Covid-19 has changed the world of work forever. Is work as we knew it gone for good? A year and a half into the pandemic, and as we seem to be slowly emerging from the worst of the crisis, new trends are emerging in the workplace and changing the way we live our professional and personal lives, as Christine Naschberger discovers
Working From Home (WFH) has given employees more autonomy, confidence, and freedom. WFH has transformed the role of managers who are becoming more like coaches, helping employees to find and develop their true potential. They are also expected to engage more directly and deeply with their team. Lately two breeds of leaders have emerged to meet the renewed focus on people and human relations. Inclusive leaders show empathy, are tolerant and open-minded. They help their employees to be genuine at work, in line with Gen Y and Z’s expectations and the increasingly diverse workforce. Servant leaders value the opinions of others. They are facilitators who encourage and support team members’ growth and development. They step back and give praise and valuable feedback to their team.
Most employees have enjoyed a renewed freedom while teleworking and many may find it difficult to go back to a pre-pandemic office regime.
Several studies have shown that a lack of flexibility from companies around teleworking will result in a wave of resignations, and one of the main criteria when looking for a new job will be flexible work style. Companies that want to attract and retain talent will need to follow suit and offer flexible work schedules.
The way companies use space will also change as telework means that savings can be made on office space. Companies will adopt an activity-based working approach to optimise workspaces. Activity-based working allows employees to choose from a variety of settings depending on the activities they perform on a workday. Employees are constantly on the move from one workspace to another and this has proved to empower them. Companies such as Lego, Microsoft, Publicis or Accenture have all adopted an activity-based working style.
Organisational culture was impacted by the pandemic as most employees were off site. It is very challenging to create a sense of belonging when team members are geographically scattered, sitting at home in front of their computer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, most onboarding has been ‘phygital’ (a mix of physical and digital). For newcomers it has been difficult to take in their new company’s organisational culture and to feel a sense of belonging.
The pandemic has exposed human fragility. Because of isolation, loneliness and fear of catching Covid-19, many people have suffered emotionally and even experienced trauma. Also, teleworking has meant that working and personal lives have become fused together, with many people feeling they have lost some privacy. Addressing human fragility through expression of emotions at work will become more important than in the past. Leaders will need to show empathy and consider their own emotions as well as their team’s.
But it’s not just mental health that has been affected by the pandemic, many aspects of physical health have also been impacted. WFH meant that employees became more sedentary, and this was accompanied by an increase in food and alcohol consumption and, inevitably, weight gain for many. Employees also reported Zoom fatigue and headaches.
The challenge over the forthcoming months will be making a shift from an individual to a collective perspective and managers will need to take the lead to navigate this transition.
According to a 2017 Deloitte study, 63% of employees think that their managers are responsible for purpose at work, and 26% of employees say that the meaning in their work is related to cooperation and teamwork. Purpose giving is a collective responsibility, and it is not only up to the company’s task to create a purposeful working environment; every single employee is responsible to create meaning and can be meaning ambassadors for the company.
Finally, mobility and travel need to be considered. Does the pandemic spell the end of the business trip for good? Well, perhaps not entirely, but organisations will need to seriously reassess their travel policy considering the changes. Video conference systems such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, etc. have become the norm during the pandemic and are very unlikely to disappear altogether. Many companies are likely to limit travel, and this will be beneficial to both finances and the environment.
The pandemic has been a game changer for both our professional and personal lives. Some of the changes we have experienced are here to stay. Others may disappear once the pandemic is over. But what about the famous French greeting ‘la bise’ (the kiss) at work? According to a recent Ifop (French Institute of Public Opinion) survey looking at greeting rituals at work, 78% of respondents said that kissing colleagues is likely to be impacted. Will it be replaced by an elbow greeting? Only time will tell…
Christine Naschberger, is a Professor in the Department of Management at Audencia Business School.