The coronavirus pandemic up-ended everything. Business practices that seemed unlikely—all-day Zoom meetings, large-scale virtual conferences, ice cream delivered directly to the customer’s doorstep—became the norm.
Now that several coronavirus vaccines are in the works, implying a possible end-date for this nightmare, what pandemic-related business changes might stick around once we are “free to move about the cabin” again?
For better or worse, there will be a shift in how work gets done.
Freelancers may come out ahead in the new normal as businesses use freelancers to allow for a flexible workforce and shift employee liability off their books. Gartner found that 32% of businesses are replacing full-time employees with gig workers.
Company loyalty will be defined long-term by how a business treated its employees during the crisis. Employees laid-off during the pandemic may abandon the idea of loyalty in favor of setting up their own freelance business. But employees who felt supported during the crisis (with a paycheck, workplace flexibility, or mental health support) may now be your most loyal employees.
Alternative work models will evolve. Beyond remote working, businesses that embraced talent sharing or flexible working hours are likely to continue to do so. A Monday through Friday, 9am–5pm workweek? That’s so 2019.
The crisis highlighted what businesses needed from their workforce to meet corporate goals. As companies turned on a dime to survive, roles and titles had less importance than actual skills. 40% of employees in a Gartner survey said they “frequently completed responsibilities outside of their role.” Thus “not my job” is an archaic phrase, and the concept of roles in the workforce will evolve to key employee skills a business needs to thrive.
What about the office? Are remote employees clamoring to get back to daily commutes, wearing pants, and sharing a coffee pot? Probably not. According to a Slack survey, 72% of knowledge workers wanted a “hybrid remote-office model”—a concept that combines remote work with the option for office days for those times that in-person collaboration is needed or some kid-free space is desired.
Office space redesign is inevitable as businesses strive to reduce exposure to any and all viruses. Break rooms may disappear, open offices are kaput, and floor plans will encourage distancing and 1-way traffic.
Rules for office behavior (remote or in-person) will change. For example, have you ever said to your child, “I don’t care if you nap but go to your room and be quiet for an hour”? The same may happen in the workplace as companies consider implementing “quiet hours” to allow employees to get work done and balance work/life.
Employee monitoring software may become the norm and will go beyond blocking spam websites. The challenge will be to use this monitoring software for good. Rather than penalizing an employee for having logged only 39.5 hours that week, it could be used to personalize work experiences. Businesses collect data on their customers to create a better product—imagine if similar was done to create a better employee experience.
Evolution of Work Culture
Shaking hands may stay taboo, but it remains to be seen what alternatives will stick. Remote workers don’t have to worry about it, but plenty of in-person business will still be conducted that will need some greeting replacement. Air high-fives, anyone? Perhaps as teams become more diverse, a new cultural option will emerge.
Potluck parties at the office likely won’t be revived (did anyone really like those anyway?), but remote workers will have to seek out ways to build work relationships. Those workplace friendships and support networks that developed from hallway conversations will have to be replaced by intentional interpersonal bonding.
Will professionals ever gather again at large conferences or networking events? Maybe, maybe not. While many employees considered those to be a perk (Free travel! Networking! Vendor parties!), event organizers report that hybrid meeting facilities—buildings that can host crowds while streaming live-sessions—are the new rage. Virtual events have proven to be effective during the pandemic, so businesses may want to give employees a choice between virtual or in-person attendance.
Internal Departments Achieve Importance
The IT and HR departments will be your new best friends.
As businesses continue to focus on digital tools and automation, IT will be involved in business decisions—everything from how to convert business processes to digital-first to working with HR to figure out ways to “overcome technology experience challenges.” Many employees onboarded 100% remotely have nightmarish stories of getting access to the systems they need, installing software remotely, and overcoming the learning curve of new applications. And don’t forget the existing employees who still bear scars from figuring out how to be their own IT support at home during the conversion to remote working.
The HR department’s to-do list will grow. If employee perks like an onsite game room or a week at a conference in sunny California are no longer on the table, how can employees be rewarded? New privacy requirement policies will be necessary to cover everything from how employee monitoring software data is used to who has received a workplace-mandated coronavirus vaccine. HR may even collaborate with the marketing department to help get employees excited about new products and services and instill corporate pride.
Small businesses will view financing through a new lens. Banks, many of whom turned away small businesses during the PPP loan application process in favor of larger customers, could lose business customers for future financing needs. Online lending marketplaces, like Lendio, could be the go-to spot for small businesses to secure funding.
There will be a tug-of-war between the desire to keep extra money on hand for future emergencies versus pursuing capital investments. At a minimum, businesses that survived the pandemic will probably review their budgets regularly and reallocate money to focus on new opportunities.
Customers Are Still King
The pandemic highlighted the importance of meeting customer needs. For example, any retail store that didn’t implement BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) probably lost revenue as customers demanded it and will continue to use it in the future. Businesses will need to “develop a systematic understanding of changing habits” to survive as customers will continue to evolve—the next shift in customer needs is simply one pandemic, hurricane, or technology change away.
Successful businesses have always been creative and adaptable. While the coronavirus pandemic is a horror-show no one wants to ever repeat, there is some comfort in the positive ways businesses may have changed forever.