A few months ago, if you said the words, “the workplace,” most people would picture office spaces. These days, due to the pandemic, the workplace often means home offices, living rooms, or even kitchens.
By forcing government mandates for social distancing and stay-at-home measures, COVID-19 has rapidly transformed the way that we work. Some of those changes will ease back toward “normal” over the coming months as the fear surrounding COVID-19 wane. However, other changes to the workplace may prove to be permanent.
For HR professionals tasked with finding, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining talent, these shifts will be seismic. Here are four ways the pandemic will reshape HR for years to come.
It may popularize remote work
While there are still “essential” workplaces that require their employees to come to work—hospitals, grocery stores, and construction sites, to name a few—many organizations are now operating 100 percent virtually. COVID-19 is the biggest experiment ever in remote work, and it’s an even more massive shift than you might think. Consider these statistics from the video chat company Zoom: in December 2019, Zoom was tracking 10 million virtual meeting participants a day. In April 2020, that number was up to 300 million.
Zapier data shows that more than half of all employed Americans are now working from home. The Zapier study also found that 65 percent of respondents feel their productivity has increased due to working from home. 80 percent said they are better able to manage interruptions at home than they would be in the office.
At the same time, 66 percent told Zapier they still prefer working in the office. Employers will need to weigh these factors—the benefits of work-from-home arrangements and the preferable social and collaboration-based aspects of an office—as they decide how to proceed. Now that the barrier of adoption for remote work has been shattered, expect more employers to consider flexible work-from-home arrangements, hiring full-time remote workers, and even conducting entire hiring processes virtually.
It may encourage a conversation about health, well being, and the workplace
About 49 percent of Americans were on employer-sponsored health insurance plans as of 2019. Only 73 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid sick leave. Expect there to be considerable debate about both numbers as COVID-19 fears give way to the next chapter of work.
How employers handle health matters in their organizations will be under scrutiny, particularly as companies that have gone remote pivot back toward in-person operations. How can employers protect their workers from health risks? How can the in-office spread of illnesses—not just coronavirus, but also colds, flu, and all other bugs that circulate among coworkers—be decreased or eliminated?
Better health insurance coverage, options for paid sick leave, and incentives to keep sick and contagious workers out of the office could prove to be the centerpiece of the post-COVID benefits package.
It may change how employee learning and development occur
Expect employers to change how they train and onboard their new employees to respond to the challenges of social distancing. Even as the COVID-19 curve flattens, professionals may be hesitant to be close to other workers. As a result, we could see hands-on learning and mentor training disappear from the workspace.
In some companies, this shift was occurring long before the coronavirus. Walmart, for instance, has started using a virtual reality platform called Strivr to train its employees and prepare them for the unique challenges of working on Black Friday.
HR experts should start researching these technologies now to determine if there is an effective way to implement them as in-person work resumes. The shift to virtual or remote employee learning will likely apply to ongoing professional development—conferences, expos, seminars, and in-person courses could take months or years to return to their previous formats.
It may lead to a torrent of resume dishonesty
Unemployment rates have skyrocketed during COVID-19 as stay-at-home orders and social distancing have left many businesses unable to operate. Those jobs will come back eventually, but as they do, the United States could be en route to one of the most unbalanced job markets in its history.
As recently as February, the country was experiencing a “job seeker’s market” with low unemployment rates and more jobs in most sectors than candidates to fill them. As a result, employers competed for employment talent. As the economy recovers, the opposite scenario will be true: there will be far more job seekers than there are jobs.
These job markets tend to engineer desperation among job seekers, which can quickly lead to an uptick in resume lies. HR professionals should take a second look at how their organizations are vetting new hires. Criminal background checks are a must, but so are verifications for employment, education, and professional licenses; reference checks; and even alias and address history checks.
Employers must know precisely who they are hiring—and, unfortunately, not all candidates will offer that information truthfully.
COVID-19 won’t last forever. Eventually, the curve will flatten, numbers of new cases and deaths will taper, and the economy will get moving again. Even as the world recovers from this pandemic, it will leave behind a lasting impact on the workplace.
By preparing for the four changes described above, your HR team can be ready for whatever the new status quo looks like as the world returns to its new normal.