It seems clear now that we won’t be returning to the past and any pre-Covid19 ‘normal’. This relates to many things, including our future working environment. The time of Zoom, Teams and other video conferencing services is here and not going away. People are still not 100% back in their offices; will they ever be? I think not. There’s been short-term benefits and challenges from this dramatic change in work mode. It seems that we have learned a lot during the past year+, but there’s still a lot to learn and to do.
The pendulum for most of us working from home will almost certainly swing back; it already has for some. The question is by how much and what will things look like. Here are some challenges and opportunities that employers and employees are focused on:
- Productivity-There was a reported initial 20% increase in productivity as a result of people working from home. Some of these gains are proving transitory, others look more sustainable. Is productivity choppiness inevitable in a hybrid world?
- Chemistry and Culture-How is chemistry and culture best nourished in a virtual or hybrid environment? Companies have an opportunity here to reimagine themselves by promoting their team members’ diversity of life and work experiences.
- Recruiting and Retention-In-person versus remote recruiting protocols will continue to evolve, as will the thinking around how to maintain company connectivity and loyalty. How will employers be sure they’ve hired the best applicant when they’ve never met them?
- Workforce Training-I grew up in the world of on-the-job training, working side by side and observing how my co-workers did things. How will employers determine what types of training need to be done on site and which can be done remotely? The right balance of training via ‘bricks vs. clicks’ needs to be determined and will likely vary by job category.
- Innovation-‘Group think’ needs to be challenged and intellectual risk takers rewarded, but disruptive leaders are often more effective in 3D settings than in an inherently cool virtual world. How to encourage those heated disagreements that lead to real breakthroughs in innovation?
- Employee Safety and Fear-While the vaccine will mitigate this, don’t expect it to go away. All sorts of testing and vaccine protocols are being developed, with the primary intent of keeping us healthy, but with a secondary intent of mitigating fear. How will employers bring that much-needed sense of security into the workplace?
- Realignment of Household Duties-Many of us have been recalibrating who does what, when, and where in our homes. How does this affect our work and our homes, especially in those hives of creative chaos, the households with children?
- Work / Home Separation-When the bedroom, or in my case the dining room, becomes the office, it is hard to separate work from personal time. They often seem to meld together. How do we completely switch off when the office is only a room away?
- Work Hours-I’m not the only one experiencing the phenomenon of working more hours each day. And it’s more than working during what used to be commuting time. Making it to dinner on time, one room away, is more difficult than ever. Why am I usually the last one to sit down at the dinner table?
- Feeling Part of a Team-As a consultant, I traveled for many years and didn’t go to an office. But I had co-workers at each client site and there was clearly a sense of team among us. And we often worked hard and played hard after work. How does this work for someone who started with a new company during the pandemic?
- Increasing Isolation, Stress, Anxiety-I am worried about this as I write. How do I know how I am doing at work without direct personal interaction? That anxiety may lead to increased stress and feelings of isolation.
- Changing Social Life-For many, a lot of pre-covid social life revolved around work friends. How will social relationships evolve? Will virtual relationships prove sustainable and satisfying over time? My sense is that we will want and need more, not less, in-person social interactions to balance our (even partially) virtual work lives. Perhaps companies will expand their PTO policies, or their support for team members’ volunteer and cultural initiatives.
- Shifting Motivations–If my professional identity becomes less central to my sense of self, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Will I bring a wider perspective to my work life, or will my self-motivation at work suffer? Beyond a paycheck, what are the compelling reasons to work at a particular company? A lot has to do with personal satisfaction, but that may be harder to achieve in the teleconferencing era. Companies ignore worker motivation and identity issues at their own peril.
The way these and similar issues are addressed will significantly impact our companies, our society, and our lives. These are profound matters and do not have quick or simple solutions. They are all connected in some way. And their impact will extend beyond any specific employer and employee to encompass the wider world that we all share.