The working world has seen some major shifts since the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, COVID-19 caused a reported 71% of U.S. employees to move to remote work most or all of the time, while varying definitions of the term “essential worker” emerged to describe necessary and emergency service providers. Although working from home and socially distant workspaces were an appropriate immediate safety measure, the question remains what the U.S. workforce will look like post-pandemic.
From a new hybrid landscape to employer and federal vaccine mandates, this article explores the potential future of work post-COVID.
Going back to a changed office
As more businesses are reopening, employers continue to make operational decisions based on state and local mandates related to COVID-19 as well as preparedness to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers. If working near others, businesses will likely put an emphasis on social distancing as well as issue vaccine or face-covering mandates.
In late August 2021, Indeed job postings per million from companies requiring vaccination against COVID-19 was up 242% from the previous month. The amount of jobs with vaccination requirements has increased across all sectors, and about 2% of all Indeed job ads in personal care and home health require vaccinations. Some companies require proof of vaccination from potential new hires, while others offer vaccine bonuses. The West Coast and New England regions have a slightly higher share of posted jobs with vaccine requirements.
Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is working on a federal mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or can produce a negative test result weekly if unvaccinated. This will affect more than 80 million workers in the private sector. All federal workers and those doing business with the U.S. government—about 2.5 million people—also are required to be vaccinated.
Requiring face coverings
When returning to work in an office or other setting dealing with customers or clients, you might also be required to wear face coverings. In addition, depending on the type of work you do, OSHA may require you to wear PPE after a hazard assessment is completed. If this is the case, you can expect the appropriate PPE to be provided for you and to be trained on how to use it correctly. However, mask recommendations for workers, especially vaccinated ones, have changed frequently based on updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Creating physical distance
Your company likely will take extra care to keep its workers and customers at a distance, or physically separated. In addition to remote work, some of the strategies that the CDC recommends to prevent and reduce COVID-19 transmission include:
- Workplace vaccination programs, such as an on-site or mobile clinic, especially if there are a large number of workers who have predictable schedules
- Improvements to building ventilation alongside a “layered approach” that includes physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing face coverings and getting vaccinated
- For buildings in community settings, not to include more stringent requirements for healthcare facilities, cleaning the workspace once a day when there is no confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19; cleaning and disinfecting should occur if someone has been sick or tested positive for COVID-19 in the building within the previous 24 hours
- Contact tracing and case investigation in collaboration with local health departments
In addition, businesses may have visual markers encouraging distance and cleanliness, in-person meetings will likely be held in accordance with state and local regulations and access to common meeting areas like breakrooms, kitchens or lounge areas may be limited or closed.
Continued flexible work options
Leading companies beginning to offer full-time remote work options begs the question of whether traditional offices will be a thing of the past. In a recent Indeed survey¹, just 45% of people who made the switch to working from home during the pandemic miss in-person meetings, while 37% miss their daily routine tied to going into an office. An increasing number of Americans are finding that working from home has its benefits, including eliminated commutes, increased family time and cost savings to employers.
On the other hand, working remotely can be challenging for a number of reasons depending on your situation, including:
In that same Indeed survey, 64% of people missed fewer distractions at the office compared to working from home while 73% missed socializing in person. Fifty percent missed their commute, which can provide a clear transition between work and home life.
New work habits at home
A recent analysis of Microsoft employees’ work habits at home showed workdays lengthening as people transitioned to remote work. People were working four more hours per week on average and the share of instant messages (IM) sent between 6 p.m. and midnight increased by 52%, but most dramatically amongst managers, who experienced a 115% increase in IMs. People who did not work on weekends before COVID-19 also saw their work collaboration triple on those days.
Cost savings for employers
While some companies continue to extend or make permanent their work-from-home arrangements, it’s hard to know exactly how many will fully embrace this solution long-term. However, research suggests employers may be seeing that the pros of remote work outweigh the cons. One cost-benefit analysis has shown a 10% increase in productivity among remote workers during COVID-19, which translates to fewer labor hours, plus a decrease in overhead business expenses like rent and utilities. U.S. labor productivity overall increased 3.2% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020.
Essential workers left out
While work from home has been an important measure to protect the well-being of employees, essential workers have not had that same luxury. One-third (34%) of U.S. adults report being considered an essential worker. Twenty-one states have used the federal definitions of essential workers developed by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) while 23 developed their own definitions of essential workers who needed to continue working through stay-at-home orders. Seven states still have no guidance in place.
While who is deemed an essential worker varies from state to state, health care and public health, law enforcement and first responders, food and agriculture and energy workers commonly fall into this category. These individuals are likely to experience a work environment guided by CDC guidelines.
A more virtual workforce
With a majority of the workforce adapting to work from home, employers have in turn done so with remote technology and tools. Whether your office decides to go fully remote or not, it’s likely the use of technology to promote and support a virtual workforce will continue to increase.
In this section, we’ll look at the solutions that have gotten more popular since shifting to a remote working environment:
A virtual interview is an interview that takes place remotely, sometimes over the phone, but often using technology like video conferencing and other online communication platforms. With many companies mostly (or completely) out of the office, virtual interviews have become the norm.
Virtual interviews are often conducted much the same way as face-to-face interviews. That said, virtual communication requires special considerations and adjustments due to the limited ability to read body language and facial expressions. In 2020, Indeed launched a Virtual Hiring Tour, where 20,000-plus job seekers in the U.S. were hired through virtual interviews. A new search function for remote jobs also is now available, in addition to jobs immediately eligible for virtual interviews.
Read more: How To Succeed in a Virtual Interview
First days at a new job often consisted of walking around the office to meet your coworkers, settling into your desk, attending training sessions, wondering who you’ll eat lunch with and shadowing team members. However, since more employees are permanently going remote, companies' onboarding and training plans need to evolve.
Many employers are continuing to develop best practices for a virtual or hybrid workplace. In a recent analysis of a group of about 40 Gen Z new hires and summer interns, about 12% reported no onboarding or new-hire process during the pandemic. Nearly 80% desired being assigned a mentor, but only 7% of respondents were assigned a formal one during their virtual onboarding. This might be especially important for our future workforce, as remote internships have increased nearly sevenfold since March 2019.
Creating a structured virtual learning process, clear short-term objectives and assigning a virtual buddy/mentor may take longer when compared to traditional in-person onboarding in an office setting. A lack of organic learning and shadowing that often happens in the office also is an issue for companies to be mindful of when adjusting their onboarding plans.
Virtual communication, including video conferencing and IMs, are the new form of communication in both remote and hybrid workspaces. More than 80% of people who primarily work from home use video conferencing services like Zoom or Webex at least some of the time, while 57% use IM platforms like Slack or Google Chat.
People around the globe have necessarily shifted in-person meetings and conversations to virtual communication platforms and, in doing so, are becoming more fluent in online communication etiquette. As individuals cannot simply turn around to ask a question to their coworker or manager, an increase in scheduled connections has occurred. Microsoft, for instance, saw a 10% increase in the number of check-ins and team social meetings early on in the pandemic, including more people holding shorter meetings lasting 30 minutes or less. In the U.S., unscheduled video or voice calls in Teams more than doubled.
Virtual communication provides additional benefits for individuals who identify as being more reserved or introverted. Employees who may not have spoken up during in-person meetings or felt comfortable walking over to a coworker’s desk to ask a question can now take advantage of this shift in ways of working.
Evolving company culture
Many companies take pride in their office culture. It wasn’t unusual to walk into an office building and see company values proudly written out on walls, employees gathering by a coffee maker or individuals dressed in workout clothes headed to the office gym. Some employees may feel like part of the work culture they were used to vanished overnight.
But workplace culture isn’t just happy hours or free food—it’s a concept involving company mission and values that drive leadership style, ethics, expectations and goals. It’s how employees interact with and treat each other. By increasing transparency, work flexibility and communication, companies can create a work environment that encourages a long-term remote or hybrid office culture that brings security and support to its employees.
Whether in a remote or socially distanced office, leaning over to your desk-mate to ask a question or chat about your weekends seems like a distant memory. Workplace relationships can improve collaboration, employee retention, productivity and morale. Those once formed by convenience now require a more proactive approach to reduce feelings of isolation. However, you can still create and foster strong relationships with your coworkers virtually.
For example, you might request 1:1 video meetings with your manager or invite coworkers to virtual lunches, or organize after-work video hangouts to connect. You might also consider checking in with coworkers over IM—setting the tone of conversations by sharing your weekend plans, hobbies and interests with colleagues to encourage them to do the same. A reported 65% of remote workers say online communication tools have been a good substitute for in-person contact.
Perks and benefits
Companies often use perks as a way to bring in and retain good talent. These may have included things like free food and coffee, snack bars, on-site gyms or commuter benefits. Companies embracing a remote or hybrid workforce, however, may need to rethink the perks they once leaned on to keep employees happy.
For example, many companies, such as Shopify, provided their employees with a stipend to set up their work-from-home office. Others decided to award monthly stipends for work-from-home essentials, groceries, meal delivery kits or home internet reimbursement, or more expensive benefits like extended childcare support or leave of absence programs related to COVID-19.
While office perks have their benefits, companies are finding that these perks may not be as important to employees as they thought—at least when it compares to being able to work remotely and save time or money. Some companies are now investing in optimizing a hybrid workplace, including increasing spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager training and improving communal spaces in the office for those who choose to return to work there some or most of the time.
When there are more job openings than people looking for work, more employers use hiring incentives to fill vacant positions. Signing bonuses, retention bonuses and other cash incentives all doubled from July 2020 to June 2021. More job seekers are searching for roles that include bonuses, as well. These one-time costs are often attractive to employers because they don’t require additional money spent on other benefits like paid vacation or higher salaries. The largest share of hiring incentives has come from the transportation sector, with an increase in the need for delivery drivers and long-haul truckers.
¹ Indeed survey, n=808 working full-time remote in the U.S. due to COVID-19