It’s been a difficult time, but it has shone a bright light on issues that needed to improve. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to abandon former habits and follow new, socially distant ones. And perhaps— just perhaps — they will bring a permanent, meaningful change.
It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen when this is over, but we are hopeful that companies will make sustainable changes to permanently become as positive and empathetic towards their workers as they were during the pandemic.
If we all use the lessons we learned from the disasters this year, companies should move towards positive change to make the office, a better place.
Trust between employers and their workers has always been critical to the morale, efficiency and teamwork of a team. This year has put that faith to the test. For example, as COVID induced remote work, many employers invested in employee tracking software and other monitoring tools — which followed decades of workplace management studies showing close monitoring signals distrusting workers and promoting disloyalties. However, the opposite approach is more effective: trust employees and they will respect that trust — and there’s evidence that proves that during the pandemic employees were more efficient.
We expect that in the post-pandemic workplace, employees will still ask for the flexibility in work hours and places. Companies who decide to keep offering these perks and trusting their employees will see the benefits, such as greater employee involvement, creativity and profitability.
This recession took a toll on workers’ minds and feelings, with a global pandemic, an all-time high unemployment rate, frequent riots, and the global economy still wavering. The number of people showing depression symptoms grew significantly worldwide. Thankfully, in the aftermath of the pandemic, more than half of businesses have acknowledged these challenges and are improving their mental health benefits.
What’s more, workers have become more connected. We all have common issues and we strongly believe we are being more sympathetic than before. Since our lives at work and at home are currently mixed, we now know more about each other and about our relationships and families. If a coworker’s barking dog or screaming infant interrupts a videoconference, we laugh it off as just another side effect of our new standard.
Employees are behaving with more humanity — but will this norm continue when offices reopen?
Preserving this tradition of post-pandemic empathy has advantages. Empathy can also improve employee engagement, activism and even result in business performance. Yet it needs to start from the top – managers must take the lead in order to spread empathy through an entire enterprise. We have to consciously exercise empathetic leadership and take into account others’ thoughts and views before we act on it. This strengthens relationships between manager and employee, fosters loyalty and can also teach workers how to work with compassion.
Ongoing change calls for continuous learning. It is true for people, companies, and even countries. Without it, we lose contact with what’s happening, why is it important and how to overcome new challenges as they come.
Ironically, during COVID-19, employees demonstrated a keen interest in using this time as an opportunity for personal development and growth. Maintaining this habit should be crucial. As ability gaps around industries are widening, reskilling efforts need to occur now. Companies will have to continue to provide simple, meaningful learning opportunities that can be incorporated into the day-to-day workflows of the employees.
Research demonstrates that learning programs alone are not enough — structural improvements need to complement them, such as cherishing development, creativity and proactivity, and not only hard data and sales.
The global workforce now has a chance to become more trustworthy, empathetic and equal. But that’s going to take effort. Company leaders and workers need to dedicate themselves to improvement.