By Joni Burton, CPCC, CEO
The COVID-19 pandemic was the most extreme disruption of the workplace since World War II. So what happens to the workforce after the pandemic?
According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, some workplace shifts are permanent. For work that can be done remotely without a loss of productivity, 20 to 25 percent of the workforce will shift to working part-time or full-time remotely on a permanent basis.
Should companies do away with Zoom and return to a pre-COVID workplace? For most, the answer is no. Over the past year, employees have proven that they can be just as effective while working remotely, and most want to continue enjoying this benefit even after the pandemic subsides.
Will employees even want to flock back when it’s safe again? How badly do employees want to hold on to the ability to work remotely? A study by Robert Half found that one-third of professionals (34 percent) currently working from home due to COVID-19 would quit if required to be in the office full-time. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) said they prefer a hybrid work arrangement, where they can divide their time between the office and another location.
Given this new desire for remote work, how can business leaders create a new work world that will keep employees both happy and productive post-COVID? Managers will have to be accommodating. As much as some employees will crave the return of in-person social connections in the office, all have become accustomed to the flexibility that comes with virtual work—from less time to commute to more time with family and pets. Organizations need to find out what employees want and implement a model that supports the organization as well as the employees. Additionally, if an organization wants to emerge as successful post-pandemic, with top talent intact, it needs to attend more to the human side and a reaffirmation of its mission and values. For example, companies should encourage leaders to create time blocks, either online or in person, for the random connections that are critical for developing team culture.
Remote work can be an opportunity for an organization to attract talent. For example, remote work offers companies the opportunity to enrich their diversity by tapping a broader pool of workers who, for family or other reasons, were unable to join your organization before the pandemic.
Remote work of course has downsides, such as loneliness, which leads to higher rates of employee burnout, turnover, and disengagement. And contrary to widely held assumptions, better technology is not increasing a sense of connectedness, and in many cases actually has the opposite effect when depended upon as a substitute.
So what does a manager do to support their employees post COVID-19? Exhibit kindness: actively listen, check in, offer support and understanding, help connect employees to necessary resources, acknowledge their efforts, and thank them generously. Be creative and innovative about promoting kindness. By sincerely caring about your employees’ wellness and doing what you can to foster it, your workforce will be more engaged and, in the long run, more productive.