The Future of the Workplace in a Post-Pandemic World

The future of the workplace in a post-pandemic world

Responses to a McKinsey survey of over 800 executives worldwide, ranging in size and industry, suggest that since the onset of COVID-19, “a disruptive period of workplace changes lies ahead due to acceleration of automation, digitization, and other trends.” With COVID-19 restrictions on travel and social interactions forcing businesses to adapt their operations and business models completely, some interesting realities have unfolded regarding the future of the workplace for a post-pandemic world.

Accelerated Adoption of Automation and Digitization 

While non-essential workers all frantically shifted work from working in the office to the comfort of their own homes, executives were obligated to increase technology to continue day-to-day operations and stay afloat. In the McKinsey survey, 85% of CEO respondents reported that their companies accelerated the adoption of digitization and automation technologies since the start of the pandemic. The most significant technological acceleration was in the digitization of employee interaction (85%) and artificial intelligence (67%), along with more minor yet still substantial accelerations in the digitization of the supply chain (36%) and customer channels (48%). Executives in the financial and technological service sectors saw the greatest acceleration of technology since the outbreak in March of 2020.

Although some companies may not have been fully prepared for this drastic technological change, the silver lining is that those who successfully accommodated have realized that they can adapt to new strategies faster than first believed—a true form of resilience. 82% of executives reported that they are at least “somewhat confident” confident about their employees’ ability to navigate these changes, with half reporting they are “highly confident.”

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft.

And it’s not likely that all corporations will cease using these technological advancements when the virus is finally curbed. We have turned into a new chapter of workforce digitization.

Remote Work is Here to Stay

Before the pandemic, many employers shied away from endorsing remote work due to the worry of it impacting productivity and overall company culture. However, this didn’t become an option with the onset of work-from-home orders. And what did companies do in the face of change? Adapted. Employers began to tap into the digitization that would sustain remote work. With vaccinations quickly ramping up and regions lifting restrictions, some employers intend to increase the number of employees remotely working, some of the time, into the future because remote work has proven actually to work.

In the McKinsey survey, doubling from pre-COVID numbers, 15% of executives reported that at least 10% of employees could partially work remotely moving forward. These percentages vary by country and industry, with higher rates exhibited in western countries and technology and information sectors.

Many prominent corporations (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Morgan Stanley, Mondelez) have adopted some form of increased remote work moving forward past COVID-19. Businesses are embracing remote work because of the proven benefits:

  • Lower real estate costs and other cost savings (commute, lunch, coffee, etc.)
  • Increased competition for talent
  • Potential for greater productivity
  • Enhanced employee resilience 

With the light at the end of the tunnel seeming within reach, companies need to listen to their employees’ preferences over the last year to compete with the future workplace. FlexJobs ran a survey of more than 2000 workers who worked remotely in early 2021. They found some pretty interesting preferences regarding remote work. 58% of employees surveyed reported that they would look for a new job if not allowed to continue to remote work at their current position. Additionally, 65% want to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, while 35% preferred a hybrid arrangement.  

“The landscape of remote work has permanently changed as a result of COVID-19, and its impact will be felt in the job market and the workplace well into the foreseeable future.” – Sara Sutton, CEO at FlexJobs.

Challenges of the Future Workplace

Forcing companies to adapt from traditional work practices has shed new light on the accommodation of employee wellbeing. Digitization and remote work are the future. Therefore, executives must begin to consider the wellbeing of staffers who have not interacted with colleagues in a long time, fuelling increased feelings of isolation. Some employees have reported it difficult to connect without feeling the “energy in the room” from working in the office. With the increased use of robots and AI, executives must also consider the increased loneliness felt by employees who are only technologically connected. 

Likewise, with remote work blurring the lines between work and home, there is pressure to work longer hours, tipping the scale to burnout. A study by Harvard and NYU analyzed the work habits of over 3 million people in locked-down US cities during the pandemic. The conclusion: on average, the workday is almost one hour longer compared to pre-COVID times. Increased screen time and blue light exposure can impact employees’ mental health and mood and stress and anxiety. Forcing remote work onto employees has resulted in workers finding themselves more sedentary—and it’s already apparent how physical health impacts mental wellbeing. 

Learning new technology can also bring on added stress to workplace wellbeing. From the McKinsey survey, 35% of executives reported that they need more employees skilled in automation, AI, and robotics, reflecting the increased implementation of digitization since COVID-19. Individuals who are not tech-savvy likely feel pressured to adopt the newest digitization trends to fear losing their jobs.

Wellbeing Trends

While it’s apparent that this unprecedented period had increased business efficiency, wellbeing is suffering. In an Oracle survey of over 12,000 employees, 78% reported that the pandemic had increased stress, loneliness, burnout, and hurt work-life balance. We can’t glance over the fact that increased digitization and remote work likely added to this increase. However, on the bright side, employers are taking notice. Bhushan Sethi, leader of PwC’s People& Organization practise, stated that he noticed a growing shift in health emphasis in the workplace; “discussions became about wellbeing, mental health and anxiety in board rooms, management meetings and all through HR.” Likewise, in 2020, the average company budget for wellbeing programs beyond standard healthcare plans increased by nearly 40% to $4.9 million since 2019.

Adapt for the Future

So, along with embracing the trends of digitization, automation, and remote work, it’s also important that, as business leaders, you also pave the way in supporting your employee’s wellbeing

  • Employees AND executives: open up the conversation about your mental health—Check in with your colleagues before checking out. 
  • Executives and managers: ensure your workplace defines “flexibility” in the same way. “People should know it’s okay to talk to your supervisor about your issues and okay to log off at 6 to look after kids and maybe not log back in at 10 to check email,” Sethi said.
  • Leaders: determine how to mould and support mental health in your business model for the future. Stakeholders will begin to care.

headversity is a skill-focused platform that puts proactive tools and content right in the hands of your employees, helping them build foundational resilience skills that can be called upon in any situation. To learn more about our platform, connect with us today.