Where we are today is largely uncharted territory. Covid-19 has presented a host of challenges and is forcing many organizations to rethink how they do business and, furthermore, what they'll need to do to resume some semblance of normalcy.
With any challenge, there are unexplored avenues, particularly when it comes to considering the future of work. As I see it, the future of work will fundamentally change in four major ways.
1. Greater intentionality
Before Covid-19, remote work was more a novel concept for most companies. There has been a prevailing mentality that in order to be productive and for teams to perform at a high level, everyone needed to be in close proximity.
At some organizations, some managers liked to walk the floor to see their employees and ensure they were getting their work done. This pandemic is now acting as a forcing function and it requires that organizations reevaluate what work looks like.
There will need to be greater intentionality and evolving of remote work policies. For instance, determining how productivity is measured -- the future of work may call for focusing more on impact as opposed to optics. Then there's adjusting what employee response time should look like and establishing availability of work time expectations.
Employees working remotely may also request to adjust their hours of working because of caregiving duties, homeschooling their children whose schools are closed, or perhaps just performing more efficiently when they work alternative hours like 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of the traditional 9 to 5. No matter the case, there will be some degree of flexibility to anticipate.
Leaders and employees will have to get creative, since remote work will likely become a mainstay the longer Covid-19 rages on.
2. Greater access to talent
Remote work presents a major opportunity as there is greater access to talent. Specifically, there is now no geographical constraint to access talent.
And with no barriers there are therefore no excuses when it comes to developing a talent strategy that enables a diverse workforce across age, race, gender, etc.
Far too often, organizations speak about the importance of diversity but claim they can't find underrepresented talent -- remote work undercuts that argument and allows organizations to go beyond their local market to find folks.
The concentration of talent is widely distributed across the country and creates more economic growth as well as opportunity for communities that aren't based in larger metro areas.
3. Lower expense of operation
With shelter-in-place orders and closed offices, organizations are potentially seeing some savings from decreased energy and resources consumption, savings on janitorial and security services, as well as underutilized office employee perks such as lunch, snacks, coffee, etc.
Additionally, once we are able to reopen and shelter-in-place orders are lifted, guidance from the CDC recommends that employees should return in a phased fashion, possibly at 25 to 50 percent staffing levels. This will result in fewer people in the office, and there will also be social distancing of six feet or more, which will require less furniture, less equipment.
The whole open-office concept may effectively be over. Office architecture will likely be overhauled, and the office may not look like what we were once accustomed to.
Companies will also likely retool their commercial real estate strategy -- evaluating whether more space is needed to account for social distancing or opting for a smaller real estate imprint because more staff are remote.
4. Evolution of the HR and employee engagement function
HR and employee engagement professionals may be tested in ways they've never experienced before. They will have to get creative to make remote workers feel like they're part of the team and foster the bonds of togetherness that happen more naturally in the office.
Going remote and loss of human connectedness may impact employees who thrive in-person and alter team dynamics. HR professionals will have to work extra hard to ensure interactions don't feel impersonal or isolating.
Greater emphasis on the employee community will need to be practiced, such as investing in employee resource groups, deeper use of interactive communication tools such as Slack, and increased digital tools for collaboration, and developing more opportunities to engage.
There will also be increased focus on and responsibility for employee well-being as employees contend with burnout and mental health and psychosocial needs. It will require overhauling policies that were envisioned for an in-office workforce, such as policies relating to child care, family leave, sick time, and vacation.
None of us know what the future holds and there's no official playbook for what's ahead. The only option is to prepare.