Part 1: Work trends in a COVID-19 world

Posted 08/13/20 Team Vaco

Companies — and cities and states, for that matter — are charting their return-to-work paths through a landscape forever changed by an invisible virus. As a talent and solutions firm, it should come as no surprise that here at Vaco, we’re especially interested in finding out how employers are rising to the new challenges we’re all facing. 

Understanding work trends in a COVID-19 world helps us develop useful return-to-work strategies and services that support businesses and employees alike. To accomplish this, we’ve been keeping a close eye on a few emerging trends that may forever change how we — and you — think about work … and how we do our jobs. 

Here’s a quick preview of some of the key work trends we’ve identified in a COVID-19 world. 

  • More employees are working remotely
  • Flexibility is the foundation for innovation
  • Resilience is as much a priority as efficiency
  • Contingent workers are being used more widely
  • The talent pool is expanding
  • Critical skills and critical roles are changing

We’re tackling the first three work trends in this installment; be sure to come back in a few days to check out Part 2!

More employees are working remotely

Remember when companies were scrambling to figure out if it was even possible to work remotely? We sure do! We were busy checking in with our clients and partners around the globe, learning and listening, and responding with articles about meeting the demands of a changing world with flexibility and strength and ways to ensure business continuity when uncertainty rolls around. The shift from office culture to a work-from-home world has been swift and intense.

We’ve come so far together these past few months and we’ve certainly proven that it’s possible to get the job done … even if your office is your living room sofa and your cats have become Zoom stars and Teams leaders.

Two-thirds of employees are currently working remotely at least part of the workweek as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And, with big-name companies like Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, and Google joining the remote work revolution, more and more employers are putting the health and well-being of their employees first by embracing the work-from-home lifestyle. 

We found that there are some real benefits to hiring remote talent, too. When done right, it also improves diversity, productivity, lowers costs, helps companies gain access to a deeper talent pool, and more.

If remote work isn’t working for your company, maybe it’s time to assess your work culture and how you’ve adapted to remote work. It’s not too late to turn things around! Shifting your expectations for meetings, embracing downtime, and being willing to prioritize new skill sets can all help improve your remote work culture. 

Whether you augment your team with fresh talent that thrives in a remote setting or you offer technical training and support to develop your existing talent, remote work is a great option in today’s world. The New York Times — an organization that has also embraced remote work during the pandemic — recently shed some light on why remote working is and isn’t working for some companies. Even if you’re already part of the remote work revolution, it’s worth a read!

Increased flexibility is the foundation for innovation

So that we can return to work safely — and do our part to keep our country in business — we all have to embrace flexibility. 

When it comes to flexibility, we have high hopes for this being a work trend in a COVID-19 world where American ingenuity and creativity can shine. When we think of flexibility, we’re not just talking about offering your employees PPE and sanitizing stations, rethinking your floor plan, or staggering your workdays, and other strategies for safely reopening your business, we’re talking about prioritizing innovation and creating truly employee-centric perks that make life a little better and a little easier.

Employers have realized how cost-efficient it is to have employees work from home. Office rental, energy bills, travel costs, and entertainment reimbursements eat up a large portion of a company’s finances, so companies that can sustain remote operations will likely continue to operate virtually. 

Use those savings creatively to reward your employees for their flexibility. Offer to cover their energy and technology costs or purchase standing desks or ergonomic chairs. Even better, ask your employees what would make their work-from-home life more comfortable. Not only will you improve productivity, but by showing you care, you’ll also strengthen employee loyalty and satisfaction.

Mini-grants are another great way to show you care and that you’re invested in your talent. These are tough times; and sometimes, self-care is exactly what we need. Mini-grants could cover anything from exercise equipment, to a subscription to a meditation app, to a new guitar for your quarantine jam sessions. When you provide an outlet for your employees so they can rest and rejuvenate, they’re better able to focus on the work that needs to be done. And innovate.

Because now is the time for innovation. McKinsey & Company found that many companies are deprioritizing innovation to concentrate on four things: “shoring up their core business, pursuing known opportunity spaces, conserving cash and minimizing risk, and waiting until ‘there is more clarity.’” 

Which makes sense as a short-term decision but can have harmful long-term ramifications. The report continues, “However, we believe that, particularly in times of crisis more urgent actions to take include adapting the core to meet shifting customer needs, identifying and quickly addressing new opportunity areas being created by the changing landscape, reevaluating the innovation initiative portfolio and ensuring resources are allocated appropriately, and building the foundation for post-crisis growth in order to remain competitive in the recovery period.”

Organizations are prioritizing resilience as much as efficiency

Remember the time before COVID-19, when most of your organizational restructuring endeavors were laser-focused on improving efficiency? That’s changed. We now know that lean operations set the stage for limited flexibility, supply chain stress, production disruptions, and process breakdowns. If nothing else, the pandemic has put the spotlight on the need for resilience.  

Gartner recently issued five recommendations for HR professionals looking to improve resiliency and flexibility within their organizations. Here they are:

  • Evolve modeling of skill needs to quickly course correct as conditions change
  • Incorporate diversity and inclusion into role design 
  • Design roles, structures, and processes around outcomes rather than tasks 
  • Collect data to support resourcing decisions and define the minimum critical inputs for deciding when to change or flex a process
  • Provide employees more varied, adaptive, and flexible careers so they acquire valuable cross-functional knowledge and training

Thinking about ways your company can make remote work more effective, improve flexibility, and prioritize resilience? We’d love to hear from you. Contact Vaco today. Don’t forget to check back for Part 2 where we’ll cover the benefits of an expanded talent pool, the wider use of contingent workers, and the ways in which critical skills and roles are changing.