Post-Pandemic: What Will Companies Do Now?

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.

What is Work Going to Look Like Now?

By Dedra Perlmutter, Senior Career Coach & Human Resources Manager

It has been over a year, are you ready to go back?

Most of us are not. USA Today recently noted: “Forty percent of Americans prefer to work from home full-time, compared with 35 percent who seek a home-office hybrid and 25 percent who want to go back to the office full-time, according to a Harris Poll survey of 2,063 adults May 14-16.”

After all this time of remote work, are you ready to leave your home? Your kids? Your pets? Your casual dress code? What about your daily routine and flexibility? 

And more importantly, which decision—home, hybrid, or in-office—will your company make? Does your boss or CEO know the plans yet? In reality, no one knows the best answer yet, not even leadership. They can’t—this workplace revolution has never happened before. But it’s being talked about as on the same level as the tech revolution, or the industrial revolution that moved the West from agriculture-centric to factory-centric. Like these immense changes, the post-COVID workplace may revolutionize the look, feel, and even existence of your workplace, especially if you don’t do manual labor or service work.

The “new normal” may not be the same as the old normal, despite the power of tradition and familiarity. One reason? The efficiency of remote work caught the eye and pocketbook of CEOs. For example, a study by McKinsey & Company in early April found that 60 percent of businesses surveyed in early April said that their new remote sales models “were proving as much (29 percent) or more effective (31 percent) than traditional channels.” That’s 60 percent on the side of remote work being as good as or better than before the pandemic.

In addition, because of the drastic nature of the pandemic, companies from start-ups to stolid giants were forced to be innovative, flexible, and agile. That is good for you as an employee, because that attention to flexibility may remain, having proved its worth. It may mean employees get more choices, across a far wider range than previously thought possible.

Are the lines of communication open?

These days, many thought leaders who advise employers recommend consulting with you, the employee as they plan for their futures. Employees want to be heard and employers are listening.  Together, they are working through the numerous questions and individual scenarios that will result in a positive transition to the “new normal.” Since there are no correct answers, employees do have power to influence change. Speak to your peers, your manager, and HR, to let them know how you feel and what kind of workplace you would prefer. Respond to a survey if you are sent one on this issue.

The “new normal” may actually be, for some, the “old normal.” But, for many, “the workplace” may have a brand new definition. How collaboration, creativity, socializing and team-building happen may change. And you will be part of this revolution, just by working. The one thing we can all agree on is that flexibility, for companies and for employees, will be key to the “new normal” at work. 

COVID-19 Survival Guide: A New Emotional Reality After Vaccination

Ann Stromberg

By Ann Stromberg, MSW, LISW, Emotional Wellness Coordinator 

If you have made the choice to be vaccinated against COVID-19 you know that giddy feeling that accompanies the vaccination appointment. That little white card that shows the world we are fully vaccinated is our passport out of isolation. However, for some people, the joy of freedom can become anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

If your hopefulness has been replaced with some new anxious feelings, you are not alone. Uncertainty about how to move forward is real. How do we become “normal” again?

What about reentering social and office spaces? Your first question may be whether others are vaccinated, and how safe you are as a result. People are also expressing anxiety about how we will interact. We are ready to break out, but what are the new rules? Spending a year socially isolated means many of us have become accustomed to spending time alone(ish). Inner conflict occurs because we want to connect, but connecting creates anxiety.

Do you wonder if you still know how to be social? We have all been there doing the awkward social dance: should I reach out to hug, shake hands, or what? It’s just not automatic anymore.  

Anxiety is normal. If you are getting ready to head back to the office or considering an upcoming social event, know that anxiety can be managed. One of the best strategies to manage anxiety is to troubleshoot the situation. Ask yourself what is concerning, and devise a plan to handle it. You may want to create an “exit strategy.” If you have a plan, you will feel more in control of the situation.  

Similarly, if you know you are returning to the office, you can troubleshoot first. Your office will have new policies in place; take the time to read them, or ask for more information. It is also always possible to continue to take the safety precautions that help you feel safe. One thing that is universal as we move out into the world is our choice, which gives us a sense of control, which lessens the anxiety.

Anxiety is like focusing on an object through a zoom lens, you only see a small part of the picture. Pulling back to the wide-angle lens you can see the big picture and the focal point fades into the background. Shift your attention to your space in the picture, and create the space you need.

Another perhaps surprising concern is getting used to socializing again. Little things like eye contact, small talk, and other people’s idiosyncrasies may take some time to get comfortable with again. It seems odd to think you may have lost some social skills, but a year is a long time. It is always easier to start back with small steps. Most importantly, accept that anything you are feeling is normal for you at this time. We will each have varying levels of comfort. Take a few minutes and assess what you need. Listen to what your instinct tells you. We spent twelve-plus months in a truly unprecedented situation. Moving forward, it will take some time to feel “normal” again.   

More Than a Network: JVS Career Services Helps Client Get Back to Work and Inspires Him to Give Back

“If you’re not willing to listen, you’re not willing to learn,” reflected Brad Wagner on his experience with JVS Career Services. “The career coaches there are in the profession of helping you develop your professional skills, and if you’re not listening to them, you’re not benefiting yourself.”

Wagner lost his job of six years in May of 2020, due to COVID-19 cutbacks. “It was a complete shock,” he said. “I had just taken on a new role around the start of 2020, and I was growing a new team and taking on new responsibilities. Then March came along, and we were all sent home. Then in May I got a call from my boss and HR. I was expecting a pay cut, or a furlough—I was not expecting to be let go.”

Wagner had envisioned spending the next 20 years with the company, but he understands the reality of the situation and harbors no ill feelings. “I still talk to a lot of people there,” he said. “After six years, you build not only professional relationships, but also friendships. And I believe in not burning any bridges, because you never know what’s going to happen down the road.”

Understanding the situation doesn’t make losing a job any less scary. “It was pure panic,” he said. “It was right in the middle of COVID and it felt like no companies were ever going to hire again. But I’m not one to sit around and wait on handouts. I was on the phone, and I called more people the day I lost my job than I had in a really long time.”

One of those calls was to JVS Career Services, which had helped Wagner find a job a decade ago. “I had success with JVS Career Services back then, so I reached out to Kim Slaton and she put me in touch with Dedra Perlmutter.”

Wagner said Perlmutter made him feel confident and secure about his job search. “After the first time we met, I had this feeling of, ‘Where did she come from?’ Dedra was able to help me update my resume, my LinkedIn profile—she made it all look so easy. And that took a major stressor off of me.”

In addition to polishing his resume and online presence, Perlmutter helped Wagner navigate the new world of job searching. “Brad is a master networker,” she said, “but there’s more to looking for a job than networking, and a lot has changed since the last time he had to do it.”

One of those changes involved learning how to present yourself on a video call, “Dedra was always telling me a suit and tie never hurt anyone,” Wagner said with a smile. Other changes focused on the evolving nature of the interviewing process, “and all of the different, non-human, interactive personality tests,” he said. “It was also about putting in the extra effort of writing a thank you note—not just an email—right after an interview. Dedra also worked with me on how to research people and connections on LinkedIn. She worked with me on how to navigate those tough interview questions, and to develop different ways of answering them to catch the interviewer off guard and get them intrigued.”

Wagner began interviewing for his current position in July, and started in August, after having been let go in May. “It was a pretty quick turnaround,” said Perlmutter. “Brad was only officially out of work for two and a half months, but to him it felt like an eternity. It’s a testament to how seriously he took his job search. He was constantly on networking calls, and he’d tell me, ‘I have this, this, this, and this,’ and I’d have to reel him in a little, just to keep him organized, because he was reaching out to so many folks.”

“Everyone is so well connected at JVS Career Services, and that’s what sets them apart from other agencies or head hunters,” Wagner said. “The people at those other places, they’re pretty much just salespeople looking to get their percentage from finding you a job. But at JVS Career Services, you have the support of the entire team, not just a single coach. That extra care and attention is what makes them different, and it’s also what makes you different as a candidate.”

Without JVS Career Services, Wagner believes he would have polished up his ten-year-old resume and sent it out blindly. “There’s no doubt in my mind that without JVS Career Services, I’d still be unemployed. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

Not only did working with JVS Career Services help Wagner find a job, but it also inspired him to give back and donate to the organization. “You have to give back, look out for others, help that next person that needs it,” he said. “I can recommend them to JVS Career Services; I can share my story with them: ‘I’ve gone through this, it won’t be easy, and I can’t guarantee anything, but you need to trust the process.’ If we want these talented people to stay in town, we have to be willing to help them, because someday down the road they will be able to help someone else.”