Top scientists are confirming our fears: COVID-19 will not be going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, the “post-COVID-19” work culture does not exist, and as we have heard many times before, we are officially entering a new normal. This new normal has presented business leadership with new and unfamiliar challenges, chief among them will be attracting and retaining talent in what has become a much more virtual workforce.
How can employers embrace the New Workforce, and stay competitive in attracting and maintaining their employees?
The Virtual Workplace Emerges
It is rather remarkable the way that many businesses quickly adapted to keep operations running throughout the government-mandated lockdowns. Employees started working from home offices and communicated easily and efficiently using technology. Meetings were still held, customers were served, and in many cases, deals still made. Virtual became the new normal.
Eventually workers will be expected to return to the office. But will they really want to, at least to the extent that on-site attendance was essentially a given before the virus hit? After all, a large proportion of workers now appreciate the improved work-life balance of working remotely and being able to spend more time with family. They have discovered productive time that was wasted commuting to and from the office every day, and enjoy the savings realized by not spending money on daily transportation costs.
It seems everyone can find something to like about working virtually. Now that more workers have experienced the benefits, it is safe to assume that the practice will grow and workers will, to some degree, demand options for more flexible home-office schedules.
Creating a Virtual Corporate Culture
Establishing a corporate culture in the post-pandemic business world is one area where leaders will forge new trails. In the virtual workplace, it will be difficult to gather every worker under one roof if the workforce is dispersed across the globe or operating in different time zones. Without the opportunity to establish the personal reinforcement that management traditionally relied on to communicate organizational goals and objectives, cultural messaging will require new ways to set a corporate identity.
First and foremost, leadership must establish an environment of trust. It is one thing to be able to set a standard when worker attitudes can be quickly assessed through personal observations and daily feedback, but still another thing when the possibility exists that management may not ever physically meet new employees but only get to know them as a face they see during videoconferences. One solution may be for employers to be more proactive in assessing employee attitudes through practices such as monthly employee satisfaction surveys or scheduled one-on-one sessions that allow workers to speak frankly about issues of concern.
Businesses must find more ways to create community in a virtual world to overcome the feeling of isolation many remote workers may experience. This could include weekly virtual happy hours, business book clubs or friendly department competitions to raise money for selected charities.
Giving Employees the Tools to Work
Although working remotely is a rather novel experience for many employees, companies have been offering the option of flexible office hours and working from home for years. The COVID-19 virus has merely accelerated the practice. In 2014, an MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive Education Department Quality of Life survey reported some astounding results in terms of remote employee job satisfaction. For instance, 90 percent of the respondents said that their family and personal life improved; 85 percent agreed that their stress was reduced; 80 percent said that morale and engagement improved; 62 percent felt more trusted and respected; and 93 percent believed that collaboration was better than before.
The extent to which increases in remote work affect the management of personnel post-pandemic is still to be determined, but there’s little doubt that there will be changes. It will be up to leadership to establish policies that provide employees more control over their schedules without sacrificing productivity.
One solution is to give employees equipment for their home offices that provides greater conformity and compatibility with equipment in the office. At the minimum, this will include a laptop computer and perhaps a monitor, but in many cases companies may also provide mobile phones and printers. This would help maintain corporate security and make tech support simpler. Another option would be to give employees an office equipment stipend that sets maximum amounts employees can spend to set up their home office, as well as a budget to cover the costs of recurring office supplies like printer ink and paper.
Providing Technology to Stay Connected
Not only are employees seeing advantages to the emergence of a remote workforce, but employers are reaping the benefits as well. According to Global Workplace Analytics, employers who embraced flexible scheduling were saving over $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year before the COVID-19 virus arrived. Cost savings include office rents, equipment, and even lower utility bills. In addition to reports of higher employee productivity and loyalty by offering flexible scheduling, businesses also benefitted by hiring from a larger pool of workers from anywhere in the world.
Businesses must be prepared to give employees the right technology to excel in a virtual workplace. This includes staying on top of the latest video-conferencing programs that help coworkers stay connected regardless of location, and providing team-messaging tools that allow for the safe sharing of important data and documents. Finally, a fine line will no doubt have to be walked in terms of project management tools to monitor work status. Employers must consider how workers might react to intrusive time management tools that may give the impression that someone is always looking over their shoulder.
There are sure to be missteps for many businesses over the months to come. However, there will also be some wonderful innovations that completely transform the way companies operate going forward. If the COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that the business world can meet and adapt to any challenge that arises.
About Spencer Trask & Co.
Spencer Trask & Co. transforms big ideas into world changing ventures through the power of the Spencer Trask Network. The company has been instrumental in helping companies pioneer technological and scientific advancements in the fields of genomics, healthcare technology, mobile technology, AI, and Open Innovation. Scientists and entrepreneurs partner with Spencer Trask because the company provides the precise combination of experience, guidance, and foundational capital to protect and build on big ideas. Working with advisors and private investors, Spencer Trask develops those ideas into world-leading companies.