The coronavirus pandemic changed the way we worked for the past year, there is no doubt about it. But now that life is returning to “normal,” does that mean that everything is going to go back to the way it was before our lives were turned upside-down by COVID-19?
Some aspects of the way we work will likely resume unchanged, but other changes are probably here to stay. Business leaders and economists are also expecting some long-term shifts in the ways companies do business and employees approach work.
Some of these trends were already occurring and have simply been accelerated by the pandemc. Other shifts are more directly attributable to the uncertainties and attitude changes wrought by living through such a tumultuous time.
How Our Workplaces Will Be Changed Post-Pandemic
Remote work is here to stay.
Employees and employers have discovered that much of the work that used to take place at the office can take place at people’s homes and the business continues to run just fine. Pretty much every workplace now knows how to use Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or some other virtual meeting software. So love ‘em or hate ‘em, online meetings are here to stay. So are other online tools for managing and tracking projects and employee time.
Many employees have welcomed these changes and the flexibility it affords to balance work and life. Companies that want to attract and retain the best workers will need to be mindful of the fact that remote or hybrid/flexible work schedules are going to be desired or even required by many applicants now. This is not always a negative for employers, as many employees may be willing to trade a raise for a flexible schedule. Plus, businesses can potentially downsize their office space with more workers going remote.
Business travel will decrease.
Leisure travel is expected to increase, at least in the short term, due to pent-up demand. However, now that it has become more acceptable to conduct many meetings over a teleconferencing system, some long-distance business meetings and conferences are expected to move to a more affordable online format.
Ecommerce is going to continue to increase.
Although stores are mostly open again, consumers appreciated the benefits of shopping online more than ever during the pandemic. And although some changes accelerated due to safety concerns, such as offering virtual appointments, personal shopping services, home deliveries and more, many people found that they really liked the convenience of these options and plan to continue using them. The businesses that have best adapted to this changing landscape and are offering user-friendly ecommerce and delivery options will be the ones that thrive going forward.
More workplaces will shift work towards “gig” workers, freelancers, and contingency workers.
Employers will need to assess the benefits and drawbacks of having certain types of work done on an as-needed basis by non-traditional staffing or outsourcing and determine how best to incorporate this type of work without sacrificing quality or timeliness. But many businesses will find instances where these type of workers will fill a need during times of change, to fill skill gaps, to complete special projects and more.
We will see more automation and “no-touch” versions of many services.
During the health crisis, companies had to come up with creative ways to provide goods and services without human contact, or as little contact as possible. Restaurants began offering online menus and ordering systems. Retail stores offered curbside pickup. Home delivery of just about everything skyrocketed. Medical providers greatly expanded the ability to have a virtual visit. These trends will continue.
Other types of workplaces have moved towards and will continue to move towards automating menial tasks that will reduce the number of workers needed so that people aren’t working in such close proximity.
There will be an expectation of a more humanizing workplace.
After the past year, there is more scrutiny and pressure on employers to support employees during a time of economic or health distress. Many employees are no longer willing to work for an employer that offers no time off for personal crises and is not flexible when they or a family member falls ill. Workers are acutely aware of the precariousness of many employment situations and are seeking security, stability and to be treated as a human being with worth rather than as a cog in a machine.
Flexibility will be prioritized over efficiency.
Most organizations have always known that they ought to have contingency plans for a crisis, a large market shift or the sudden unavailability of key staff members, but the day-to-day business needs always seem to take precedence, and that type of emergency planning perpetually falls to the back burner.
The pandemic showed how important it is for businesses to create a more flexible organizational structure to be able to respond to sudden market changes. Designing for maximum efficiency can leave you vulnerable to the system breaking down during the type of worldwide emergency like the one we just experienced. Even in the face of smaller issues, designing your company with resiliency in mind will serve you well and many CEOs and boards are actively charting ways to build in flexibility via cross-training, more robust repositories for key institutional knowledge and adaptable org charts.
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come. It behooves all business owners to take advantage of this transitional time to chart a course for a prosperous future.