How The Pandemic Has Changed The World of Work

It's been a year since we talked about the future world of work. In Episode 61 of Building Better Cultures, Kevin Empey of Dublin-based consultancy Work Matters took us through what's been happening to workplace cultures before and during the pandemic and what might be coming next. So, since 2022, how much of this is coming true and what does the future look like?
 

Since the pandemic emerged in early 2020, organizations have been adapting to new ways of working. Kevin highlighted that some of these methods, such as digitalization and flexible working, were not 'new kids on the block' in March 2020.

Still, subsequent events accelerated their importance and prevalence. Since then, organizations have been grappling with working from home, hybrid work, and bracing themselves to cope with change and prepare their teams to do the same.

Kevin's podcast episode offers helpful tips on how organizations can adapt.

He broke this down into three steps:

  1. Reflecting on the future world of work and what it looks like for your organization (some, like Goldman Sachs, were vehemently opposed to remote or hybrid working).
  2. Scoping out work into items that need to be done now and what can be revisited or removed.
  3. Pick your battles and enable change.

Post-Covid Working Life – How to Make it Work

The last point in Kevin's list resonated with what we see today. Post-COVID working life doesn't have to be black and white. The Chartered Institute of Management found that 80% of firms have adopted hybrid working and want to see it remain, the same sample of managers say that they are actively encouraging a return to the office.

Incorporating Hybrid Working Needs and Desires

Kevin and Scott talked about how hybrid work arrangements can be 'messy.' Though it may seem contradictory to the concept of agility, a specific structure to hybrid working is needed. There are indications that individual organizations are starting to set parameters; these will vary from company to company (Like, mandatory in-office Mondays or 'x' number of people in the office at all times).

The issue with such norms is that they come with lower retention rates and competition. Firms are competing for a share of an ever-tighter talent market, and if their hybrid work offer isn't up to expectation, another organization will offer a better opportunity.

Of course, what constitutes a 'better opportunity' is in the eye of the job-seeker. The goalposts of the talent market are always moving – perhaps unexpectedly faster compared to 2020.

Become a Resilient Leader or Manager

 

What about leadership and managers' resilience to all that is changing? Kevin shared that the pandemic has been a 'great leveller,' proving that everyone can change. Employees displayed support and camaraderie for their leaders, and leaders have shown the same to their employees.

This levelling has exposed leaders' strengths and weaknesses. Those who have struggled or have seen employees leave must now focus on their own upskilling to thrive. Those who did well brace for the next wave of change – this is indeed on the way!

Kevin talks about one CEO who cited a move from performance management to 'expectation management;' this highlights the need to adapt to changing times and changing people. If you don't, do so at your own risk.

Final Thoughts

Let's conclude by going back to Kevin's three steps for change. Whereas all-out remote working has been left to one side by many companies, leaders are starting to structure and plan out hybrid working, working it into vision statements and similar. You only have to look at job descriptions on career pages to see how the post-pandemic norm factors into roles and responsibilities.

Additionally, studies show that leaders are proud of what they do. In short, they are indeed learning to adapt to changing times. The big question is whether employees feel the same.

Agile working has bred an agile talent market. Leaders must focus their energies on continuously adapting to change and listening to what employees and candidates want to maintain a competitive advantage.