The Future of Work

Culture Shock: COVID's Lasting Effects on the Workforce

by Hazel Butler
Culture Shock: COVID's Lasting Effects on the Workforce

When you first entered university, you probably didn’t envision that by the time you graduated, you would have gone through a global pandemic.

There can be no doubt that the world has changed dramatically in the last eighteen months. COVID-19 changed the landscape of the workplace as it spread across the globe and forced businesses to close, staff to be furloughed, layoffs to be made, and thrust an extraordinary number of people into unplanned remote work. 

What many did not, perhaps, realize in those first few months was the extent to which COVID would impact the irrevocable progression towards remote work. It's almost like the whole world got to try out a trial membership.

For many, remote work brought positive lifestyle changes that they have no desire to relinquish, even when the threat of the virus is long behind us. From saving hours per day on commuting, to spending more time with pets, moving to a quieter part of town, or finding it easier to take care of household chores.

And that's just the effect on individuals. Companies also discovered that working from home didn't suddenly kill productivity – in fact, in many cases productivity went up because office time wasters went away and workers were able to focus on real, deep work.

According to data from Global Workplace Analytics 56% of the U.S. workforce already hold jobs that are at least partially compatible with remote work. With so many companies forced to adapt and make themselves compatible, there are fewer and fewer areas where remote work isn’t possible. 

Predictions based on the available data and historical trends indicate that by the end of 2021 25-30% of the workforce will be working remotely multiple days a week.

Remote Work Is The New Normal

The pandemic has forced businesses to open themselves up to the possibility of remote working at an unprecedented level. Over the last eighteen months, both employers and employees have been learning how to effectively work remotely. 

Many companies have harbored unfounded fears that remote workers will somehow lead to a lack of productivity, a disconnection between team members. Yet faced with no other choice but to allow staff to work remotely, those same businesses discovered a peculiar thing: the work still got done.

Teams work differently, but they still work together.

Productivity did not suffer, and in many ways has been improved (working remotely can, in fact, increase productivity by up to 77 percent). 

The result is that remote working has become the new norm. 

Humans are highly adaptable. They dislike change and frequently avoid it at all costs. But now that they have been given no alternative but to switch to remote work (at least on a temporary basis), they’ve adapted to it.

Change, now, would be going back to a system that made no accommodation for remote work.

There is an inherent freedom to the ability to "work from wherever" that a lot of people had never experienced before and are no longer willing to go without.

Parents have found themselves better able to spend time with their children on workdays, rather than only being home when they were sleeping. Commuters have enjoyed the ability to roll out of bed and already be at the office. The daunting prospect of video conferencing and zoom is now so integrated into our lives that we forget it ever seemed like a peculiar way to work.

Why So Many Are Taking An Online Job To Work From Home

The upshot of all of this change is that employee mentalities and company cultures have been shocked into a new paradigm. Businesses are increasingly looking to allow people to continue working remotely - either some or all of the time - while individuals are basing their employment decisions on whether or not this is possible.

An increasing number of workers are taking online jobs to work from home on a permanent basis. Whether it’s part-time or full-time remote work that appeals, there are a lot of reasons that the remote working culture is here to stay:

Employees Are Demanding Remote Work

Pre-COVID we had been seeing an increased demand for the ability to work remotely for some time. In fact, there’s a history of remote working that’s considerably longer than most people realize. With 80 percent of employees wanting to work remotely at least some of the time, and more than a third happy to take a pay cut in order to do so, the pandemic gave a lot of people what they wanted.

Albeit in a strained environment under very difficult circumstances.

Despite the reasons behind the sudden need to work from home, it’s given people who already coveted the idea a real taste of it. And they’re simply not willing to return to the status quo that existed pre-COVID. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Almost everyone who ever wanted the chance to work remotely has been granted their wish. Those who didn’t previously are suddenly seeing the appeal. 

Employers are, quite simply, not going to have a choice in the matter; if they want to retain top talent, and that talent wants to work remotely, they can either allow it or watch them work elsewhere.

Fear Reduction Among Executives And Managers

The other inevitable consequence of the pandemic has been that all the managers and executives who were previously so fearful of using remote workers have been forced to face their fears.

They’ve already had to tackle the issues of clients asking how they will know if someone is working or not, when they’re working remotely. They were, in fact, surprised to find that the answer was incredibly simple: the same way you know they’re working now.

A complete inability to micromanage has resulted in an increase in productivity, dispelling once and for all the perception that control is the only way to manage a team.

Meanwhile, managers themselves have been forced to work remotely and found it beneficial. Their own productivity increased, their stress levels decreased. Endorsing remote workers as a viable option became an awful lot easier.

Costs, Travel, And The Environmental Benefits

Both employees and employers are now far more aware of the cost-saving benefits that come with remote workers. Not only this, but they’ve realized reducing travel means reducing (one of the cost-saving benefits) also reduces employee fatigue, increased employee engagement, and comes with the eco-friendly benefits of carbon reduction.

In fact, the remote working method is a more sustainable business model overall, and we are now more aware than ever before of the need for sustainable businesses and lifestyles.

The Bottom Line

While there will undoubtedly be many lasting effects from the COVID-19 crisis, the greatest one as far as the workforce is concerned is a permanent shift in mentality towards remote working.

Gone are the days when an attractive company culture consisted of a tired foosball table in the break room and the ability to wear jeans instead of a suit.

Post-pandemic, a dynamic company culture will require remote work capabilities as a baseline expectation. And that change is going to be permanent.