How Covid-19 Changed the Way We Work

Perspectives > Change Management & Transformation

Change is hard, and often happens only as a result of a push from an external force. By that measure, the Covid-19 pandemic was a body blow. Companies around the world were forced to switch to remote work for the duration, and many continue remote operations as the Omicron variant ebbs.

But organizations have traditionally taken a dim view of a remote workforce. Even the most progressive, new age technology companies have frequently sung the praises of the collaborative ideation, creativity and camaraderie that can only be had in an office setting – or so they say.

Research, however, indicates that while this may be true of scientists doing research, the data indicate that open-plan offices have led to people interacting less, not more, in an attempt to maintain concentration and focus.

After spending two-plus years building a routine around the flexibility to balance official work, personal work, family, recreation and rest, many employees view attempts by management to woo them back to the office with skepticism.

Can companies really turn back the clock? Here are a few thoughts on how Covid-19 has changed the way we work – forever.

Remote working is going up

A 2021 Gartner poll of over 800 HR leaders indicated that nearly half of employees will work remotely at least part-time. An Indeed survey of Indian workers in April 2022 showed that over 60% of junior and over 35% of mid-level employees wanted jobs with WFH or hybrid options. To attract and retain the best talent, employers must be open to transforming their employee experience strategies – from performance appraisals and goal setting to learning and development – to treat remote workers fairly.

The anchor people are being recognized

Before the pandemic, companies usually defined ‘critical roles’ as roles for which critical skills were required, or the capabilities the company needed to achieve its strategic goals. But remote work has brought a cadre of unsung heroes into the spotlight – the ‘anchor people’ – the ones who are versatile, quick learners and are critical to the successful execution of essential workflows because of their ability to coordinate and get things done.

To build the workforce of the post-pandemic future, companies need to shift their focus from roles to collections of critical skills that don’t necessarily fit the traditional models of career development. The onus is on companies to adapt their leadership development models to recognize the value these anchor people to sustain competitive advantage.

Employees are people, too

How professionalism is viewed has gone full circle since the early lockdown days. Children, pets and family members sauntering through video calls were initially viewed with shock. Then the shock turned to empathy and understanding (‘We understand, we have families too’) and lately, with scorn (‘How unprofessional – why isn’t there a room set aside for a home office!’). For their part, many remote employees struggle to separate their personal and professional lives. There’s a vague sense of guilt about using the commuting time saved for doing extra work. There’s also a vague sense of expectation on the part of many managers that the commuting time belongs to the company. Even Google, which claims to be a highly progressive employer, has considered pay cuts as high as 25% for employees who want to work remotely.

This betrays a rather archaic lack of trust between employees and management at the heart of modern industrial relations. Consider that employers were forced to trust employees to work remotely for over two years, and nothing terrible (in a corporate sense) happened. Quite the contrary – several companies reported their highest profits ever as costs went down and productivity went up. Why then this continued reluctance to trust employees into the future? Are there other factors at play here?

Efficiency isn’t everything

Just-In-Time is out – because Lean, mean, efficient supply chains that only provide what a company needs when it needs it, save procurement and storage costs, and optimize inventory, turn out to be not-so-desirable in a crisis.

Organizational redesigns must now change their focus from efficiency to resilience, building systems that can flex and stretch when faced with disruptions. Roles, structures, systems and processes must now be fluid, perhaps not so clearly defined, and yes, a bit untidy – all the better to adapt quickly when needed. The generalist employee – the one with a messy CV who didn’t seem to be a specialist in anything, and who had to some extent fallen out of favor in recent years – is getting pride of place back as well.

As companies emerge into the post-Covid world, what work model(s) should they adopt to continue on their success journey? COD experts have advised numerous companies on the right change management and transformation strategy for their business. Talk to us today!