The world is upside down and sometimes it can be tough (really tough, if we’re honest) to stay optimistic and maintain sanity. Questions are everywhere: What the future will hold? What will we learn? How will life (continue to) change? And what will the new normal be?
We’re experiencing shifts in so many facets of life from family and community to work and how we socialize. While we may worry about the worst, a positive future is likely when considering what your company will do for you, how you will work with others, how your workplace and technology will change, how your company will modify its overall approaches and even how you take advantage of career opportunities.
The future will be bright—and there is cause for hope—in these five key areas:
What Your Company Does For You
Your employer will expand the support they provide you. Many employers have added to employee support systems as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and it is likely this new programming will be maintained. Companies have been forced to consider employee wellbeing more holistically—in terms of not only the physical, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. The wellness centers set up during the pandemic or morning meditations your company began offering are likely to continue. In addition, companies are learning how important employee engagement and motivation are—no matter where people are working—and this knowledge will inform a greater level of support for employees.
Support for mental health will be embraced. Isolation is a primary factor in depression, anxiety and other significant mental health issues—and the need for physical and social distancing has only exacerbated this struggle. Previously, mental health may not have received the necessary attention it deserved. But with a potential increase in mental health issues, there is a greater appreciation for its importance and for the ways companies can provide solutions, employment benefits and programming to help employees.
Leadership will improve. Throughout a crisis, leadership is more important than ever. It is also clear which leadership behaviors are most effective. In the toughest times, the leaders who excel are those who communicate clearly, stay calm and strong, demonstrate empathy, think long-term and take appropriate decisive action. It is likely these difficult times will filter out leaders who are less stellar. During normal times, leaders may be able to slide by with less effective approaches, but when crisis hits, true character is revealed. It’s possible some ineffective leaders may be able to hide, but it’s likely leaders will become more effective overall. Those who weren’t the best will step up. Those who can’t improve their game will be weeded out. Those who are the most effective will receive plenty of praise and reinforcement, thus setting new standards for all.
Company culture will become a focus. Like leadership, company culture is paramount to an organization’s success. If culture is “the way things get done around here” or “what people do when no one is looking”, it has become especially critical in guiding actions and decisions of both leaders and employees. It is likely companies will increasingly acknowledge the importance of culture as context for performance and employee engagement—focusing on monitoring, managing and curating a culture by design (rather than a culture by default).
How You Work With Others
Your relationship with your teammates will improve. Nothing is more significant in creating bonds between teammates than a common enemy, and the coronavirus struggle is a perfect example of what will strengthen relationships. These are very tough times and when we come out on the other side—having gone through it together—we will have new levels of connection with our colleagues. You’ll be excited to see people you missed during your furlough or work-from-home period. And you’ll share a lasting bond with teammates with whom you’ve worked to solve problems and act proactively during these difficult times. Work is fundamentally social—and today, and in the future, co-workers will occupy an even more important place in our work experience.
Work will allow for more diversity. The traditional approach to work may not have been as welcoming to those with different capabilities—physically, mentally or socially. But allowing people to work from home has made way for more people to contribute in new ways. Companies will realize how much those with differing capabilities are able to contribute. As a result, we will see an expanded view of how lots of people can bring their best to work—through inclusive design, new policies and practices, and new approaches to teamwork that support different ways of working.
Your boss and teammates will be more empathetic about your work-life. After having been home so much—especially without helpful services like childcare and cleaning services—managers and colleagues will have new respect for life’s demands, and appreciation for all-things family. They will more deeply understand what it takes to orchestrate your personal life from cooking to supporting kids in their school work. In addition, they will have a refreshed level of appreciation for the ways family and friends are critical to life and happiness.
Your Workplace And Technology
Work will become more flexible. Many companies have been resistant to letting employees work from home, but this unexpected global work-from-home experiment has forced companies to accept it as a legitimate option. Companies have put greater technology systems and support in place to facilitate mobile working. Teams are figuring out how to collaborate at a distance and leaders are improving their ability to manage based on outcomes and objectives rather than presence. Companies will expand the acceptability of remote work, and they will provide more choice and flexibility to employees to work wherever they can get their best work done, including away from the office.
Your office will get better. When employees go back to the office, employers will be forced to re-think their approach to the workplace. Companies will need to consider enhanced cleaning techniques, more distancing and increased choices for employees across a campus (providing places for focus, collaboration, learning, socializing and respite). In addition, all the things employees loved about being home—comfortable places to relax between meetings or personalization for example—will create new demands on the office. Organizations will have a new appreciation for the importance of the office, the critical nature of face-to-face interactions and the ways their workplaces must support employees.
You’ll be more comfortable with technology. No matter what your level of comfort with technology in the past, you’ve likely had to become even more adept after the current COVID crisis. It’s stressful to use new systems, leverage technology to connect in new ways and work through challenges when your platform goes down because the network is overloaded. But you’ve probably expanded your comfort, capability and confidence with all-things tech. In addition, your company or neighborhood may have upgraded their infrastructures, creating a better pipeline and more streamlined and user-friendly interfaces, making technology easier to live with and ensuring it creates less friction in your day.
Your Company’s Approaches
Speed will increase, and bureaucracy will be reduced. As companies grow and mature, it’s natural for them to establish processes and practices that ensure standardization and consistency. While these are necessary, the downside can be the unintended slowing of progress and increase in bureaucracy. The COVID crisis has led many companies to reduce or eliminate unnecessary systems and has caused organizations to streamline processes to respond more quickly to coronavirus-based needs. In addition, many companies have had to delegate decision making to enhance speed—resulting in increased empowerment for employees. Whether they are HR systems, development systems, manufacturing systems or customer-response systems, the ability to respond quickly is likely to have a positive effect in the future. If we can increase efficiencies and empowerment today, surely we will avoid more non-value-added work and decision bottlenecks in the future.
Innovation will flourish. The most innovative solutions often arise in the face of the greatest constraints. Our current COVID-19 challenges create extraordinary barriers to business as usual. As a result, today’s struggles and pain are forcing new ways of thinking, better approaches and fresh perspectives on problems. Companies will learn from the requirement for greater innovation and create the conditions for expanded levels of creativity, exploration and problem solving.
Companies will work together more effectively. As Shakespeare said in The Tempest, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”. Companies who competed in the pre-COVID world, may have been driven to collaborate in today’s new normal. There are examples of restaurants who were traditionally in competition, now working together to donate food to needy people, or manufacturing organizations collaborating to provide jobs to displaced workers. There are even examples of previously-competing companies sharing engineering information to manufacture critical medical supplies. While it is unrealistic to expect companies will share IP or development secrets in the future, companies will have a renewed sense of responsibility to their communities and a willingness to collaborate for the greater good across the fields in which they play (ensuring they follow anti-trust laws, of course).
Your Opportunities To Contribute
You’ll have renewed career opportunities. At this writing, unemployment is at a near-all-time high and is predicted to rise as high as 32%, so this point may seem unrealistic, but situations that upend the status quo can be ideal—ultimately—for career development. During these times, companies have had to reassess critical jobs, expand definitions of responsibilities and explore new boundaries for key tasks. With such fundamental shifting of jobs and the way they’re designed, career opportunities will abound. You may be furloughed today, but when the economy comes back, there will be significant need for people who can ramp up quickly, take action and put motivation toward efforts that make companies hum. These opportunities may be within organizations or may deliver on the promise of the “gig economy” in which people are their own brand and go wherever the need is—within companies or as contractors.
Your entrepreneurial spirit will be tapped when every business is a start-up. When the coronavirus finally abates, businesses will be in a rush to re-establish their value, re-energize their product flows and do so quickly. In this way, even the most mature, well-established organizations will become like start-ups. There will also be a potential deluge of new businesses and perhaps “world-changing companies,” according to Mark Cuban. All of these will need quick thinking, fast flow of ideas and ingenuity to figure things out and make things happen. This kind of culture will create opportunities for new jobs and career development.
At the moment, it may be tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel or hold a sense of optimism for the future, but tomorrow will be improved by the struggles we’re facing today. Whether it’s what your company does for you, the way you work with others, improvements to your choices at work, how your company approaches its community commitments or your expanded career opportunities, the learning we do today will improve the years to come. The current crisis will eventually pass and a new normal will emerge—and there is plenty of reason to believe that future will be bright.
By Tracy Brower
Forrester, projects that 70% of companies will pivot to a “work-from-anywhere,” hybrid work model in which at least a selection of employees can work anywhere at least two days a week, while spending the remaining days in an office.
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