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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all made drastic, unavoidable changes to our daily lives — to how we buy groceries, connect with family, and stay productive. But as we’ve become accustomed to these short-term impacts, we must also consider the long-term implications the pandemic will have for the world. One of the most significant transformations spurred by COVID-19 will involve the way we work.

As stay-at-home orders begin to lift, many businesses are returning to their offices and attempting a semblance of normalcy, but it may be impossible to pick up where we left off and continue on with business as usual.

The changes we’ve made to workplace cultures and the flexibility we’ve adopted to navigate the crisis have revealed some important truths about the organizational processes we have lived by for decades. This revelation is causing leaders across industries to evaluate and embrace new, universally beneficial processes that support a workforce now uninhibited by geographic distance.

What a Post-Pandemic Workforce Will Need Most

The economic and social situation is evolving day by day, and it can be hard to determine where exactly everything is headed. However, some promising workforce transformations are already taking shape:

1. Flexible Working Hours

Data from March 2020 shows that work-from-home activity had increased 173 percent since 2005, and it is likely the number of employees working from home has climbed even higher in the intervening months. Remote work options are bound to become standard going forward.

Before the pandemic, many companies were hesitant to let employees work from home because it “wasn’t possible” or the “work couldn’t get done without being in the office.” In many cases, the crisis proved these lines of thought wrong. As a result, leadership teams will begin backtracking on their vehement anti-remote-work stances, unable to deny that remote and flexible work options are now critical to recruiting and retention.

As the lines between work and life continue to blur, employees are losing interest in strict 9-5 schedules — especially after experiencing the benefits of flexible work arrangements during the pandemic. Today’s employees are empowered with the knowledge that they can work successfully in a flexible work scenario, and the concrete proof of their productivity cannot be ignored by employers going forward. Organizations have two choices: Embrace the future of flexible work, or lose out on top talent.

2. Remote Onboarding

Despite high levels of unemployment and the office shutdowns, many industries are still hiring new employees, and they’re leaning on videoconferencing technology to do so.

Of course, the hiring process doesn’t stop when a company extends an offer, and organizations are also navigating remote onboarding and training, some for the first time. Along the way, they are learning some valuable lessons.

Successful onboarding and training programs don’t necessarily require a new hire to be in the same physical space as their new team members. This fact changes the recruitment game, allowing employers to tap significantly expanded candidate pools. Organizations no longer have to limit their sourcing efforts to the geographic regions immediately surrounding their offices, while job seekers can expand their searches beyond their current locales.

3. Reprioritized Expenses

Companies have been forced to cut costs and shift expenses to stay afloat during the economic downturn. Now, many businesses are also evaluating their real estate investments and deciding whether they really need to spend capital on physical locations. In the months ahead, companies will continue to adapt and invest in efforts to support remote work and the talent necessary for its success.

For example, to better support remote workers going forward, organizations will need to invest in remote management and security software, like virtual private networks, technology upgrades for portable devices, advanced collaboration tools, and virtual presentation training. On the talent front, companies will need to ramp up hiring for roles in IT, mobile, eCommerce, data science, and user experience/user interface to support new remote technology investments for both employees and the organization’s products and services.

4. Renewed Focus on Mental Health

The aforementioned blurred line between work and life isn’t a wholly positive development. For many workers, fully remote work has only made it harder to disconnect once the workday is officially done, driving many to burnout in the process.

As organizations explore more flexible and remote work options, they will also need to consider how these arrangements can impact the mental wellness of their employees. Organizations must invest in employee assistance benefits, coaching, and other resources that help employees adapt healthy work-from-home habits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it, but there’s a silver lining in the effect it will have on the workplace. Our time in quarantine has revealed what is possible: We can renew work/life balance, with an emphasis on “life”; we can empower employees to remain productive no matter where their work environment happens to be; and we can teach micromanaging leaders to let go and give autonomy to their direct reports.

There’s still much to learn in the months ahead and, perhaps, even more change to come. However, leaders can move forward confidently knowing that not all of the change caused by the pandemic has been negative. Soon enough, we will all see that the new normal is a more employee-centric normal, and now is the time for organizations to prepare to facilitate that transition.

Stephanie Wernick Barker is president of Mondo.

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