As a result of the coronavirus, the workplace will never be the same. Even the word “workplace” suddenly seems obsolete, as the physical location in which we now work has merged with the places in which we eat, sleep, learn, exercise, and play.
The COVID-19 crisis has created the ultimate “burning platform”—an unexpected, overnight opportunity for people to see the impact of swift and meaningful change, and to witness the negative consequences of trying to ignore this aberration from everyday life. Within organizations, the virus has been driving significant change in how their employees operate with each other, as well as with clients, customers, and vendors. Now that companies are shifting past their immediate response to the crisis, we’ve entered into a temporary “new normal.”
However, what will the long-term impacts of our new normal be on the world of work?
Winning organizations will be those that integrate and master digital work, community, and collaboration. To succeed, companies need to begin planning now for five key shifts:
1. Full digital transformation, supported by a truly virtual workforce
Companies have quickly figured out how to serve their customers and clients remotely, and there’s no going back. From telemedicine in hospitals to remote learning for public schools and streaming fitness classes, every industry has accelerated its own digital transformation. As a result, the demand for highly skilled remote workers will continue to increase.
With a surge of candidates in the market, organizations should be preparing to recruit and integrate these key individuals into the organization quickly and seamlessly, so they can capitalize on the cost savings and broader access to rockstar talent.
2. Focus on outputs versus face time
Being the first one in the office and the last one to leave is no longer a measure of commitment and performance. In a post-COVID-19 world, employees will be measured on what gets done and the value of their work rather than on the individual tasks and the time it takes to get the work done.
Leaders must provide crisp, outcome-driven expectations so that their people can deliver on goals successfully. Motivating employees to perform will require modeling and measurement of their outputs and being clear on those metrics. Companies must level-set expectations for what drives organizational priorities and goals, rather than discrete tasks.
3. Respect for work-life blend
More than ever before, companies are recognizing that working “nine to five” is unsuited to the demands of a modern workforce. If leaders can place greater emphasis on flexibility for people to accomplish their best work—when and how it meets their personal needs (as well as the needs of the company)—they can reinforce the cultural shift of measuring staff based on performance, which can result in exponential benefits for the organization.
Organizations must remove stigma and support employees’ needs to make time for self-care–including exercise, meals, and family time. Policies and procedures need to reflect these shifts, and leaders must model a true work-life blend so that it becomes part of the company culture.
4. Stronger communications
Now that companies have gone fully virtual, individuals are communicating more efficiently and more frequently across a networked environment. To do this well, everyone, at every level, must make opportunities for dialogue by employing numerous channels.
Leaders can make communication easier for their people. They can remove roadblocks, create a governance structure that pushes decision-making out and down, and provide employees with the tools and training they need to empower them for ongoing communication and local decision-making. With traditional hierarchies gone, true leaders must step up to facilitate information flow across the organization.
5. Increased trust, transparency, and empathy
We are witnessing a revolution in leadership. In a recent leadership study of Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurs, respondents cited behaviors such as humility and listening skills as essential qualities of great change leaders. And leadership experts such as Kim Scott and Brené Brown have long proselytized about the importance of candor and vulnerability. Now, leaders and employees must understand and support each other like never before. People are sharing more about their personal situations with colleagues, and as a result, they are creating an expectation of humanity, active listening, support, and connection.
Leaders that demonstrate these qualities and publicly recognize excellence in their people will earn greater trust and loyalty from their employees. Leaders who seize this mindset now will be better prepared to engage employees for the long term, regardless of the external environment.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that COVID-19 is driving change in our behaviors, and the workplace is no exception. To begin shifting our idea of what’s possible in the workforce after the curve flattens, leaders must take hold of what’s working today and integrate it quickly into the everyday. Rather than waiting for reentry and being reactive, leaders need to prepare, setting expectations for the ways of working that will benefit the organization down the road, so employees can focus on the strategic business priorities of the future.