COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we work, perhaps indefinitely. Many changes, such as automation, approaches to staffing and workplace policies were already in progress but were significantly accelerated, seemingly overnight. Virtually every facet of how we work is different now and has forced every company to materially modify operations, marketing, sales, production, communications, strategy, human resources, offices and facilities.
No one knows when the pandemic’s effect on our daily work lives will end. Whether that occurs in five months or five years, it is hard to imagine the nation’s workplaces reverting back to pre-pandemic status. Companies have spent an incredible amount of money on changing the way their businesses operate, and it is unlikely that these organizations will be divesting in enhancements that improved the bottom line while enhancing employee and customer safety.
Given the changes that have transpired and those that will occur post-pandemic, it might be a great management exercise to walk through and identify your organization’s ideas and plans of what the following areas might look like when, and if, the virus is contained:
Office Location — I recently talked with a local CEO whose employees will work at home at least through the end of the year. She was sharing with me that the lease for their facility is up for renewal in 2021. The company is seriously reevaluating its space needs for next year and beyond, as the work-from-home option has worked so well. The company’s space needs appear to have dramatically changed and caused this CEO and her leadership team to consider a much smaller physical workspace in the future, along with permanent work-from-home scheduling options for their employees. She is not alone, as company leaders have witnessed in many cases that the work-from-home option has mutually benefited employees and the company’s performance.
Workplace Policies and Programs — Human resource leaders will need to evaluate current policies and programs to understand how they might work in a post-pandemic work world. The virus has disrupted many workplace polices pertaining to absenteeism, tardiness, sick time, safety, business travel and dress codes. As one business leader told me, “The traditional 9-to-5 workday is extinct, and so are most of the policies we had in place prior to the pandemic. We need a whole new approach to how we work, when we work and where we work.”
Communication — We all know that effective communication is essential to the success of any business. There is no substitute for in-person communication, but organizational leaders are now well aware of new and different ways to effectively communicate in a challenging era. These lessons learned may translate into a hybrid approach to meetings and communication post-pandemic.
Staffing — In a 2018 keynote presentation at a regional business event, I shared with the audience that we were at a “tipping point” relative to office automation. I went on to state that with continued technological advances, “staffing” positions with machines versus people would continue to evolve and, if given a “nudge,” that tipping point might accelerate automating many jobs. History will show us one day if the pandemic was the “nudge.” How organizations staff in a post-pandemic world will be fascinating and might have significant implications on a new set of skills, education and experience that individuals will need in the future.
Performance Management — This area will be really interesting in a post-pandemic work world, especially if work-from-home options are sustained. Performance has traditionally been determined by observation at the workplace. With work-at-home protocols, performance needs to be measured purely on results, without supervision. Now is a great time to consider new and different ways your organization will assess performance during and after the pandemic, especially if work-at-home policies continue to be utilized. This will also include taking a hard look at existing job descriptions and job expectations.
Leadership — Business leaders have been truly tested this year. As we all know, the real character of a person shows up during challenging times. In many cases, real leaders rose to the occasion and probably saved their businesses. Due to the pandemic and its effect on the workplace, leaders have been forced to innovate, take risks and make decisions they never thought would occur in their careers. And, it’s not over. The challenges will continue, and how leaders conduct themselves in the post-pandemic era will require skill, empathy and experience. Today’s companies need to ensure they have the right leaders in place to carefully and artfully navigate the rough waters ahead.
Human Resources — Human resources (HR) professionals have been put to the test in 2020. They have emerged as perhaps the most important support function in business. There is no doubt about the critical role HR plays to support the success of any company. Do you have the right HR leadership and professionals on staff at your company?
These areas are just the tip of the iceberg. There may never be a better time to assess where your company was in January 2020, where it is now and what it may look like in a post-pandemic world. COVID-19 has changed so much, and yet, it presents an opportunity for all of us to redefine, re-imagine and reshape workplaces for continued success.
Pat Perry is the host of the podcast “Success Wave,” author of two business books (perrybiz.com) and a Cleveland Business Hall of Fame member.