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10 trends that will affect the workplace post-pandemic

Medioambiental|Executive Compensation|Future of Work|Health and Benefits|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Shankar Raman | October 14, 2021

Organizations are challenged to embrace many necessary changes while understanding – and preserving – the elements of company culture that led to success.

COVID-19 has transformed the very nature of the employer-employee relationship, accelerating trends that were already in play and calling into question many things we took for granted before the pandemic – such as being required to work onsite. Many employees are fundamentally reconsidering what they want from their careers and how they want to work. And millions are quitting their jobs, a record four million Americans alone in April 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers are not only trying to determine how to support the individual needs of a diverse workforce but also are reconsidering many of the basics of how work gets done today.

How organizations balance business sustainability with supporting employee needs is key as we create a new post-pandemic normal. To help them manage the issues surrounding hybrid work and the return to the workplace, we’ve identified 10 trends for companies to consider as they reimagine and reinvent the way work gets done post-pandemic. Not all of these trends may impact organizations equally, but it's important employers take note as they start planning for a sustainable work model in the wake of COVID-19.

10 key trends impacting the post-pandemic ‘normal’

  1. Hybrid work is here to stay: Employees want to come back into the office to work, but not every day. And they want flexibility in how and where they work.
  2. The office is here to stay also – but it will serve a new purpose: The workplace will be used more for collaboration, learning and innovation than rather than individual working.
  3. Acceleration of digitalization: We’ll see further adoption of virtual collaboration tools, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual realities, analytics, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and the like.
  4. Broader focus on employee wellbeing: Wellbeing will become the forefront of the human capital strategy moving beyond benefits to career progression, culture, leaders and manager competence.
  5. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): DEI will be a key and visible factor driving organizational and leadership behavior.
  6. Rethinking performance management: Employers will focus more on “how” and not just on “what” is accomplished, with a greater emphasis on value and impact.
  7. New manager model: Managers’ role will shift from performance monitoring to performance coaching.
  8. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns: Organizations will place greater emphasis on ESG-related issues such as climate change.
  9. New talent equation: Employers will adapt to a distributed talent model as they go to nontraditional sources and locations for talent.
  10. Increased attention to culture: Companies will become more intentional about their cultures.

Hybrid work

Most employees want to come back to the office in some form. Over the course of the pandemic, when most people worked remotely, there seemed to be an uptick in productivity. However, people are increasingly feeling disconnected from their colleagues and workplace, and they want to return to work, typically two or three days a week, according to our 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. We suggest employers consider preparing hybrid working models to address employee demands. The best way to plan is to first understand the needs of different employee segments and the type of work that's being done.

A proactive hybrid work strategy will enable employers to rethink how and where work gets done while continuing to focus on the employee experience. This will strengthen employee engagement and enhance productivity.

New purpose for the workplace

Before the pandemic, most employees went to the office for different reasons. But more often than not, the primary focus of the office was to serve as a quiet space to do individual work and secondarily as a place to collaborate and communicate with colleagues. What's becoming clearer is that the office or workplace will evolve and center more around the latter function of collaboration rather than the traditional quiet environment of individual work. Almost every organization is planning to retain at least some office space for collaboration.

And what also is becoming increasingly clear is that remote work is good when workers are doing traditional transactional work or even incremental innovation. But doing innovative or transformational work remotely is proving difficult because it requires frequent collaboration. So employers are going to need in-office collaboration to drive transformative innovation through constructive conflict.

Acceleration of digitalization

The use of collaborative tools such as Teams and Zoom reflects the acceleration of digitalization. But we’re also seeing an increase in investments in areas such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), data and analytics, blockchain and cryptocurrency. Now since everyone is spending so much time remotely, we’re leaving a much larger digital “footprint.” The data created can now drive better decision making. Companies that use AI-based tools to drive better employee experiences and ensure more personalized experiences will see better results.

Organizations are beginning to use the notion of automation and network analysis. The beauty of Teams, Zoom or another collaborative tool is that HR can use data generated by the use of these tools to assess how much time and with whom employees are collaborating, giving a better understanding of networks within an organization and how collaboration is being enabled.

We also expect that digitalization will lead to the development of new business models within existing companies, increased adoption of blockchain and the proliferation of new payment mechanisms, including cryptocurrency.

Broader focus on employee wellbeing

The pandemic prompted a broader focus on employee wellbeing, which will require benefits to be foundationally robust across the four pillars of physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing. In addition, there will be a greater emphasis on the overall employee experience achieved through culture, effective leaders and managers. Working from home has created increased feelings of disconnection and stress among most employees. On the one hand, people are more productive as they work longer hours, but they are also feeling increasingly burnt out. And as they sit in front of laptops for longer periods, they become distracted and disconnected. Depending on their jobs, they may also be concerned about what the future's going to hold and their productivity may decline.

We believe that the conversation about employee wellbeing has shifted from wellness to making employee wellbeing a central component of human capital strategy. Organizations are investing in a culture of wellbeing that goes beyond simply offering wellbeing apps and services. At the heart of the idea, organizations should consider creating space for employees and managers to have open and honest conversations about stress and the many dimensions of wellbeing.

Additional attention on DEI

The pandemic has had different impacts and driven different experiences among different employee groups – women, people in caregiving roles, people of color, working parents, lower income groups, etc. Profound questions of DEI have come to the forefront. And as employers start planning for new ways of working, they could unwittingly create inequities on multiple dimensions: pay, benefits and career.

As organizations plan for a return to work, they should monitor the impact of their policies on groups that could be at risk of being treated in an inequitable manner or be impacted by unconscious bias in the workplace. They will also need to prepare managers to be aware of these issues, ensure that they lead in an inclusive way and be proactive in addressing flexible working policies that result in inadvertent bias. Employers should be reviewing their rewards offering and understanding the preferences and impacts of current benefit provisions and outcomes by worker cohorts to identify areas for improvement.

Rethinking performance management

As more people are working from home, managers may question how to determine if an employee is performing and productive, and how to assess and measure performance.

Pre-pandemic, we knew somebody was performing well by seeing and observing them, and the basis of their evaluation was developed on observable behavior. We think we’ll see a shift in the conversation of performance, focusing on two dimensions:

  • As opposed to focusing on milestones and targets, impact and value creation will be emphasized. How are people creating value? How are people creating impact in the organization? How are leaders enabling employees to be successful? How are employees enabling their networks to be successful?
  • The second component of performance is an increased focus on “how” at all levels in the organization. Leaders should not only focus on helping the organization achieve business objectives, but also on ensuring that the organization can build on its collective capabilities and behaviors that will help it achieve performance goals.

New manager model

Most managers achieve organizational objectives by ensuring jobs are well designed, goals are met and key performance indicators are monitored. In a hybrid or distributed workforce environment, managers will need to focus less on managing and monitoring tasks and more on connecting, collaborating with and coaching employees. We expect there is going to be acceleration of the notion of agility in organizations and a separation of task management activities from people management activities. Some managers will thrive in this world, where others will self-select and chose not to be in managerial roles.

Greater emphasis on ESG and climate change

ESG is increasingly becoming a boardroom conversation, and especially climate change is a central topic. With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report providing dire warnings about the impact of global warming on climate change, companies are becoming more conscious about their carbon footprints. Many have announced that they are going to drive toward net-zero carbon emissions. From our perspective, as companies plan for a hybrid work environment, they have to consciously make choices and have a strategy aimed at reducing their carbon footprints and achieving their net-zero ambitions. This could have profound effects on companies’ business models and value chains.

Climate change is also becoming an important narrative of the employee value proposition. Increasingly employees are asking questions such as:

  • What are you doing about climate change?
  • Do you have an active policy?

An employer’s answers might impact prospective employee decisions regarding whether they join the organization or not – especially important amid tight labor markets and many employees quitting their jobs. Similarly, answers to those questions can help retain employees too.

In addition, organizations will come under greater scrutiny in terms of corporate governance and social practices. They will need to take a proactive approach to ESG and increasingly report on ESG metrics that reflect their strategies. In the longer run, successful companies will embed ESG into their business strategies.

New talent equation

With the new hybrid or distributed work models, employers have far more choice of talent than before the pandemic because they are no longer tied to the location of their workplaces. Organizations can now hire the best talent from across the country or even globally. With this change comes new challenges, especially regarding leadership skills and hiring processes.

This new talent equation will also affect traditional talent management activities such as talent acquisition, learning and development, and succession planning. Digital tools such as immersive learning and gaming will become more prevalent. For example, historically in large companies (especially in multinational firms), senior leadership talent was often developed by assigning candidates global or other challenging assignments like turning around a troubled unit. These required physical relocation of this talent. What is unclear as organizations become more distributed is how you identify the right talent and whether those traditional approaches to development plans remain relevant in a distributed organization.

Increased attention to culture

Culture is the sum of mindset and assumptions, behaviors, enablers and experiences in an organization. In the future, companies will need to be far more intentional about their organizational culture in order to thrive. This is probably the hardest of all challenges because what's happening is a slow but steady shift in the current paradigm and assumptions underpinning most organizations.

The assumptions we've made about what works have changed, so we’ve seen an accompanying shift in what we expect of leaders. All of this requires a change of mindset and behaviors, keeping the employee experience intact while ensuring that we're working in different ways to continue to be successful. The challenge is being able to embrace many necessary changes while understanding – and preserving – the elements of company culture that made a company successful in the first place. And in some cases, even letting go the of the same elements.

Author

Senior Director, Human Capital and Benefits

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