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The Future of Work, Post-Pandemic Edition

Today's post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

The Boston Globe has a fascinating new feature on The Future of Work, looking at how the past year redefined expectations of what work looks like and exploring ”œwhat these changes will mean for jobs, the economy, and the quality of our lives”.

One of the articles within this section notes that in 2019, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, only 7 percent of Americans even had the choice of working from home. Just a year later, Gallup found that 58 percent of U.S. employees were always or sometimes working remotely.

Talk about a radical change!

Another article in the series touches on a number of questions with expert answers, and this one really caught my attention: When asked if at least some of your job can be done from home, what should your work hours and workweeks look like? Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, answered:

”œWe must get rid of the notion of a 9 to 5 workday. Those hours make sense when you're commuting, but the rigidity of that schedule doesn't allow you to get the benefits of working from home. Once you remove that straitjacket, you can figure out the best hours for you. Maybe you start your workday around 10 after you get the kids ready for school and do some exercise. Or maybe you do your best work late at night…Most employees, if given a choice, will opt for a ”œGoldilocks plan” that involves not too much time at the office, and not too little. On office days, you may find you're working longer hours because you're cramming a lot in. You're seeing clients, using specialized machines, or having informal lunches and team meetings. You'll need to figure out how to optimize your time based on how your organization is structured and your own preferences.”

With my work and research on Worklife Negotiation, I have given a lot of thought to how an employee's hours should change if they are working a hybrid or remote schedule and how it impacts their work and life satisfaction. Pozen's thoughts make a lot of sense to me.

We reached out to our distinguished board of advisors here at The Workforce Institute to get their thoughts on The Future of Work, specifically, what changes that have come about from the pandemic are things we should keep and what changes are things we should look to change back, eliminate or re-think post-pandemic.

Here's what they had to say:

Bob Clements, President, Axsium Group

During the pandemic, we called our frontline workers ”“ from grocery workers to healthcare workers ”“ ”œheroes”. We paid premiums. We applauded them and thanked them for everything they have done. Let's not go back to the way it was before. Let's continue to remember that all workers provide value and contribute to society.

I think we need to re-think healthcare for our frontline workforce. Of all the things that have changed, we still do not provide adequate healthcare coverage for the hourly workforce.

David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

The one thing I'd like to see stay is the recognition by managers that their employees are individuals with unique lives; and those lives affect how productive they are. Perhaps even more than that insight, is the recognition that managers are capable of managing unique individuals in personalized, empathetic ways and that that delivers greater productivity in many cases. It is a more effective approach to management, and many managers have realized that they are pretty darn good at it.

In terms of what I'd like to see change or go back, I want people to go back to socializing with their colleagues. Even in a business meeting there is an opportunity to build an extra level of connection. You might say that connection underlies collaboration, and you want to start rebuilding those connections.

Nanne Finis, Chief Nurse Executive at UKG

Telemedicine has changed the landscape for healthcare. The direct connection of the patient with the healthcare provider, one-to-one, has had an impact on health and wellness. Although telemedicine has been an acceptable ”œvisit type” for healthcare for many years, the pandemic period has allowed this mode of care to flourish. More and more patients or consumers of care have utilized and come to prefer this method of care as it is more efficient for all and effective for quality and safe care delivery.

Healthcare is a human business. The challenges that care providers face and the mental health impact that this year has had, must push industries to closely care for their workforce's wellbeing. The healthcare industry is not alone in this challenge, and the wellbeing of the workforce has become essential to safe/ effective business operations. Industry leaders have all begun to implement wellbeing at work initiatives, but the root cause of why employees are not well in their work/home environments must be a part of the equation.

John Frehsesenior managing director at Ankura Consulting Group, LLC.

I hope organizations hang onto the agility they had to develop during the pandemic. All levels of organizations learned to adapt quickly to changes to get things done and this decentralization of control represents a new-found trust in the greater workforce. Trust is a key ingredient in any successful company. My hope is we do not return to strict command-and-control leadership and diminish these gains in culture and performance.

For many of our clients, working during the pandemic was like going to war. Everyone stepped up to get the job done, but many of these efforts are not sustainable over time. Our clients learned they could accomplish tasks originally thought impossible and their work has been inspiring. But, just because you can work 80-hour weeks, does not mean you should.

Ivonne Vargas Hernández, author, journalist, speaker

I believe companies need to review or design policies that respond to changes in the labor market. In Mexico, for example, there is a new Telebrajo Law that requires employers to guarantee disconnection and to grant financial support for the use of electricity services (among other requirements).

An important challenge for HR is to take advantage of the information available from the IT area. Then it is necessary to continue the search for solutions to automate data collection and with that information make better decisions and achieve more efficient management.

Sharlyn Lauby, author, speaker, HR Bartender

I'd love to see more organizations embrace remote work. Over the past year, we've learned employees can work outside of a traditional office environment and get things done. I believe creating a hybrid work environment could increase employee engagement and save costs.

We have to develop some common etiquette around video calls. They're a mainstream communication medium now so it only makes sense to have some practical guidelines. Example: Tell participants ahead of time that you'd like for them to be on camera. 

Dennis Miller, AVP of Human Resources and Benefits Administration at The Claremont Colleges.

I think remote work options should continue to be leveraged for the mutual benefits of employees and employers. In addition, I think virtual meetings should continue to be leveraged, even after returning to work. They are typically more efficient and effective, overall, when compared to in-person meetings.

Current legislation allows an employee to use a special bank for sick time related to pandemic based activities (such as getting a COVID vaccine or taking paid time off due to adverse vaccination reactions).  Once the legislation expires, some version of these paid time off models should remain in place, especially since we can easily forecast the need for periodic booster vaccinations for the foreseeable future.

Mark Wales, global workforce management advisor

The one change I would prefer to stay is the increased ability for many workers to work from home. It has no doubt brought challenges, but also amazing new connections between spouses and families of what it means to work. Discussions with family have replaced some of those ”œwatercooler” conversations at work leading to new insights and connectivity. And not just with immediate family, but across continents and time zones in way that hadn't happened before. There is a richness and cross fertilization of ideas across industries and generations that will bring changes for this generation of workers, and no doubt, future generations of workers. Additionally, it has meant that company policy has expanded further out from considering not just the employee but also the family.

One change I would love to go back, but I honestly do not believe it can right now, is the idea of maximizing hours for employees by having them work across locations. I believed it was a way to work effectively for companies to use trained and committed resources and give employees more consistent schedules. Sadly, despite the increasing vaccination rate, we still need to maintain caution, safety and social distancing. As we've seen from caregivers, that mobility across locations significantly increases risk of transmission of diseases and so that suggests we may have to limit mobility which will have a negative effect on hourly workers.

Thanks to our amazing Board for their insights. What about you? What changes are you hoping your employer keeps and what will you be glad to see go? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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