The pandemic, renewed attention to racial justice, climate threats, and evolving technology herald considerable changes in work. Policies, practices, and culture must also change to center equity in that shift.
In early 2020, the workplace was drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work became the norm, and long commutes became obsolete. Even with the heightened anxiety and danger, the public health emergency brought unexpected benefits to some, including flexibility, accommodations for family life, and recognition of “whole person” needs.
Most of us were likely taking our safety at work for granted, even though workplace safety has always been top-of-mind for some. Driving in traffic or waiting for the first cup of coffee might seem like the most dangerous parts of the day. But living through a pandemic has changed things.
In frontline settings, such as healthcare, grocery stores, transit systems, and manufacturing plants, the situation was drastically different. The workers who kept these essential services running were rightly hailed as heroes, but they often had no choice but to risk infection, hospitalization, and death to keep the lights on for the rest of us. In light of the changes in work structure and nature, these very different experiences illustrate the challenges we face. We as a society will determine how risks and opportunities are distributed in that emerging future.
Drivers of Disruption
The ability to perform work tasks properly and to avoid accidents is what defines safety in the pre-pandemic era. After the pandemic, the meaning of ‘to be safe’ changed. It meant a higher level of safety than before. We had to deal with a whole new set of procedures. Technology had been changing the nature of work before the pandemic hit. Some knowledge workers and creative professionals saw the benefits of remote work. Many workers — often those in frontline positions — found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, despite working full-time.
Robotics, artificial intelligence, e-commerce, and data analytics have disrupted many industries. According to a study from MIT, one robot can replace 3.3 workers in a manufacturing setting. Another study found that warehouse automation posed more challenges and hazards to employees, putting them at risk. Meanwhile, new business models are causing employers to shift to contractual or hourly wage arrangements, reducing worker benefits, and introducing unstable schedules.
Future of Work Trends Post COVID-19
In the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic, nine HR trends have emerged. The imperative for leaders now is to evaluate the pandemic’s impact on their organization’s operations and strategic goals, identify which require immediate action, and assess to what degree these trends change pre-COVID-19 strategic goals and plans.
Increase in remote working
As organizations shift to more remote work operations, explore the critical competencies employees will need to collaborate digitally and be prepared to adjust employee experience strategies. Consider whether and how to shift performance goal-setting and employee evaluations for a remote context.
More digital data collecting
An increasing number of companies are utilizing technology to keep track of their employees through virtual clocking in and out. This includes tracking work computer usage, and monitoring emails or internal communications. Some companies track productivity metrics, and others look at employee engagement and well-being to more thoroughly understand employee experience.
Conditional worker and workflow expansion
The uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many employees to adapt their jobs and made others susceptible for the first time to unstable and evolving work models. Companies will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management and workflows while considering the introduction of more adaptable models that they have created during the pandemic, such as talent sharing and 80% pay for 80% work.
Expanded employer role as a safety net
The pandemic has increased the trend of employers playing an expanded role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental well-being. Support includes enhanced sick leave, financial assistance, elastic hours of operation, and child care options. The post-pandemic economic scenario has also pushed the limits of how employers view the employee experience. Personal factors rather than external pressures take precedence over what matters for both organizations and employees.
Division critical skills and roles
Prior to COVID-19, critical roles were viewed as roles with crucial skills or the qualifications an organization required to meet its core goals. Now, employers realize that there is another category of critical roles. Roles that are critical to the success of essential workflows. To build the post-pandemic workforce, you’ll need to focus less on jobs than on the skills necessary to fulfill the companies’ competitive advantage and staff the workflows that fuel that advantage. Encourage employees to evolve critical skills that potentially expand opportunities for their development, rather than preparing for an exact role.
Workers versus people
Some companies have recognized the employment crisis of the pandemic and prioritized the importance of employees as people above employees as workers. Other companies have pushed employees to work in position-centered scenarios with little support that treat them as workers first and people second. Deliberate which tact you take but be mindful of the effects on the employee experience.
Clear and concise employment processes and objectives
Companies were already addressing increased employee demands for lucid objectives before the pandemic. Employees and prospects will evaluate companies by how they treated employees during the pandemic. Discern current options to resolve immediate concerns during the pandemic with an eye on the long-term impact on the employment brand.
The migration from efficiency to resilience
Most corporate restructurings are focused on streamlining roles, supply chains, and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach captured efficiencies, it also created fragilities since systems have little flexibility to react to disruptions. Resilient organizations were more capable of responding or making adjustments quickly. To build a more responsive company, form roles and structures around tasks to increase agility and flexibility and formalize how processes can flex. Additionally, provide employees with varied, adaptive, and flexible functions to acquire cross-functional skills.
Increase in organization complexity
After the global pandemic, merger and acquisition activity accelerated to avoid failure. As the pandemic subsides, there will be an even greater acceleration of M&A. Companies will focus on expanding their diversification and investment into secondary markets to mitigate and manage risk, especially in preparing for times of disruption. This rise in size and complexity of organizational management will create challenges for leaders as operating models evolve.
Enable different parts of the business to customize performance requirements because what one part of the enterprise needs might not work elsewhere as organizational complexity complicates many internal operations for both employees and management.