By Rishon Blumberg
I’ve recently seen many articles offering advice on how to adapt to the new realities caused by COVID-19. While certainly important, I find myself thinking the same thing: These changes to the way we were doing business weren’t so jarring for some of us.
Of course, few were prepared for state or nationwide quarantines, but some of the work-from-home (WFH) ramifications feel normal to a growing percent of the workforce—specifically freelancers and technology professionals. That’s because regardless of an unprecedented global pandemic, the business world was already undergoing substantial changes around increased reliance on remote work.
For some companies, remote changes were already implemented. For others, they might have come this year, maybe next. Most likely, barring a catalytic event like we’re experiencing now, these changes would have diffused throughout the business world over the next handful of years—potentially even defining the decade ahead.
Accelerated Adoption of a New Reality
Regardless of preparedness, we now all face a common enemy, and everyone must adapt. And it is this accelerated (and forced) adoption of a new reality that will be the lasting impact of COVID-19.
Over time, the economy will stabilize and employment will rebound. But as far as permanent consequences on the business world, we should feel encouraged by the emergence of technology tools and new WFH policies. This new reality will prove to be a positive one, not to mention, again, it was already on its way.
3 Ways COVID-19 Will Have a Positive Effect on the Business World
Leaders should remain mindful that in the short term, companies face very tough challenges. However, looking farther down the road, some silver linings will exist. Here are a few ways in which the post COVID-19 business world will be better off for having to change sooner than otherwise expected, and how leaders and managers can best mediate these changes.
1. Waking up to the viability of remote work.
Various industries, particularly tech, have led the charge in embracing remote work for the last 5 to 10 years. For many companies, a remote culture is nothing new. It’s one of the best ways to stay lean and efficient.
Companies that match top-tier freelancers with companies in need of on-demand tech talent have been aware of the viability of remote work even before the pandemic. Roughly 80 to 85 percent of the gigs placed through our platform resulted in a remote work relationship between freelancer and company.
When it comes to remote work productivity, research suggests employees can actually be more effective from home. One recent Stanford study found a 13 percent increase in productivity, and a 50 percent reduction in resignations at companies that allowed remote work. An even more recent study published by Harvard Business School found similar productivity results, and also analyzed some noteworthy benefits, such as reduced overhead costs and reduced environmental impact.
An entire post could be written on how to successfully manage remote employees. As a rule of thumb, it comes down to a few key factors: resources, trust, and communication.
As operations shift to new mediums, have you given your staff all the tools they will need to succeed? Some of these tools are discussed below, but step one is setting up your team for success. Make sure they have everything they’ll need to perform at 100 percent.
What many managers eventually realize is that if they’ve done their jobs hiring great employees, there is little about which to worry. It’s all rooted in trust. So long as you provide the necessary resources to succeed, great employees will do whatever it takes to do just that—even if they’re remote.
Finally, as new developments surface within the company and in the outside world, it’s your job to communicate relentlessly. This likely requires more Zoom chats and Slack messages than you would normally engage in. These are times of uncertainty, and as a leader, you must do what it takes to give your team as much assurance and transparency as possible.
Once we return to normalcy, we will see a lasting, wider acceptance of the benefits of remote work. This shifting view will be the result of a trend that was already building, and the moments we are living in right now. Companies that once had strict remote work policies will realize that, unsurprisingly, the show goes on when employees are dispersed. And some might even find that not only does the show go on—it improves!
It will be interesting to watch some of the slower, more bureaucratic industries come to terms with the viability of remote work. Some companies were years out from truly embracing this paradigm shift, but now have no choice.
Take, for example, the healthcare sector, which relied solely on face-to-face patient-doctor visits and now is taking appointments at higher speeds through Zoom or Facetime. Or treasuries that relied on Excel spreadsheets but now need a cloud-based solution to share information that will help a CFO make immediate decisions. If embraced correctly, they may find the accelerated timeline was a blessing, allowing them to adopt faster, more agile, and efficient operations.
2. Getting accustomed to new tools and tech.
For those of us already familiar with the Zooms and Slacks of the online communication world, they might not seem very groundbreaking. But for the corporate insurance company or real estate law firm trying them out for the first time, they can be game-changing tools.
And keep in mind that grinding through the learning curve and adopting new tools doesn’t just have internal benefits. As the world outside your organization evolves, the need for you to do the same will grow. Your recruitment efforts might require Zoom. A project with a strategic partner might require Asana. Building a community around your product might require Slack. There is no shortage of examples here.
Being forced to rely on remote communication tools will get old, if it hasn’t already. But the obvious silver lining here is that the entire workforce is getting more tech savvy at once.
As we all get comfortable with staying connected in isolation, we’ll see another lasting impact: an increase in trust that remote communication gets the job done. This will have an impact on the ways companies approach both employee management and recruitment.
When leaned on too heavily, the perspective that “in-person is always better” will put your company at a disadvantage. For example, if you require all candidates to stop by for in-person interviews, you’re effectively dwindling your talent pool down to the best and brightest in your backyard. As companies leverage the many useful tools available to help look beyond the backyard, the talent pool multiplies 10x, allowing companies to assemble better, brighter teams from various parts of the world.
3. Understanding a growing need for bespoke job offers.
While findings on remote work productivity might be mixed, data is concrete on employees’ growing desire to at least have the option to work from home. According to Harvard Business Review, a typical worker would take an 8 percent pay cut to be able to work remotely. We’ve seen this exact tradeoff play a role in dozens of negotiations over the last few years; remote work and flexible hours are consistently among the top items on leaders’ lists.
Companies should personalize job offers to fit the individual needs of candidates. Cookie-cutter job offers no longer get the job done, especially for top talent. They’re in high enough demand to be able to negotiate remote and flexible work benefits in ways that were not as feasible in decades past.
The ongoing pandemic is exposing reasons why flexible employment agreements are better. We’ve already covered remote work. What about flex time? Does the job really have to be done between the hours of 9 and 5? As some companies likely have realized in recent weeks, often the answer is a resounding no. Working off-hours allows employees to focus with fewer distractions, which can vastly help with productivity and work quality.
Job Offers in a Post-COVID-19 World
If nothing else, COVID-19 will be the use case employers need to realize that giving up some control is OK. With a mixture of great contractors, employees, and good management, the work is going to get done, no matter where or when.
And note that a change in approach to job offer negotiations doesn’t just benefit employees or contractors. Take the pay cut in exchange for remote work example mentioned above. Companies can save money by making concessions. Not to mention, they attract a much stronger pool of talent if they express a willingness to work with candidates in a bespoke fashion.
After this unique global event, both sides of the negotiation table will inject a bit more empathy into employment agreements. Both sides have something to gain by embracing the paradigm shift to more personalized job offers.
Final Thoughts on Our New Reality
Once this pandemic is behind us, many of us will be able to say that we know how to navigate a remote working world. That’s a clear positive. Some will have discovered that it’s not for them. Others will have enjoyed aspects of the experience.
Perhaps most importantly, companies will realize it’s OK for decades-old tradition to loosen its grip on how we work. As culture and society shift, so, too, should the business world.
COVID-19 will leave a nasty legacy, and we are all hoping for a quick return to normalcy. But as we search for positives and silver linings, leaders should note we’ve entered a new age of improved workplace dynamics.