The workplace we once knew is gone, thanks to COVID-19. The pandemic changed how most of us will work from now on.
Pre-lockdown, no one could have predicted the drastic measures small businesses would have to take – with very little advance notice – to sustain operations. Now, it’s hard to imagine ever going back to the “old normal.”
As the pandemic’s impact wanes, employment challenges persist as companies continue adapting to the new face of American business.
Telecommuting, either full-time or hybrid, is the biggest permanent change. Recent Upwork research showed that 40.7 million Americans, or nearly 28% of the survey participants, will work from home permanently in the next five years, an 87% increase over pre-COVID figures.
The pandemic proved that a virtual workforce can get the job done. Employers will have to continue offering remote work options to attract and retain top talent.
However, the office is not going away. While some companies may downsize their physical spaces – or even shutter some locations – business leaders recognize that some functions are best fulfilled onsite.
For example, the February 2021 “The future of work after COVID-19” report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that activities like negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, performance reviews and onboarding new employees may be more effective when performed on site.
Managers and HR professionals must continue exploring which and when employees should physically report to the worksite. It’s likely that very few office workers will ever resume working exclusively at brick-and-mortar locales, but this is less true for people who work in hospitals, on manufacturing floors or in other workplaces where employees’ presence is required for their job duties to be fulfilled.
Most employers will adopt a hybrid schedule, with employees working from home part of the time. Such an arrangement enables a better work-life balance, which the pandemic necessitated as schools and daycares closed.
Now that employees have enjoyed greater flexibility, there’s no going back. Recruitment efforts will suffer at companies that don’t allow flexible schedules because prospective employees increasingly expect and demand this option.
The pandemic accelerated workplace digitalization. Leveraging technology was, after all, the only way many companies could continue conducting business in the early months of the pandemic. Many of those same digital tools will continue to play a key role in enabling remote work to succeed long term.
Even before the COVID outbreak, some employers used electronic employee monitoring tools – a practice that’s increasingly common now. In the post-pandemic workplace, HR professionals will more often rely on software and digital methodologies to track or improve employee hours, productivity, engagement, performance, collaboration and well-being.
Work in the age of COVID-19 and beyond goes on, of course – albeit differently. The employers who will experience the greatest future success will be those who respond most effectively to changes in the nature of work and where it’s performed.
From a human resources perspective, small business owners should:
- Continue looking for easier, faster and less expensive ways to operate;
- Attract and retain the best employees by offering flexible work, including remote work options;
- Use technology to create an interconnected, more efficient workforce; and
- Consider outsourcing critical HR functions to a certified professional employer organization that follows best practices in the post-pandemic work world.