to play a big role in supplying guidance to business leaders as they navigate return-to-work plans.
One thing is for sure, while some socially starved people are eager to get back into the office, most people feel that remote work arrangements address a long history of work-life balance challenges.
Expect Increased Safety and Security Measures
No matter when you go back into the office, the physical space you work in is likely to change. We don’t expect the risk of COVID-19 - or other, future pandemics - to be fully eliminated, and so sanitation and cleanliness will be paramount. Face masks may become a new norm, workspaces will likely be spread further apart, and more touch-free and contactless amenities will be provided.
Even with these new measures in place, smart companies will take things a step further. Many businesses don’t have adequate business continuity and disaster preparedness plans that would have helped them when lockdowns initially took place. In the future, companies will develop more robust plans for unique circumstances like the pandemic. Additionally, the increase in remote activity will present cyber-security risks that need to be managed.
Employees Need to be Empowered
By preparing for remote operations, many organizations could have avoided a complete shutdown in offices and an overall slowdown in productivity. Going forward, aligning the remote workforce to overall organizational goals, while building a sense of connection will enable everyone to contribute to their full potential.
In other words, the workplace is not limited to the buildings or facilities that a company is based out of. Now we know that the workplace includes the broader environment that employees operate in.
Business leaders of the future will not only enable work within traditional workspaces, but adjust their organization’s design, processes, tools, policies, and ways of working, as well as the ways in which they develop and foster culture.
It’s imperative to redesign both the physical and digital environments to focus more on collaboration.
COVID-19 also impacted both the supply and demand sides of talent, leading to an increased need for greater agility around workforce deployment and talent preservation. As an example given in this Deloitte report, consumer goods company Unilever used its internal talent marketplace to redeploy more than 8,000 employees during the pandemic and 300,000 hours of employee work.
Advances in Automation and AI
Businesses have historically controlled and mitigated risk by adopting automation and redesigning work processes. Doing so reduces the jobs involving routine tasks (as well as the employees required).
Many companies did a nice job of deploying automation and AI early on. We saw such activities across grocery stores, call centers, and manufacturing plants. For example, Aymeric Barthes and Gaëtan Séverac started Naïo Technologies which began collaborating with farmers to design, manufacture and market electric robotics capable of weeding (a laborious task to do by hand).
Many experts have pointed out that AI will render some jobs irrelevant. Elon Musk has said that "Probably the last job that will remain will be writing AI software, and then eventually the AI will just write its own software." Technology will continue to evolve and we will see the effects on the workplace sooner rather than later - in fact, research has shown that 25% of US workers will face serious impacts from automation in the next couple of decades.
All Weather Windows: Prioritizing Safety
All Weather Windows, Canada’s largest window and door manufacturer, faced many challenges, just like many other companies when the pandemic knocked at their doors. After many discussions amongst the managerial team, their conclusion was to prioritize continuity of the business and the supply chain, which meant that having a healthy workforce was at the top of their list.
They eventually explored how technologies could complement their other initiatives to keep their facilities a safer environment and discover contact tracing by Safeteams. All Weather Windows gathered data and established an analytical system that allowed them to take proper action in the case of an infection, reassuring the whole workforce. The turnkey solution provided them accurate data that was easily accessible through the platform making it an obvious choice that Safeteams was a great added layer of protection for their staff.
So What Does the Future Hold?
The “future” of work is here. Many elements that experts had been predicting arrived earlier than organizations had planned for, thanks to the pandemic. Business leaders are being challenged to keep up with the rapid transitions, challenges, and opportunities.
What we do know is that the future of work will be more virtual, flexible, and centered on safety. Tomorrow’s employees will be ready to reskill, integrate hybrid processes into their workflows, and remain fluent in technology. The evolution we are all facing will be an ongoing process.
If you are looking for ways to promote resilience amongst your workforce in the immediate by supporting your staff’s mental health and following best practices, read our article on 7 ways to minimize workers' stress and promote well-being.