Will COVID-19 change the way we work in the future?
Even before the pandemic many companies invested in tools for the virtual workplace, adapting to a working world that continues to be more global and flexible. Prior to the pandemic, however, only a low percentage of employees had the opportunity to work remotely. The pandemic has strongly accelerated remote work – with about 80% of office workers working from home.
Overall, the sudden shift to a largely remote work setting went surprisingly well. In a recent survey across Europe, almost 90% of employers said they will continue to invest in tech and digital infrastructure that support remote work after the pandemic. Combining the virtues of both, employees will partly be in the office and will partly work remotely. The future of work will be increasingly hybrid, enabling employees to perform at their best whether onsite or working offsite.
How are the employees coping with remote work?
Unexpectedly, a large number of employees reported that they have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity working remotely during the pandemic. Employees appreciate the flexibility in their working hours, which allow them to take care of their family and personal needs. They are happy to save on food, clothes and particularly on commuting time and costs. A majority of employees imagine their future workplace as being less office-centered. After the pandemic they expect working models that allow them to move effortlessly between onsite and remote work.
As the pandemic has shown, there are downsides to working models that blur the border between work time and free time. During the pandemic, a significant share of employees voiced concerns about their work-life-balance and even mental health issues.
Remote work presents opportunities and challenges. Future working models need to focus on both the care of people and the competitiveness of the business.
What do companies need to do now?
Companies realize that after the pandemic the wheels cannot be turned backwards – instead it is time to move ahead. The early success and steep learning curve in the last year is just the start. To succeed, companies need to focus on three key points in the medium-term.
Firstly, they need to further test and refine their working models. As digital tools and working techniques evolve, companies need to identify what fits their corporate culture, countries, and employee’s preferences best.
Secondly, organizations need to refine their leadership and enrich their culture. To ensure a productive and innovative work culture when teams are distributed, managers need to reinforce social connectivity, collaboration and camaraderie. There are new leadership demands and expectations in a hybrid work environment.
Thirdly, companies need to access the talent pool which is unleashed by remote and hybrid working models. Today, more than one-third of European workers have caregiving responsibilities, which are hardly compatible with rigid business schedules. Hybrid working policies will give them new opportunities to balance work constraints with personal responsibilities.
Companies can tap into this resource pool and recruit talented and diverse employees across the globe. The coming years will increasingly reshape the way organizations work. Human Resource Management plays a key role in charting and supporting the journey towards a hybrid and agile working world.
Professor Melanie Seemann teaches Human Resource Management at HFU Business School. Prior to joining HFU she worked for 15 years in HR, leadership development as well as in organizational change at Daimler AG and Robert Bosch GmbH.