It’s been more than a year since many of us have set foot in our offices. A year of upended routines and jerry-rigged schedules; of working beside relatives, not colleagues; of learning from experience what words like “virtual” and “zoom” really mean.
But now, with the pandemic ebbing in the United States, it may soon be time for many of us to return. Some workers—those who enjoyed remote work or found it more practical—will continue to work from home, human resources experts say, while those who are returning may find offices that are being transformed to serve the emerging needs of both companies and their employees.
These changes are about more than simply reconfiguring physical space. Rather, they are part of an evolution in the way companies and HR managers are rethinking the nature of work for the post-pandemic era and the abilities, needs, and potential of their workers.
“Amazingly enough, the pandemic has led global HR to be even more cognizant of the wellbeing of the whole person,” said William Martucci, who leads the National Employment Litigation & Policy Practice and is an adjunct professor in the Master’s in Human Resources Management program at Georgetown University. “Efficiency is still important, but there’s an understanding that now the person as an individual has to be thought of in a broader perspective so that there are growth opportunities.”
Here, Martucci and Bunmi Biu, Ph.D., a global HR and organizational development consultant who also teaches in the Human Resources Management graduate program, identify five trends that will impact companies and their HR department in the coming years.
1. More Employees Will Work from Home
Not long ago, some managers thought that “if you’re not in an office where they can see you, you’re not really working,” Biu said. The pandemic has proved them wrong. “Companies are reporting increased productivity from employees working at home,” she said, noting that “when you have autonomy and flexibility, you are able to arrange your schedule around your work.” According to the “Harvard Business Review,” knowledge workers doing their jobs remotely spent 12 percent less time in large meetings and 9 percent more time interacting with customers and external partners. In addition, the number of tasks judged “tiresome” dropped from 27 percent to 12 percent.
2. Collaboration and Personal Connections Will Become More Critical
The downside of working from home is the loss of personal connections and camaraderie that come from being in an office. So expect HR specialists to create a variety of new ways to bring people together: hybrid schedules that combine both in-person and remote work; reimaged workspaces that facilitate stronger connections when people are in the office; retreats and planning sessions where employees can visit and brainstorm for several hours—or days.
3. The Debate Over Location-Based Pay Will Continue
During the pandemic, many knowledge workers moved from the cities where their offices were located to relatively lower-cost towns and rural areas. Some moved out of state or even out of the country. “They can work, theoretically, anywhere in the world where there’s an internet connection,” Biu said. This trend has raised questions about how all workers should be compensated: If employees move to lower-cost areas, should their pay be reduced commensurately? Or should their compensation remain the same but the pay of new hires from these areas doing the same jobs be adjusted to reflect the local cost of living, a situation that would create a pay disparity between these employees? Expect this discussion to continue.
4. A Globalized Workforce Will Present New Challenges and Opportunities
We were interdependent before the pandemic, but COVID-19 truly drove this fact home. As the virus leaped from nation to nation, it disrupted international supply chains and proved—if any proof were needed—that multinational corporations have to allocate talent and resources across the globe. “It’s a reimagining of the four corners of what would be the office to the four corners of the world,” Martucci said. The challenge will be in balancing the need to maintain a company’s brand, identity, and vision with the imperative to embrace a variety of workplace cultures.
5. Companies Will Focus on Employee Growth and Wellbeing
Efficiency will always be a goal of well-run corporations, but that’s not enough anymore. “Efficiency is still important,” Martucci said, “but there’s an understanding that the person as an individual has to be thought of in a broader perspective so that there can be growth opportunities.” That means more flexibility, more responsibilities, more trust all around. Companies need individuals who can handle the complex and often psychologically taxing jobs of today; and the best job candidates will seek out employers who recognize this reality.