The Day That Changed The Future of Work

By: Ron Bower

Three years ago this month, a virus caused more dramatic change to our work-from-home reality in a few short weeks than well-intentioned and forward-thinking leaders had been able to influence in multiple decades.

Don’t worry, this is not a political post, nor a medical post. This is a post to acknowledge the anniversary of the day that changed the future of work and to do a quick check-in to make sure we’re all doing what we can to enable our managers and employees to work within the current reality most effectively.

If you are sitting there hoping that our workplace is returning to its pre-pandemic state of February 2020, then just stop! It’s never coming back. You can put that thought in the same archaic bucket of thoughts as AI isn’t going to make it mainstream and the Cleveland Browns are going to win the Super Bowl.

OK, maybe the Browns will win the Super Bowl, but WFH and AI are here to stay!

“The trend towards remote work and hybrid work is here to stay, and companies must be prepared to adapt to this new reality,” according to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

And yes, I am well aware that there are many jobs that can’t be done from home. Got it. We’re talking about all the other jobs.

Flashback: I remember exactly where I was the moment I heard our governor announce the restrictions on businesses and schools due to the outbreak of COVID-19. It was March 12, 2020, and I was standing at a painfully under-attended HR industry conference. The changes were going to be effective the following Monday and would last until April 6th.

I trust you have your embedded memory of this moment as well. The immediate panic of how the heck am I going to get my job done, to the next few days when you acknowledged that it might be kinda nice to work from home for a couple of weeks. Then it was April. May. June. July. And then all of a sudden it stopped feeling like a cute little change of pace. What the heck?

Employees figured it out. It turns out we’re a pretty resilient bunch.

Managers figured it out. We had to. We had no choice. We had businesses to run.

Many employees quickly realized that they were more productive and less stressed, and then the rumblings began about how long this would last. Managers noticed that happy employees stay. Go figure!

According to a recent McKinsey survey, 58 percent of Americans report that they have the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week. Thirty-five percent report having the option to work from home five days a week. Other surveys suggest that these numbers have increased by anywhere from one-third to tenfold since 2019. When offered, 87 percent of workers take advantage of the opportunity to work from home! And while many companies are still trying to figure out exactly what works best for them, there are no major indicators showing these numbers declining.

Fast forward to today: What are you doing to:

  • Ask interview questions of potential managers to ensure that they have developed the skills necessary to manage a remote workforce?

  • Ask all candidates interview questions to determine what they are doing to make their work-from-home situation the most productive? (BTW, if you need help with the interview questions, check this out.)

  • Make sure that your employees have the resources and best practices to work from home most effectively?

  • Confirm that your existing managers are trained on how to manage remote employees, hybrid workforces, and in some cases, manage employees that they are never going to meet in person?

  • Train your managers to effectively interview via video?

  • Adjust your job postings and initial interviews to highlight your reality on WFH flexibility (by the way, candidates are now asking this question in the first interview, not after the job offer is made) to ensure that no one is wasting their time on an interview that is going off the rails when a candidate’s WFH desires/demands are not met?

  • Update all of your other policies, processes, and practices to incorporate WFH reality?

  • Differentiate your employment brand by leaning in on WFH?

  • Broaden your target geography for recruiting? (in a WFH world, there are no boundaries for where you will find your next great employee.)

  • Reexamine your workspace…how much do you need, does it need to be reconfigured, do we need this office space at all?

I am not asking you all to like these changes and/or our current reality. I know there are still mixed emotions, opinions, and conflicting data on the short and long-term impact of WFH on productivity and retention. For now, I encourage you to learn everything you can, and try everything you can, to make the best of the situation. I, for one, strongly believe that the future of work will look a lot more like today than March 2020.