What does the future workplace look like after COVID-19?

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By Emmanuel Zvada

TWO years ago, COVID-19 forced many companies to send employees home to work from there. Now, with COVID-19 cases subsiding and vaccinations rising, the prospect of returning to office routines appears more possible.

From a workplace and employment perspective, there are some important issues for which employers should start preparing.

Predicting the future of work is always tricky, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made an type of projection even more difficult.

The ability of many employers to respond effectively to the post-COVID-19 environment is key and projections should be made now so that employers prepare.

As we start to think about a time when we can get back to the office and return to some sort of normalcy in the workplace, whether we are a startup, a family business or a well-established company, we will need to understand how we can best operate in a post-COVID-19 workplace environment.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the realisation that we must adapt, embrace new ways of thinking, learn from this experience, and remain flexible.

Here are a few ways in which future workplaces may look different in the new world of work.

Flexible working arrangements

One of the main changes to come out of the pandemic is the adoption of flexible work practices. Post-COVID-19, workers want a flexible workplace — but not flexible workstations. How companies choose to support their workers, flexible working is a sign of a great company culture and, moving forward, the businesses that can adapt to the needs of their staff will see greater results in terms of culture and employee retention.

Indeed, if we are smart about it, the pandemic is an opportunity to embed flexible work practices. For some employers, therefore, this may be more than just a question of considering flexible working conditions. Instead, this could be seen as  an opportunity to think imaginatively about future ways of working and to consider whether increased agility could be incorporated into the workforce.

New policies for the post-COVID-19 era

The pandemic has forced us to rethink our priorities at work, more dramatic than physical changes to the office post-COVID-19 will be the policy changes. In the wake of a global pandemic, companies everywhere have had no choice but to adjust their current business strategies and policies to overcome the internal and external ramifications brought about by the coronavirus era.

Expect workplace distancing to stick around, along with some of the new habits that came out of it. Sanitary practices are likely to stick around too, in addition to employee self-screening policies.

Employee upskilling and reboarding

Addressing the skills gap will be a massive undertaking, there is no question about that. Post-COVID-19, one way employers will show their appreciation to employees is through upskilling. Employee upskilling, not only does it make employees feel valued, but it also helps fill knowledge gaps within the company. To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforce now.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to amplify the need for new workplace competencies, particularly those centred around technology and soft skills. I personally think that employers will not be able to close the skills gap by themselves. They will need to work with training companies, universities, and government institutions to create new pathways to success, especially for minority workers.

AI-driven technology will be the new norm

Strategies for post-COVID-19 workplace agility hinge largely on technology adoption. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a continuing trend for the foreseeable future as employers look to reduce costs in a falling economy. AI empowers companies to achieve more than ever before, for a fraction of the effort. Commonly, AI is being used by human resourses practitioners to help administer their human capital.

Some employers are using AI systems to autonomously screen candidates and move prospective candidates through the application process. Moreso, other employers are already using AI to monitor employees so that they can strategically address performance issues on an individual basis.

Acceptance of generation-Z into the workforce

Generation-Z is the first fully digital generation, and yet, it yearns for human interaction at work. In fact, quite a number of generation-Z members want some form of human element woven into their work and team interactions. This means a workplace needs to provide the tech aspect with a twist of human connection. The increasing number of generation-Z will eventually result in the rise in a younger workforce whose values and career priorities are different from those of the previous generations.

Generation-Z is about to change the face of the workforce. These new workers do not remember a world without the internet and smartphones. This is digitally-oriented generation, in particular, view work not as a place where you go to, but in terms of what they accomplish with their time, hence they cannot do without technology.

Results monitoring and trust

As more companies use monitoring software to track employees’ activities during the day, managers need to weigh the benefits and risks of this strategy. Personally, l would not like a situation where l am being monitored while l am working because it is toxic, I prefer being monitored or evaluation through the results as results do not lie. Performance monitoring is the observation of work-related behaviour of individuals or work groups and it plays a critical role in the supervision and evaluation of workers.  If you don’t trust them, why did you employ them? l think we should be monitoring performance and results, not hours clocked.

The future of HR looks agile, digital and fast. HR needs to take the lead to ensure the organisation is at the heart of enabling organisational success. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our work environment and how we interact with our colleagues. This shift in how and where we work presents an opportunity to reshape and reinvent the workplace for a post-COVID-19 reality. It is high time we stopped defining “work” as a single office location, but in the sense that an employee can perform their duties from anywhere where there is internet connectivity.