June 15, 2021
Training and Development 14 May 2020
Working After COVID-19: What to Expect
Ankita Poddar

The internet is overflowing with predictions on what life and work will look after the pandemic. There is no doubt that some things will change, yet history has shown us time and again that we are extremely inaccurate when it comes to predicting the future. 

Will we eventually default to our old ways or learn from everything we experienced? I guess we will never know until we get there. Yet some changes are already taking place and these will have a profound impact on how work happens. Unless we embrace them now, it is likely that we get on board a little too late. Here are a few things that are changing in the workplace:

1. Working From Home

This had to top the list. Until now, companies resisted enabling a large segment of their employee base from working from home. Some of the top reasons quoted were the confidential nature of work, impact on collaboration, and thus innovation. While all of these are valid reasons and have roots in research, adversity breeds opportunity. With the onset of the pandemic, the entire world is working from home where possible. We are witnessing the largest experiment ever on working from home. 

Yes, under normal circumstances, the kids would be at school and maybe your spouse at an office, yet we are learning. By the time the world regains some semblance of normalcy, we would have likely figured our way around these. Organizations have already realized that a large number of jobs can be done effectively from home. Not only does this have large ripple effects on space utilization and workspace planning but it also unlocks a previously untapped workforce. 

2. Trusting Employees

One organization asked its employees to keep their cameras on while working. I need not tell you how well that went down with employees even though the company assured them that no one was monitoring the videos! 

These unprecedented times need us to understand the true meaning of the word ‘trust’. Managers need to learn how to be effective without being able to rely on authority and the comfort of hovering over their team. Teams need to trust their leaders more than ever and vice versa. For many, this is unchartered territory and no one taught them how to tread. 

As a manager, you can show you trust your employees by showing your employees that you care. Let them know that you are there for them if they need anything but also giving them space when needed so that they can do their work. 

Remember that your employees are people so when talking to them it doesn't have to be all about work. Ask them how their day is going or how their family is. When you get to know your employees you learn to trust them and they trust you. When employees feel that you care they are more likely to do well in their job. 

3. Stronger Leaders

While trust is one muscle managers need to flex now more than ever, there are many more that were always conceptually good to have but now indispensable. A new set of basic leadership traits are emerging and we need all hands on deck to solve how we equip managers to gain proficiency in these.

Being adaptive, agile, empathetic, and influencing without authority used to be skills that differentiated the good leaders from the average. It will now distinguish those who survive from those who do not. As Jarret Jackson mentions in his Forbes article about Becoming More Adaptable In The Coronavirus Era

Being able to make others feel seen and heard, having them want to do what is suggested, and inciting intrinsic motivations are much more effective ways to effect change than imposing it. 

That is the true mark of adaptive leadership: challenging others to not only act but to elevate themselves and others in the process. They earn followership by creating environments that people want to work in, by listening to the concerns of the people that might follow them and actively working to make their lives better. 

Training programs are only the beginning; the talent management team will need to pull together a variety of resources and support systems to raise a new generation of leaders. 

Succession planning is a great way to create new leadership needs or roles and be prepared for transitions when necessary. This embeds leadership development as a core organizational system, rather than as an ad hoc process, so the organization is ready for inevitable change. By implementing a succession plan in your organization you can weed out who will not be fit to lead and find the ones who are strong that will lead your company.

4. Well-Being at the Forefront

Organizations can no longer afford to view physical and mental well-being as optional benefits. The pandemic has brought to fore a number of cases of employees losing motivation, a feeling of detachment, and depression. While some employees may talk about it, a larger majority is uncomfortable doing so. 

Managers now not only have to manage in uncertain times but also be aware of who needs help. Organizations need to step up to widen the range of offerings outside of providing counseling support. Mental wellbeing needs to move from its stigmatized state into everyday conversation. Wellbeing is already a trend in the world of compensation and benefits. It will now find itself being a permanent fixture.    There are a number of reasons why employees might feel down or unmotivated but we have seen many employees through different organizations feel discouraged because of the unknown. As a manager, it is your job to let your employees know that you are there for them. 

If you have to lay off employees you can still help them in their career by providing reference letters and recommendations to other companies. You can also plan out different career pathways with them using their input and help them understand their future plans. Laid-off employees might be hesitant to ask if you don't offer. Giving your employees a little hope will ease their discouragement of the unknown. 

5. An Uptick in Virtual Processes

Working from home has led to the necessity of transforming processes for the virtual world. HR processes like hiring, onboarding, and performance management have been switched to online to fulfill the changes of COVID-19. Organizations are now rethinking assumptions and looking to see which other processes need a transformation in order to make virtual presence a standing feature. Who knows, by 2025, the entire HR function may no longer need to step into an office. 

Josh Hart President of  Red Panda ADR has experience switching to a more virtual process. He says,

"Having the entire office work remotely has caused many companies to change the way they think about people. Our industry works predominantly B2B, and face to face. Client trust was built over lunch and a handshake. That obviously, is not an option for the foreseeable future. The new paradigm will focus on a remote connection. Creating virtual trust is a separation and not always similar to the ability to make direct physical connections. Smart employers will be looking for people who can showcase high emotional intelligence both online and offline."

6. Increased Communication & Collaboration

Office spaces have been designed and redesigned to incorporate as much open space and productivity as possible. Overnight, these spaces have vanished into thin air. Organizations are now looking to transition collision into the virtual space and while the assumption is that it will never be as effective, we will never know unless we try. 

As much as organizations need to evolve to amplify communication and collaboration, individual working styles will also need to adapt to the lack of conversation over coffee walks in grassy patches and cafeteria lunches. While it may take additional effort initially, it will need to become second nature in order to stay relevant. 

Tips to increase communication and collaboration:

  • Schedule meetings: 
  • Use the rights channels to communicate through
  • Be positive with your employees
  • Set deadlines/expectations

7. Hiring After the Pandemic

COVID-19 is currently wreaking havoc on many industries.  Many businesses are being forced to modify or close and as a result, there have been layoffs of unprecedented magnitude.  Over the past few weeks, approximately 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.  

When the virus threat has subsided and businesses return to their normal operations, there will be an influx of hiring across the country.  With less work to do now and an onslaught of hiring just around the corner, now is the time to prepare by improving your company’s hiring process.

We asked several hiring managers and employers what they are changing about the way they hire and this is what they had to say:

"Our HR is keenly looking at the resumes of the candidates that have lost their jobs recently. We will then shortlist the ones that we feel sets fit for our organization. Other than that, we have also reorganized our interview method. As time would be tougher after the lockdown, businesses would need the ones that can make the profits out of everything. We are analyzing future situations and working accordingly." - Sophie Summers, HR manager at Proprivacy

"The need to utilize technology effectively is becoming very apparent in the current crisis. We (and the companies we work with) are expanding our use of virtual hiring and interview platforms. We’re also looking at ways that we can make the hiring process more efficient. This includes looking at the job descriptions of those involved in hiring and make sure their role and duties are clearly defined. We’re also evaluating the process flow, from receiving applications to extending offers, looking for unnecessary steps that can be eliminated or consolidated." -Matt Erhard, Managing Partner at Summit Search Group

"One big change that coronavirus has brought on is the streamlining of our hiring and onboarding process. There is a sense of urgency during these uncertain times, not only from the side of my company wishing to maximize business and productivity during the economic slowdown, but also from potential hires who have found themselves without jobs, or with reduced hours and income. This sense of urgency has caused us, and many other businesses, to cut as many corners as possible to streamline and speed up the hiring process, from acquiring talent, to interviewing, to onboarding and training. This is a trend that will continue into the future even after the pandemic, as businesses will see how they're able to save both time and resources by streamlining the hiring process." -Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful

Needless to say, these seven changes alone symbolize a major shift in how work gets done but it is hardly all-encompassing. Our assumptions about work will continue to be challenged as time passes by and offices operate with minimal capacities. What remains to be seen is how we take these learnings to prepare ourselves for the next decade.

Ankita Poddar is an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita's experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition, and performance management. 

Ankita blogs about all things HR at https://thehrbpstory.com. You can follow her on Twitter  @ankitapoddar.