It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since the onset of the global pandemic. I remember thinking initially that our offices would be shut down for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and then life and work would return to normal. But 365+ days later, we’re still battling COVID-19 and employees are still primarily working from home.
The pandemic presents challenges HR leaders have never faced before—challenges made more complex by constantly evolving requirements and restrictions that differ city by city, state by state, country by country. There was no playbook for how to reengineer every aspect of the employee experience in a pandemic, yet that is exactly what HR teams have had to do.
Even as we begin to recover, it’s clear that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on how organizations operate and manage their workforce. HR leaders need to prepare for new realities facing businesses and evolve their people strategies accordingly. Here are four global work trends guiding 2021 and beyond:
Trend #1: Significant and permanent increase in remote work
Pre-pandemic, an estimated five percent of full-time employees with office jobs worked from home at least three or more days per week. Now that many organizations have experienced the benefits of remote work (cost savings, increased productivity, improved recruitment and retention, etc.), that figure is expected to be at least 40% one year after the pandemic subsides.1
In flexible, hybrid work models, having adequate and reliable technology is essential to employee engagement and productivity. HR and IT teams must work together to provide remote work solutions that provide seamless and secure access to the resources employees need to perform their jobs, no matter where they work.
Be sensitive, however, to technology burnout. The phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue” is real. I’ve encouraged my team to vary their communication methods (voice, text, email, instant message) and to schedule 45-minute video conference meetings so that there’s time for breaks in between.
Trend #2: Greater focus on employee wellness programs
In a recent Global Human Capital Trends survey, 80% of business leaders identified well-being as their top-ranked priority for organizational performance and success.2 That’s no surprise given the abnormal difficulties of 2020. The pandemic, economic uncertainty, political turmoil, social injustices, and natural disasters have taken an enormous toll on us—mentally and physically.
People are like icebergs in that you can’t see what’s beneath the surface. We recognized that our employees would need additional resources to help them cope with these crises, as well as the added stress of making the transition to work from home. We enhanced our global wellness program to address the “whole person” with new services covering mental fitness, financial well-being, and confidential counseling that extends to every member of an employees’ household.
Trend #3: Spotlight on diversity and inclusion (D&I)
History tells us that during times of crises, D&I initiatives are at risk as businesses focus on their most pressing needs. But that certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. As the world combatted COVID-19, a massive protest against systemic racism and social injustice erupted, prompting business leaders to take a serious look at their organizations’ D&I practices.
Riverbed has always been a place of inclusion, diversity and community, but we know we can and must do more. With full support from our Board of Directors and senior leadership, we’ve extended our D&I programs to include a special task force focused on creating new opportunities for employees to connect and get involved. This task force also looks at D&I barriers within our recruitment, retention, advancement and onboarding practices.
With so many organizations repledging their commitment to diversity and inclusion last year, the spotlight will be on how these organizations, and the business community at large, can make an impact on issues of racism and social inequity, both within and beyond the workplace.
Trend #4: Untethering talent from location
In a virtual world, enabled by the right technology, talent plans are no longer restricted by location or a candidate’s willingness to move. This means employers can source the best talent from anywhere in the world and reduce costs associated with relocation and office setup. And it means more opportunities for job seekers, who perhaps live in rural or more remote areas of the world, to pursue roles that were once off limits to them because of where they call home.
Larger talent pools won’t necessarily make recruiting easier, especially in the tech sector, where there continues to be fierce competition to attract and retain talent. This is why factors such as culture, honest and empathetic leadership, and proven resilience are so important. These are the differentiators that give employers an advantage over the competition.
Looking back to move forward
While the pandemic has been difficult for all of us, we can find positive outcomes. At Riverbed, we’ve reached even higher levels of frequency and transparency in our communications. We’ve significantly advanced our diversity and inclusion efforts, which are core to our company culture and values. We’ve quickly transformed our learning and development courses, exceeding pre-pandemic enrollment. And through it all, we’ve kept our employees’ safety and well-being front and center.
Eventually, as restrictions are lifted, we’ll begin the complex task of returning to the workplace—a workplace that will be quite different than the one we left some 365 days ago. It will be a gradual process that safeguards employees in every way and acknowledges varying levels of personal readiness.
Looking back, I’m inspired by the resilience we’ve shown as an organization. How we have become closer to each other despite being physically apart. And I am confident in moving forward, knowing that it’s in our DNA to power through any challenge that comes our way.
1.Source:The Conference Board online survey of 330 HR executives, September 14 and 25, 2020, published as Adapting to the Reimagined Workplace: Human Capital Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic