work from home remote work

COVID-19 and the long-term changes to the workplace landscape

Yes–things are different. Change can be overwhelming. But all things in our lives will continue to change. And we must, as a society and as leaders in the workplace, adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID stress leaderHow are you–as a leader in the workplace or as a business owner–adapting? Five or six weeks in, it’s time to adapt if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or frustrated. If that describes how you’re feeling, I genuinely suggest you seek help through a life coach or professional counselor. I can refer you to excellent professionals who offer online services. This pandemic may be the most traumatic thing you’ve experienced, and that’s nothing to apologize for; it is something to face.

Here are some ways I see the COVID-19 pandemic permanently altering the workplace landscape FOR GOOD in the United States.

Disclaimer: There are plenty of ways this pandemic and our national response have altered the economic and workplace landscapes in negative ways. Other people can write about negative impacts and outcomes. Let’s dig into the good stuff.

Many full-time employees in very rigid, traditional workplace settings have gained the opportunity to work remotely.

Will this be temporary? I don’t think any of us know about exact time frames yet. But I believe this forced workplace experiment will permanently alter the workplace landscape. Employees who might have otherwise never gained this opportunity have now had it. Have they liked it or not? Either way, yay for experimentation and opportunity!

work from home remote workA word of advice to employees who have been working remotely and have enjoyed it: Don’t give it up. Do not return to work and to business as usual without attempting to retain your flexibility if you love working from home. If you were able to perform your tasks in a productive manner from home, why not ask if you can continue working this way? You could request to work remotely. Or you could request to work one or two days per week from home. If working remotely does not hinder your performance or make it difficult on others in any way, there should be no reason your employer should say no. There’s never harm in asking.

Here’s another suggestion: If you ask, and your employer says no, ask why. Take notes.

Keep those notes, and then begin looking for another job with more flexibility. It might take you a long time to find the right fit. But it’s better to look for something better for two years than to spend the next 20 years feeling unsettled or disgruntled.

Many traditional, rigid employers have been forced to allow employees–who begged for flexibility and remote employment opportunities–the chance to work from home.

And guess what? We’re not hearing countless reports of employees blowing it. They’re holding it together even though they’re simultaneously teaching children and parenting.  Isn’t that AMAZING? Grown, responsible adults doing jobs without other adults walking around every 30 minutes to watch over them… Crazy. During this pandemic, while wearing multiple hats, if your employees been able to be even half as productive, they are proving that working from home is a conceivable option.

work from homeWill these same employers continue to allow flexibility and remote work options to their employees when COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are lifted? I hope so. I hope employers have learned a valuable lesson about trusting employees to behave responsibly.

A word of warning to traditional employers who are chomping at the bit to return to their rigid ways: Be careful. Your employees have likely enjoyed flexibility. They probably don’t like commuting or sitting in uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, outdated offices. Maybe they are working while wearing pajamas. And they might not like you, either, or looking at your face daily. So if you’re going to reject requests to continue working remotely, be prepared with legitimate reasons.

A better option: Say yes—or say yes partially. You don’t have to allow employees to work remotely all the time. Flexibility is wonderful. Allow employees in a department to work out their own schedules with some at home on Mondays, and some at home on Fridays. People are pretty creative, responsible, and productive. Keep them accountable, meet regularly, and ask them to produce solid results. But try trusting them–and see what happens. You have already survived this pandemic. Why not give flexibility a chance?

Some clients have reported that as a result of COVID restrictions, they were forced to cut budgets.

They had to lay off more than half their staff. In some cases, they told staff they hoped to rehire when restrictions were lifted. In other cases, employers did not make promises.

One client privately disclosed that she was grateful for this pandemic for one reason: it forced her to trim the fat. She knew some employees were unproductive and ineffective. Those employees took too much time to manage. Yet she liked those employees as individuals, so she hesitated to fire them. The pandemic gave her the perfect opportunity to get rid of them. They could apply for unemployment–better unemployment benefits than usual–and she could permanently lower costs.

Many employers may not admit this, but I have a feeling this has happened in multiple organizations across the United States. If you’re a business owner, however you do it, maybe trimming the fat isn’t a bad idea right now. How have you been wasting money, time, or energy? Who has been spending too much time killing time at work? Are there tasks you’ve been outsourcing to someone who is not a true expert–you just have a really great relationship with the contractor? Maybe it’s time to evaluate your budget and develop a better business plan.

Colleges and universities may need to evolve (once again) to offer more “essential employees” degree plans, vocational training, and fast-track certifications.

How many Gen Z high school students will consider majoring in physical therapy now? Almost all physical therapists have been out of work this entire time. Dentists, too. Did anyone ever think a dentist would be unable to perform services and generate income? I didn’t.

This pandemic is a game changer in terms of forcing higher education administrators to reconsider the world of academia. Small, private, liberal arts institutions were already floundering, with enrollment down and finances amiss. More traditional institutions with faculty members who were afraid to even upload grades online? Gosh. Welcome to online learning management systems and to teaching exclusively online with a one week learning curve. Bless them. I can’t wait to see what’s on the course schedule for fall 2020 at the most progressive institutions. Those institutions will attract and retain students. And their students will obtain high-paying jobs which stand the test of time–and all the crazy stuff the world will throw at them, too.

And lastly, if you have been preaching to your business owner or manager about the importance of online branding, brand awareness, digital marketing, content management, or social media management, congratulations. YOUR TIME IS NOW.

social media managementAll my traditional clients who hesitated to consider these avenues for branding, marketing, and outreach are now nervous. They’re scrambling to find money to pay for a content management strategic plan (and its implementation). They know they must hire someone to manage their social media and other digital content (email marketing, blog, web content, etc.). In a time when people are mostly home-bound, practicing social distancing, and working remotely, the online market is all we have. And we know that if we attempt to reach people where they aren’t, we’re just fishing in dry ponds.

If you’re panicking, too, because you know your online brand amounts to a Facebook Page created in 2016 by a college student who volunteered for you one summer, it’s okay. Really–you will be okay. But you need help. So either hire a local professional or contact me, and we can figure that out.

Do you foresee other permanent changes in the landscape of the national workplace? I’d love to read your feedback. Please share your thoughts in the comments on this blog post. Thank you for taking the time to read and share with others.

 

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bethanywallace

Bethany Wallace Communications & Consulting builds better workplaces and strengthens leaders for mission-minded organizations through soft skills solutions.

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