It is apparent to even the most casual observer that the pandemic will result in permanent changes being made to the nature of work, especially in knowledge industries. Major employers in high-cost cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto have told their employees that they should not expect to have to go into a central office environment each day, even when pandemic restrictions have been fully lifted. To reinforce their commitment, employers are being supportive of employees who may have been office-dwellers prior to the pandemic but are now choosing to relocate to areas outside of commuting range of the office. Sometimes out of state, or even out of country, where spending regular time in the office could not be expected. As further indication, recently Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan (a prominent Wall Street financial institution), estimated they will require 40% less office space than what was needed pre-pandemic.
Several factors have led employers to get more comfortable with a permanent transition to remote work and for employees to embrace it.
The effectiveness and ubiquity of technology.
With the consumerization of IT, everyone is equipped with the latest, fastest hardware which typically includes an integrated web-camera. Adding to that, advances in mobile technology mean that people can be connected to fast and reliable internet from virtually anywhere and can attend video conferences via a growing network of web-conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Cisco Webex.
A shared experience with a common sense of purpose.
We (in the broadest, most inclusive way that this word could be used) have all been impacted by the pandemic together. We all wanted to survive the situation and to enable our employers and our business partners to survive through it as well. Consequently, we all put forth the effort to ensure that our personal productivity and the service offerings of our company did not suffer. Many employers happily reported employee productivity levels that were the same, if not higher than they were prior to the pandemic.
Employees experienced the benefits of remote working….and they liked it!
Time previously spent commuting became more time for family, leisure, public service, or self-care. Time spent in the office interacting with colleagues about non-work issues or going out for lunch can now be spent in more productive ways. Of course, in addition to balancing work and life, there is money to be saved by working at home. The cost of business clothes, transportation (public transportation, fuel, vehicle maintenance), restaurant meals is greatly reduced and allows that money to be redirected to other activities or projects.
Positive environmental impact.
Employers quickly noted that a switch to remote working contributed to a massive reduction in carbon fuels which had a positive impact on the environment. Not only has this been a great public relations story for organizations, it’s also a way to attract new employees with a shared philosophy.
Employers have adapted how they connect and engage.
Employers, but more specifically people managers, have gotten creative and have become much more deliberate about engaging with, and staying connected to, their remote employees. Managers have pivoted from task and performance-oriented check-ins by adapting technologies, like TQ Connect, that can also support less formal conversations and allow managers to do ‘well-being’ check-ins. These applications also allow for the flow of feedback and recognition.
As I think through these factors, it is all sounding familiar. Over the past decade, in any discussion of a multi-generational workforce, these attributes sound very much like those associated with the work preferences of the millennial generation. Common elements of such discussions include:
- Timely and regular recognition
- Work-life balance
- Focus on output
- Preference of digital over verbal communications
All of these emerge as foundational fixtures of a successful remote working arrangement. In the future, we may have moved in this direction anyway. However, the pandemic served to accelerate and remove lingering resistance to this transition. Beginning in 2015, the Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 2000) represented that largest generational segment of the workforce at 35%. Six years later, we can only assume that it is greater now and they would likely have exercised their influence.
And so, as we begin to emerge from this pandemic period, our work environment will look much different than it was, even 12 months ago. The good news is that the largest segment of the employee population – the millennials – will be very happy with the changes.
Jon Naphin is a Vice President with TalentQuest. As a client advocate, he takes a lead role in directing TalentQuest’s activities within select client relationships. Prior to joining TalentQuest, Jon held management positions at General Motors, ADP and Peachtree Software. He is the founding Chairman of LaAmistad, an Atlanta-based non-profit providing tutoring and life-skills training to Latino students and their families. Jon is a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, earned his Bachelor’s degree from Kettering University in Flint Michigan and his MBA from the Harvard Business School.