Has the Pandemic changed the world of work forever?
Before the pandemic a large number of on-site workers spent most of their workdays hard at it for increasingly longer hours with little time for leisure or family pursuits. It was all heads down trying to beat the clock while also going the extra mile in the expectation of keeping the job safe or gaining a promotion. Then, the pandemic hit along with the realization of just how much said workers hated their jobs. Suddenly, many of them were able to work remotely from home showing a better way to do things for employees while others decided to say adios to their jobs and burnout by quitting. The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics supports this with their recent announcement that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. That was a record-breaking month, piggybacking on previous record months. "The Great Resignation" is real, and it can be seen across virtually all industries (www.npr.org). So, what’s going on?
There’s no doubt that this trend has been influenced by the constant disruptions and uncertainties, such as, schools closing, businesses opening and closing amidst fear of the virus and its variants, among other ramifications of the pandemic. But economists think there’s more to it than this alone. Is it existential? Has working remotely through the pandemic prompted some soul-searching which changed our views of what life, and the world should look like? It certainly seems so! Economists have been left a little discombobulated in the light of this new phenomenon. No longer can they link it to the cold material incentives that have shaped our work choices previously. It seems our collective brain has been rewired by our pandemic experiences. In fact, UC Berkley economist, Ulrike Malmendier, forecasts that “the legacy of forced teleworking, home schooling and other dramatic social and economic changes will continue to shape our choices long after the viral danger recedes.”
Where are we at going forward? These will be the two stand out changes in our work practices:
1) Many of us will be working at new jobs with no offices.
The modern office created after World War 2 on a military model by men for men, is proving obsolete for many ‘post’-Covid businesses in 2022. This has been driven by the pandemic’s enforced mental and physical break that’s afforded employees and employers time to re-evaluate what work is and could be. In effect, work has been redefined. Many workers came to the realization they were deeply unhappy with their pre-pandemic jobs and now want to jump ship, or even careers, to do something more meaningful or better aligned with their need for life-work balance. On the other hand, some employers have found it has been necessary to cut costs by rescinding office leases making remote work their go-to. A report by Mercer, noted over 90% of employers reported productivity staying the same or increasing as a result of remote working. It’s not surprising then that many employers are now reinventing the way they work.
Most significantly, “If we can move past decades of orthodoxy about 9-to-5, office-centric work, there’s an opportunity to retain the best parts of office culture while freeing ourselves from bad habits and inefficient processes, from ineffective meetings to unnecessary bureaucracy” (Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack). Undoubtedly, the pandemic has provided this once in a lifetime chance for change. Future Forum research based on 4700 knowledge workers, found that 72% of workers want to adopt a hybrid remote-office model from this point on while only 12% want to work in an office full-time. Workers are ripe for this transformation!
2) Many companies will now need to provide flexible work environments.
What used to be a work perk is now a powerful ‘people practice’ because of Covid forcing schools and office closures which, in turn, have prompted real-time innovation. Flexibility from work was customarily provided through emergency leave, paid sick leave etc., and flexibility at work through work from home, and job-sharing. The big move on flexibility now, and in the future, is that companies not only need to consider remote work (which not all businesses can do in practice e.g., hairdressers, mechanics, dentists etc.) but also when they work, what they do, how the work is done or who does the work.
It’s believed that over 83% of organizations will continue workplace flexibility at a greater scale post-pandemic.
Simply put, workplace flexibility post-Covid is a game changer for employers who more than ever will need to help employees maintain engagement and participation in their business by delivering on the value of working flexibly. To sustain such a widespread, new, updated style of working in the long run, will require a transformation of people, processes, and infrastructure.