Everything has Changed - 10 Post-Pandemic Predictions for Workforce Management.
It was two years ago that everything about how we work changed, forever.
The “two-week COVID lockdown” transitioned to “we should be fine by summer” which in turn transitioned to “we’ll come back in the office once everyone is vaccinated” to the, well, “this is us, now” that will continue for some time. Workforce Management has never been more complex or important than now.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst that has changed how we work and how we mange. It has changed expectations of what work is, what employees are willing (and not willing) to do, and what they want to earn while doing it. It has fundamentally changed the relationship between leaders and their people. What worked in the past might not work now.
I frequently have a conversation with clients – about what is next. Many are struggling to reframe their expectations – and are still clinging to a pre-COVID mindset of everyone in the office all the time.
Uncertainty can be scary. Change is scary. Rapid change more so. I get that. For the past two years, we have been sailing in the part of the chart that has sea monsters and dragons on it. However, for organizations that take the lessons we have learned over the past two years to heart, there are massive opportunities to be had. Here are my top 10 takeaways & predictions:
Remote work is here to stay. 95% of workers who can do their jobs remotely report that they want to do their jobs from home at least some of the time. Most would prefer a hybrid schedule with a few days in the office each week. This is especially true of working parents – whose children have had just as tough time of it the past two years. With big populations of the workforce aging out, being able to attract and retain younger workers is critical. Remote or hybrid-work is a benefit employers can provide (for free) that is at the top of every job seeker’s wish list right now. Taken further, hiring remote workers opens the talent pool up to a national level. Your next director of marketing, for example, might be an absolute all-star, but you will not have to pay to relocate them and they can stay put in the city or town where they currently live.
Employees expect to be trusted to do their jobs. Before the pandemic, management push-back against remote work was nothing would get done. Workers now have a track record of getting their jobs done – often under extraordinary circumstances, and very little supervision. Telling them they now need to be observed in the office ever day is telling them they are no longer trusted to do their jobs as they see fit. Leaders adapting to outcome-based results vs. time in the office has been hard but worth it.
Knowing how to lead a remote & hybrid team will be a valuable skill set moving forward. Dispersed teams are not a new phenomenon. Leaders who can do this well will be able to write their own ticket. Not being able to adapt will make organizations question the value of certain managers.
Some executives will fail. The simple fact is that many of the management paradigms enjoyed by executives no longer work. Adaptation can be very hard, especially when you have been doing things “the old way” for decades. How do you do “management by walking around” when there is nobody in the office? How do you have an open-door policy when only a third of the office is in on any given day? I can tell you this – just “returning back to normal” will not work, especially because COVID is expected to be a part of our reality for the foreseeable future. Recently, one investment bank found out the hard way when only half of their bankers showed up to “mandatory back in the office” rolled around.
Compensation will continue to rise – particularly for in-demand jobs. Demand in areas like ecommerce or technology has increased. The voracious appetite for tech workers continues and big companies like Google and Apple are building a network of offices centers across the country. Where those offices land, they will bring higher wages than the markets surrounding them, which will also add pressure to increase wages. Costs traditionally felt by younger workers have increased exponentially. Education, healthcare, housing, transportation, childcare have made it necessary for workers to seek out higher wages, or lower costs of living, despite potentially being happy where they are. Demographic shifts as Boomers retire will continue to reduce the labor pool. Likewise, dysfunctional immigration system does not allow skilled labor to help much.
Camaraderie needs to be aggressively curated and encouraged. The biggest (valid) criticism for remote work is that it’s hard to build team cohesion. Even little interactions in the break room between coworkers in different departments or lunch with colleagues are hard to come by. Turning dispersed teams into a cohesive one will be a big challenge moving forward. But the benefits of remote work outweigh the negatives by a significant margin.
Gen Z Will have a tough transition. For younger employees, starting a fully-remote job straight out of school can be a challenge. How will they learn how to do their job well? How will they build the social capital internal to the company that can help them get their career started? Managers will have to be very intentional in how they train and interact with new employees. It will take a lot more work for leaders.
Labor laws will take years to catch up. Before the pandemic, it was much easier to manage an in-person workforce – they showed up and “clocked in.” Now, there is much more ambiguity surrounding working hours, and what is considered paid and unpaid time. One surprising impact of the remote workforce was higher rates of burnout, with many employees using their regained commute time to start working earlier and stay working later. European countries tend to be more progressive in labor laws than the US and several have enacted laws limiting activities like email after hours or managers contacting employees. I would not expect new laws getting passed in the US, but there could be rule changes that will change guidelines. The savvy move is for managers (and HR, as referees) to treat their teams like professional athletes – making sure they are healthy and able to play for a full season, not burn out after a year and quit.
The office will continue to change. Many companies are making significant changes to their office footprint. Less space overall but more space in what’s left to social distance. More meeting spaces. Better ventilation. More day-desks and less assigned spaces. Cubicles making a comeback. Open floor plans less so. Some companies have done away with their expensive leases altogether.
A boom in solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and startups will accelerate. A lot of workers have been “outside the matrix” of the office for so long that they have begun to reevaluate their career goals. For some, they have an idea they want to turn into a business. For others, they want the freedom to set their own schedule, or be available for their families, or not sacrifice their physical & mental health so their CEO can earn their $22 million compensation. Whatever the reasons, new company formation has exploded in the past 24 months. I see that trend continuing.
The future of work is constantly evolving – and the pandemic accelerated that in ways we are only just beginning to understand. I’m sure there will be many unforeseen consequences, both good and bad, that will come up as we move forward.
Workforce Management in the best of times is a very complex topic – if your organization is struggling to wrap their head around it, let me know if I can help. I’m always down to have a conversation. Let’s work through it together.
The Rivet Group is a recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on placing world-class leaders with mid-sized organizations.