9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19

As the pandemic resets major work trends, HR leaders need to rethink workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies.

The coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the future of work in nine key ways. The imperative for HR leaders is to evaluate the impact each trend will have on their organization’s operations and strategic goals, identify which require immediate action and assess to what degree these trends change pre-COVID-19 strategic goals and plans.

32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure

“It’s critical for business leaders to understand that large-scale shifts are changing how people work and how business gets done,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner. “HR leaders who respond effectively can ensure their organizations stand out from competitors.” 

9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19

Implications and actions for HR leaders as COVID-19 drives shifts in the future of work.

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Of the nine future of work trends, some represent accelerations of existing shifts; others are new impacts not previously discussed. And in some cases, COVID-19 has forced the pendulum of a long-observed pattern to one extreme. 

No. 1: Increase in remote working  

A recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. As organizations shift to more remote work operations, explore the critical competencies employees will need to collaborate digitally, and be prepared to adjust employee experience strategies. Consider whether and how to shift performance goal-setting and employee evaluations for a remote context. 

No. 2: Expanded data collection 

Gartner analysis shows that 16% of employers are using technologies more frequently to monitor their employees through methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking work computer usage, and monitoring employee emails or internal communications/chat. While some companies track productivity, others monitor employee engagement and well-being to better understand employee experience.

Even before the pandemic, organizations were increasingly using nontraditional employee monitoring tools, but that trend will be accelerated by new monitoring of remote workers and the collection of employee health and safety data. Make sure to follow best practices to ensure responsible use of employee information and analytics.  

Read more: Do’s and Don’ts of Using Employee Data

No. 3: Contingent worker expansion

The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many workers to lose their jobs and exposed others for the first time to nonstandard work models. Many organizations responded to the pandemic’s economic impact by reducing their contractor budgets, but there has since been a shift.

Gartner analysis shows that organizations will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management post-COVID-19, and will consider introducing other job models they have seen during the pandemic, such as talent sharing and 80% pay for 80% work.

“Our research finds that 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure,” says Kropp. “While gig workers offer employers greater workforce management flexibility, HR leaders will need to evaluate how performance management systems apply to these workers and determine whether they will be eligible for the same benefits as their full-time peers.” 

No. 4: Expanded employer role as social safety net

The pandemic has increased the trend of employers playing an expanded role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental well-being. Support includes enhanced sick leave, financial assistance, adjusted hours of operation and child care provisions. Some organizations supported the community by, for instance, shifting operations to manufacturing goods or providing services to help combat the pandemic and offering community relief funds and free community services. 

The current economic crisis has also pushed the bounds of how employers view the employee experience. Personal factors rather than external factors take precedence over what matters for organizations and employees alike. Employing such measures can be an effective way to promote physical health and improve the emotional well-being of employees. 

No. 5: Separation of critical skills and roles

Before COVID-19, critical roles were viewed as roles with critical skills, or the capabilities an organization needed to meet its strategic goals. Now, employers are realizing that there is another category of critical roles — roles that are critical to the success of essential workflows.

To build the workforce you’ll need post-pandemic, focus less on roles — which group unrelated skills — than on the skills needed to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel that advantage. Encourage employees to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their career development, rather than preparing for a specific next role. Offer greater career development support to employees in critical roles who lack critical skills.

No. 6: (De-)Humanization of employees

While some organizations have recognized the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritized the well-being of employees as people over employees as workers, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support — treating them as workers first and people second.

Be deliberate in which approach you take and be mindful of the effects on employee experience, which will be long-lasting.  Address inequities if remote and on-site employees have been treated differently. Engage task workers in team culture and create a culture of inclusiveness.

No. 7: Emergence of new top-tier employers

Prior to COVID-19, organizations were already facing increased employee demands for transparency. Employees and prospective candidates will judge organizations by the way in which they treated employees during the pandemic. Balance the decisions made today to resolve immediate concerns during the pandemic with the long-term impact on the employment brand.

For example, advise CEOs and executive leaders on decisions regarding executive pay cuts and make sure financial impacts are absorbed by executives versus the broader employee base.

Progressive organizations communicate openly and frequently to show how they are supporting employees despite the implementation of cost-saving measures. Where feasible, look for opportunities to arrange talent-sharing partnerships with other organizations to relocate employees displaced from their jobs by COVID-19. 

No. 8: Transition from designing for efficiency to designing for resilience

A 2019 Gartner organization design survey found that 55% of organizational redesigns were focused on streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach captured efficiencies, it also created fragilities, as systems have no flexibility to respond to disruptions. Resilient organizations were better able to respond — correct course quickly with change. 

To build a more responsive organization, design roles and structures around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility and formalize how processes can flex. Also, provide employees with varied, adaptive and flexible roles so they acquire cross-functional knowledge and training. 

“D&I leaders will need to be involved in role design and creation of flexible work systems to ensure that employees of all backgrounds and needs are considered when the organization designs new workflows,” said Ingrid Laman, Vice President, Advisory, Gartner. 

No. 9: Increase in organization complexity 

After the global financial crisis, global M&A activity accelerated, and many companies were nationalized to avoid failure. As the pandemic subsides, there will be a similar acceleration of M&A and nationalization of companies. Companies will focus on expanding their geographic diversification and investment in secondary markets to mitigate and manage risk in times of disruption. This rise in complexity of size and organizational management will create challenges for leaders as operating models evolve.

Enable business units to customize performance management, because what one part of the enterprise needs might not work elsewhere. As organizational complexity complicates career pathing, providing reskilling and career development support — for example, by developing resources and building out platforms to provide visibility into internal positions

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