Forging a New Paradigm After COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. It is estimated that over 2.2 million jobs were lost, and up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated needed to switch occupations. For many workers deemed essential and fortunate enough to continue working, it accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Perhaps the most obvious impact of COVID-19 on the labor force is the dramatic increase in employees working remotely. Forced to work from home, workers and their managers found in some cases that they could be just as productive as they were in the office, with more jobs becoming non-location specific. This has opened a lot of corporate eyes.

To determine how extensively remote work might persist after the pandemic, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the respected “business and economics” research division of McKinsey & Company, conducted an extensive analysis. MGI surveyed over 2000 tasks used in some 800 occupations in eight focus countries that account for almost half the global population, and 62 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, they found that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces could work from home between three to five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic and could prompt a change in the geography of work, as individuals and organizations shift out of large cities into suburbs and small cities. They also found, though, that some work that technically can be done remotely is still best done in person. Negotiations, the need to daily interface with customers, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees are examples of activities that will lose effectiveness when done remotely.

Some organizations are already planning to shift to flexible workplaces after positive experiences with remote work during the pandemic, a move that will reduce the overall space they need and bring fewer workers into offices each day. On average it was found from the same survey that organizations planned to reduce office space by 30 percent. Demand for restaurants and retail in downtown metro areas and for public transportation may decline as well.

Remote work may also put a dent in business travel as extensive use of videoconferencing during the pandemic has ushered in a new acceptance of virtual meetings and other aspects of work. It is estimated that about 20 percent of business travel may not return. This would have a significant effect on employment for Chamber Members that are in the aerospace, aviation, hospitality, and food service industries, to name a few.

As working remotely continues to be on the rise and becomes more acceptable, organizations are increasingly offering positions of flexibility – a hybrid approach. However, managing an office versus a remote workforce is completely different, and special consideration should be given when determining policy guidelines for a remote environment. Before deciding on moving toward or continuing to have your employees work from home, you need to determine if this is right for your organization.

Transitioning to a remote workforce is not so straightforward. Here are some things to consider when implementing a remote environment.

  • Implement Privacy Measures – ensuring confidential information within an organization remains of critical importance

  • Define What Responsiveness Means – share organization-wide expectations on response time

  • Formalize Two-Way Communication – make communication a priority for the entire team

  • Hold Regular Meetings – a missing element to being in the office is face-to-face meetings

  • Cameras on During Meetings – it increases engagement, builds connections, and fosters relationships

  • Outline Productivity Standards – share performance expectations as part of the remote work policy

  • Be Goal Focused