The future of work beyond Covid-19: A review of current trends and tips for success

There is no looking back from the profound changes COVID-19 has wrought on our personal and professional lives over the past year. And the pandemic is not behind us yet.

If there are any positive outcomes to this global human tragedy, it has refocused our priorities on the human factors that make businesses successful, tested and opened our eyes to new ways of living and working. The challenge for the future is not about restoring what was, but reimagining and remaking what is.

Here are some of the significant trends transforming the future of work and what they mean for your business.

Remote working goes mainstream

Is the 9 to 5 office workday set to become a thing of the past? For some people – yes. When the pandemic drove a mass employee exodus from offices and workstations to work-from-home arrangements in kitchens and bedrooms, it was thought to be a temporary work-around. That was optimistic thinking.

A year later, both employees and business leaders have recognised the mutual benefits of this arrangement. Major corporates and small enterprises around the world have been busy this year developing formal work-from-home policies.

The trend is fairly new, but already studies have shown improved employee productivity. Add to that the potential for reduced operational costs, and the arrangement is a plus for business. Not without challenges on both sides, of course.

Few managers are skilled in leading remote teams, so HR executives would be wise to develop training and coaching programs sooner rather than later. Employees who are unaccustomed to working autonomously may find it difficult to self-manage. And those who thrive on the camaraderie of the office may need some extra support to feel connected and be actively engaged.

Employee well-being takes centre stage

Employee well-being is not a new management concern, but has taken on new dimensions and urgency under the current circumstances. Implementing COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and sanitising lays the groundwork for a safe and secure return to the workplace, but don’t overlook the psychological pressures many employees are facing.

From disrupted family lives to changing work routines, people have been emotionally challenged on all fronts and the strain will show, if it hasn’t already. In a survey conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management, 41% of employees reported feeling burnt out as a result of the pandemic and 35% reported symptoms of depression, such as low energy, a sense of hopelessness and lack of concentration. The most obvious consequence for employers is low employee engagement and the low productivity that goes with it.

Be prepared to extend employee well-being initiatives beyond physical fitness to include professional counselling, peer support groups, or holistic health therapies. Stay in touch with employee sentiment and respond promptly to problems and concerns as they arise.

Employee engagement finds new expression

According to pulse surveys conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, major companies experienced up to a 91% decline in Employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS) and a 57% increase in disengagement. There’s no mystery behind those numbers, but they clearly illustrate the need for a renewed focus on employee engagement as businesses emerge from crisis mode and realign for recovery.

Since remote and dispersed teams are set to become the norm for a large segment of the workforce, HR professionals need to encourage the creation of new touchpoints and opportunities for digital interactions. Nothing will quite replace the quick coffee meetings and passageway chats of the past, but now’s the time to start remaking tools for the future of employee engagement.

Digital upskilling across the enterprise

For years now, digital transformation has been creeping slowly into our everyday lives. Artificial intelligence has given us our trusted telephone assistants, Siri and Alexa, the facial recognition that secures our financial transactions, those clever product recommendations delivered by Amazon, and the list goes on.

But in the workplace, digital transformation has not touched the everyday lives of employees in any meaningful way. At least not until the pandemic-fuelled work from home movement put digital transformation into overdrive.

Overnight the word ‘Zoom’ entered the popular lexicon, Microsoft Teams chats replaced formal meetings and many people learned for the first time that Google was more than a web search engine – it was a whole suite of collaboration tools. The experience was a stiff learning curve for many employees and an eye-opener for management.    

This hard shove into digital work-mode put a sharp focus on the need for digital upskilling across the entire workforce. From basic digital literacy to tech support and advanced data science skills, companies had to nurture a tech-savvy workforce to stay competitive. 

There is a clear precedent for the making the investment. In the latest PwC Global Digital IQ survey, 86% of top performing companies stated that their digital training programs boosted employee engagement and performance. And that can only translate into improved bottom-line results.   

Charting a new path forward

Whatever new challenges the future holds, you will be well positioned to meet them by focusing today on technology, people and the places they intersect. That means accelerating the digital transformation of your business, upskilling employees for an increasingly digital workplace, developing appropriate remote work policies and processes and creating new ways to keep employees connected, engaged and working in top form. 

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