Preparing for the Future of Work

Jamie Birt

Updated 27 October 2022

Published 4 September 2020

Jamie Birt is a career coach with five-plus years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.

It’s true that the working world has seen some major shifts since March of this year. For example, COVID-19 caused a reported 32% of employees to move to fully remote work and the term 'essential worker' emerged to describe necessary and emergency service providers.

While work from home and socially distant workspaces are an appropriate immediate safety measure, the question remains what the future of work will look like in the aftermath of the pandemic. In an Indeed survey of over 1,000 individuals, 42% reported believing the impact on them personally would last seven or more months, while 44% believe the economic impact of COVID-19 will last more than a year.¹

From the new virtual and socially distanced landscape of the workforce to changes to how companies are re-working their perks and culture, this article explores what the future of work post-COVID is shaping up to look like.

Flexible work options

Recent announcements from companies such as Twitter, Square and Facebook on offering a full-time remote work option, beg the question of whether traditional offices will be a thing of the past.

In a recent survey of Indeed employees, 90% of people indicated a desire to work from home at some frequency (20% full remote, 32% one to two times a week and 29% three to four times a week). Working from home has its benefits, including eliminated commutes, increased family time and cost savings to employers.

On the other hand, working from home can be challenging for a number of reasons, depending on your situation, including:

  • Balancing work and at-home children

  • Staying productive amid at-home distractions

  • A lack of in-person camaraderie and collaboration in a traditional office setting

  • Drawing boundaries between and balancing work and home life

A recent survey of Microsoft employees showed workdays were actually lengthening as people transitioned to working from home. People were working four more hours per week on average and the share of instant messages sent between 6 pm and midnight increased by 52%.

While some companies continue to extend their work from home arrangement, it’s hard to know exactly how many employers will fully embrace the work from home solution long term. However, research suggests that employers may be seeing that the pros of remote work outweigh the cons. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of CFOs expect to transition a number of previously on-premise employees to remote work set-ups permanently in the aftermath of COVID-19. This decision is largely driven by a desire to cut commercial real estate costs.

While work from home has been an important measure to protect the wellbeing of employees, essential workers have not had that same luxury. While who is deemed an essential worker may vary from state to state, healthcare and public health, law enforcement and first responders, food and agriculture and energy workers commonly fall into this category. These individuals are likely to experience a work environment guided by sanitary and socially distant guidelines.

A more virtual workforce

With a majority of the workforce adapting to work from home, employers have necessarily adapted with remote technology and tools. Whether your office decides to go remote or not, it’s likely that technology to promote and support a virtual workforce will become more popular.

In this section, we’ll look at the solutions that have increased in popularity since shifting to a remote working environment.

Virtual hiring events

A virtual hiring event is a group interview where employers accept job applications and conduct virtual interviews in group and individual formats. Some employers are moving in the direction of virtual hiring events as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, and this is a unique opportunity to meet them without leaving your home. They may also lead to job offers on the spot, significantly reducing the waiting time in your job search.

Virtual interviewing

A virtual interview is an interview that takes place remotely, sometimes over the phone, but often using technology like video conferencing and other online communication platforms. With many companies mostly (or completely) out of the office, virtual interviews have become the norm during this time.

Virtual interviews are often conducted much the same way as face-to-face interviews. That said, virtual communication requires special considerations and adjustments due to the limited ability to read body language and facial expressions.

Read more: How to Succeed in a Virtual Interview

Virtual onboarding

First days often consisted of walking around the office to meet your new co-workers, settling into your desk, attending training sessions, wondering who you’ll eat lunch with and shadowing team members. Since work-from-home orders have been put in place, the onboarding of new employees has needed to adjust to a remote or socially distanced landscape.

In a recent study, only 17% of companies reported that their organisations had developed systems for onboarding new leaders into remote-work environments. While there are some best practices in place, such as having a structured learning process, clear short-term objectives and assigning a virtual buddy/mentor, it’s likely that the onboarding process will take longer when compared with the traditional in-person office setting.

As in any onboarding process, but especially now, don’t hesitate to ask questions or request more consistent meetings with your manager and teammates to help mitigate the lack of organic learning and shadowing that often happens in the office.

Virtual communication

Virtual communication, including video conferencing and instant messaging, is the new form of communication in both remote and socially distanced workspaces. Slack CEO, Stewart Butterfield, reported major spikes in their national usage. 'Our record for simultaneous users jumped from 10 million on 10 March to 12.5 million on 25 March (25% growth in two weeks!), and our active use time on weekdays increased to one billion minutes globally.'

People around the globe have necessarily shifted in-person meetings and conversations to virtual communication platforms and, in doing so, are becoming more versed and fluent in online communication norms. As individuals aren’t able to simply turn around to ask their co-worker or manager a question, there has been an increase in scheduled connections. Microsoft saw a 10% increase in the number of scheduled meetings.

Virtual communication provides additional benefits for individuals who identify as being more reserved. Employees who may not have spoken up in meetings or felt comfortable walking over to a co-worker's desk to ask a question can now take advantage of chat functionality in video conferencing and instant messaging.

Socially distanced workplaces

As more businesses reopen their workplaces for employees to return to the office, employers continue to make operational decisions based on state and local mandates related to COVID-19 as well as preparedness to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers.

If working with others, businesses will likely put an emphasis on social distancing. Here are some other ways employers may implement social distancing in the workplace:

Creating physical distance. You can expect extra care taken to keep workers and customers at a distance or physically separated. In addition to remote work, other common strategies include:

  • Offering flexible work hours like rotating or staggering shifts to limit the number of workers in the building at the same time

  • Modifying workspaces to increase the physical space between workstations

  • Creating space between staff and customers by offering 'drive-thru' service options, adding partitions between customers and employees, or delivering services virtually by phone or video

In addition, businesses may have visual markers encouraging distance and cleanliness, in-person meetings will likely be held in accordance with state and local regulations and guidance, and access to common meeting areas like breakrooms, kitchens or lounge areas may be limited or closed.

Required face coverings. When returning to work you can also expect to be encouraged or even required to wear cloth face coverings. Depending on the type of work you do, may require you to wear PPE after a hazard assessment is completed. If this is the case, you can expect the appropriate PPE to be provided for you and to be trained on how to use it correctly.

Evolving company culture

Many companies take pride in their office culture. It wasn’t unusual to walk into an office building and see company values proudly written out on walls, employees gathering by a coffee bar, beer on tap in the kitchen, or individuals dressed in workout clothes headed to the office gym. Some employees may feel like part of the work culture they were used to vanished overnight.

But workplace culture isn’t just happy hours and free food, it’s a concept that involves a company mission and values that drive leadership style, ethics, expectations and goals. It’s how employees interact with and treat each other. By increasing transparency, work flexibility and communication, companies have the ability to create a work environment that encourages a long-term work-from-home, or socially distanced, office culture that brings security and support to its employees.

Perks and benefits

Companies often used their perks as a way to bring in and retain good talent. These perks may have included things like free food and coffee, snack stations, on-site gyms, commuter benefits and happy hours. Companies embracing a remote or socially distanced workforce, however, may need to rethink the perks they once relied on to keep employees happy.

For example, many companies such as Shopify provided their employees with a stipend to set up their work from home office. Other companies have decided to give their employees monthly stipends which they can use on work-from-home essentials, groceries, meal deliveries, or internet costs.

While office perks have their benefits, companies are finding through research that these perks may not be as important to employees as they thought. In a recent study, people indicated that empowerment and trust were the top factors that contribute to a 'great employee experience', followed by job training opportunities and technology. Only 16% of employees put emphasis on a 'cool' office space that includes perks such as free food and games.

Office relationships

Whether in a remote or socially distanced office, leaning over to your desk-mate to ask a question or about their weekend seems like a distant memory. Workplace friendships have been found to improve productivity and morale. Relationships that were once formed by convenience now require a more proactive approach. With the feeling of isolation being a possible side-effect of the new workplace landscape, creating and fostering strong relationships with your co-workers is important, and there are still ways to do so while in a virtual or distanced environment.

For example, you might request one-on-one video meetings with your manager or invite co-workers to virtual lunches, organise after-work video hangouts, happy hours or trivia to connect. You might also consider checking in with co-workers over instant messaging – set the tone of conversations by sharing your weekend plans, hobbies and interests with colleagues in an effort to encourage them to do the same.

Corporate social responsibility

According to a Glassdoor survey, 75 per cent of employees aged 18 to 34 expect their employer to take a stand on important issues affecting the country and their constitutional rights, including immigration, equal rights and climate change, more than any other age group.

In addition to the pandemic, recent news has caused the nation to look deeply at systemic racism and resulting social injustices. As an outcome, people may expect increased corporate social responsibility from companies moving forward.

¹ Indeed.com: Coronavirus Omnibus Tracker, n=1,035

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