COVID19: Coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the world of work
28 min read
28 min read
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Nonetheless, the world of work had to be reimagined and careers, livelihoods, and even mental health are now at stake.
Working from home has its own challenges. These challenges vary depending on all sorts of things: where you live, the way you live, or just on your perception of working from home. A large number of employees were almost forced into a work-from-home environment, so none of us should suddenly be startled by the fact that our fellow colleagues, who are now having kids running around the house, really miss the office setup. Some would dare say they miss their coworkers, all those coffee breaks, business lunches, and happy hours, where you can indulge in a live discussion. You may be thinking that “indulging” in conversations is a stretch, but let’s think about it: If you were in an office right now, you would probably be wearing a mask and if you’d dare start a chit-chat with your fellow coworker, there’s a high probability you would be talking about the coronavirus. Lighthearted conversations without the slightest fear of getting infected or infecting someone are ancient times now and many researchers are saying the comeback of those times is highly questionable.
Many employees can relate to the thought that working from home does sound like fun until it doesn’t. All those Zoom meetings, Skype calls, Google Meets, or Slack chats on top of spending time at the same place every single day, while not having an easy way of talking to your coworker exactly when you need them – the world has turned upside down.
A certain number of experts are convinced that being officeless is a temporary thing, going back to “normal” seems to be something they still hold onto. Still, some would argue that we’re now witnessing what appear to be glimpses of the new reality, the reimagined way of working, the new style of networking, career-building, and progressing. Something everyone seems to be aligned on is the fact that most of us are feeling the general unease. And for a good reason, too, or a few of them.
No one could escape hearing about, or even being affected by massive layoffs, furloughs, and cuts in 2020. And, the eerie threat of losing a job in the time of a global crisis isn’t strictly aimed at employees but it expands way further than that. It affected students and their learning, interns and their internships – the very start of their career building, and businesses, no matter how big or small they are. Thus the common starting point – the general unease about our careers.
The learning setbacks that students commonly experience during a regular break can easily wipe out one or even two months of academic growth, as said in the New York Times. So, the learning losses that are likely to result from an entire generation of students and school children world-wide could be catastrophic by comparison.
So will we have the “Covid generation” after the pandemic has passed? Will we have young people with inferior levels of knowledge due to the schools and districts not having been ready to provide the same level of quality for online schooling?
The Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit organization that closely works with school districts in order to measure and track student performance conducted a study that projects students who lack steady instruction during the school shut-down might retain as little as just 70% of their annual reading gains compared with a normal year.
Their projections in math look even bleaker with students losing between half and all of the achievement growth they would normally achieve during a normal academic year, depending on their grade level.
Internships are considered to be the best tool for a smooth transition from the college environment into the workforce. Needless to say, they were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Internships all over the world have felt the pain even more than the overall job market. Data coming from Glassdoor shows that job openings dropped 20.5% by April 6th, but internships have taken a bigger hit. In the United States, over 1 in 2 internship openings posted on Glassdoor have been cancelled or withdrawn due to the coronavirus crisis. Glassdoor shows an incredible 52% drop from March 9 until April 13, 2020. When looking at this year over year, there is a 39% slump compared to April 2019
It’s probably no news to anyone that the Travel & Tourism sector was hit the hardest but would you expect a 92% drop by April 13th from March 9th? The best scenario, which naturally includes the smallest drop, was in the Accounting & Legal field. In April 2020, industries with the most internship openings were accounting & legal, manufacturing, computer software/hardware, retail, and healthcare.
Still, not all hopes are lost, tech behemoths like Google, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, and Twitter are planning to hold onto virtual internships. Financial powerhouses, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase are doing it, too. Virtual internships are done a little bit differently, as the entire home-working world knows very well by now. Attention is usually shifted on short-term projects and frequent, extremely frequent check-ins.
As we eased into the virtual world, let’s crack open this can of worms and talk about working from home.
We all have to admit that the unease we feel about our careers isn’t a foreign feeling. Let’s just remember the fear of artificial intelligence leaving all sectors open to the threat of machines replacing us, the human workers. Now, we could crack open that can of worms and debate about the actual possibility of that scenario but we would digress into another type of world and we need to keep our focus on the here and now.
The point is, being scared for your job paints a pretty good picture of what work means to us as humans. Some would even say that work is tied to our constitution as species, as a feature of our own. So, even if we were to talk about the rise of AI, disruption of the economic organizations, we would automatically take no notice of the key role work has played in the development of humanity. Therefore, discussing the “end of work” as we know it is an immediate, unrealistic view of who we are. Although it may seem as though we have digressed into another topic, which we explicitly said we will not do, bear with us because we feel like there is value in what we touched upon – the human need to work. Apparently, the need to work is one of our strongest features. Having said that, the big question is – what happens when a global pandemic, over which we have little to no control, makes our working worlds go upside down?
So, going back to the workers who were lucky enough to keep their jobs but not as lucky when it comes to choosing where they would work, which in turn made them destined to get a taste of a work-from-home environment. There are some who had chances to try working from home in the pre-pandemic era, so they knew what they were getting themselves into. Some, on the other hand, suffered a huge shock. And, naturally, feelings about working from home are split.
An economics professor at Stanford was trying to understand the reality of working from home and how different it is when compared to the traditional, on-site presence. After talking to dozens of CEOs, senior managers, and policymakers about the future of work, building years of research, and including a two-year study of a Chinese travel company, their findings outlined that working from home made employees up to 13% more productive and up to 50% less likely to quit. Now, what’s happening today is very different from the mentioned findings due to 4 main factors: family, space, privacy, and choice. Being forced to work from home gives you no choice and no time to organize, which in turn means your family will most likely become part of your workday, and finally, it forces you to use your private space and make it public in the sense of telecommuting and having your coworkers watch where you spend your days off. It does sound a bit invasive, doesn’t it?
It would be easy to decide whether remote is the future of work if we were 100% sure that employees are more productive and efficient while working from home. However, putting a finger on it turns out to be rather hard, simply because there are mixed feelings when it comes to productivity, too.
Some will say that their working from home has been a productivity disaster. Certain companies decided to allow working from home only to the employees that have their home office, which can’t be their bedroom nor could it have anyone in it during the work hours. However, not all companies care that much, and their stance is pretty reasonable too – it’s coming from their finance teams trying to cut costs on office spaces and save them from spending money on leases when half of their employees are working from home. It is not cost-effective and we should be able to understand that. On the other hand, this results in people working from their bedrooms or common rooms, experiencing and sharing noises from their partners, family, roommates, or pets. In addition to the general frustration driven by these working conditions, there comes a potential slump in innovation. Researchers tend to believe that face-to-face meetings are crucial for the development of new ideas and keeping the staff focused and motivated. So, they are telling us that a collapse in office-time will lead to a crumbling innovation. According to them, the result could be fewer new products in 2021 and even lowering the long-run growth.
In addition to the alleged plunge in productivity and innovation, some researchers say that not allowing people to have physical social interaction may lead to depression. Numerous surveys have been conducted in order to get a feeling of respondent stance when it comes to working from home or from an actual office. Nearly half of the respondents expressed their willingness to go back to the office despite the commute and the money spent on food when eating out. These results show that the social company is far more important than we may have thought. It’s not uncommon for employees that are working from home to report feeling isolated and lonely.
On top of the feeling of isolation and signs of depression, a lot of workers don’t have the technical ability to perform at work as they normally would from the office. In one study that was conducted with the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago, it was shown that only 65% of Americans reported having fast enough internet capacity to handle all those work video calls. 50% of respondents, mostly managers, professionals, and financial workers, who carry out all their work tasks on their computers, reported being able to work from home at an efficiency rate of 90% or more. The others that have poor internet, or none at all, are prevented from effective telecommuting. It’s clear that there’s another layer of inequality since the research has also shown that more educated, higher-learning employees are more likely to work from home, so they are continuing to get paid, develop their skills and advance their careers while there are those unable to work from home, either due to the nature of their jobs or because they lack suitable internet connection or space, and they are being left behind.
On its surface, the inclination to a more remote workforce makes a lot of sense. The more employees work remotely, the less office space will be needed – thus saving the company’s money. Still, just glancing over some of the issues that we mentioned will speak for itself and guarantee that there’s still some merit to keeping the office environment in place.
According to the research Upwork has conducted in the US, they expect to see 36.2 million Americans working remotely, which is an 87% increase from the pre-pandemic levels. They surveyed 1,000 small business owners, CEOs, and HR managers across a broad spectrum of industries throughout the US, from October 21st to November 7th.
Their research is showing the long-lasting impact that remote work, somewhat forced by Covid-19, is likely to have on how companies envision their organizations. Businesses will keep adapting and learning from this remote work experiment, and many will alter the way they operate in order to accommodate remote work.
According to Upwork’s research, remote work is getting better for the vast majority of companies, as they adapt to the new model and only 5% of their respondents said it was getting worse.
These results shouldn’t surprise us, since both companies and their employees had a big learning curve. They didn’t shift into remote working smoothly, they were thrown into it and most of them didn’t have time to figure out what tools to use for their remote workers, while their workers had to figure out how to work from home and stay efficient.
Here are some of their findings:
When asked what about their remote work has ended up being better than what they had expected in the beginning, they were pretty much aligned on the time-saving, increase in productivity, and flexibility.
Transitioning to the world of remote work works well as it diminishes the need for office space, hence cutting the expenses, which seems to be every CFOs favorite feature of remote work.
Gartner Finance Practice conducted research including 317 CFOs and finance leaders and 74% of them said they were planning to move at least 5% of their ex-onsite workforce to fully remote positions even when the pandemic has passed. This aligns perfectly with the cost-cutting measures that CFOs have already taken or are planning to take. Around 25% of surveyed CFOs said they would move at least 20% of their workers to permanent, fully remote positions.
An additional 13% of respondents noted they had already made cost reductions in real estate expenses, with another 9% planning to take action in this area in the coming months.
So the news about tech moguls, such as Facebook and Twitter, moving towards making working from home the new normal, thanks to the AI-driven telecommuting, is no surprise whatsoever.
As we talk about working from home or the traditional office-based work, we tend to neglect the idea that one doesn’t have to automatically exclude the other. In fact, based on certain research results, what is now called a hybrid workspace seems to be the most enticing option for the employees. Slack conducted a survey including 9,032 workers identified as “skilled office workers” in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia. The research analyzes the key perceptual elements of working experience for 4,700 workers who are now primarily working remotely. So let’s dive into some of their findings.
While the office exodus took place on a global scale, it wasn’t happening at the same time, with some countries outpacing others in their shift to remote work. By the late summer, about 44% in the US and 45% in the UK were primarily working from home, rather than in the office. Still, in other countries, such as Japan with 52%, France with 58%, Germany with 51% and Australia with 39%, more workers reported working from an office than from home.
Naturally, the office vs. home differences on a global scale is likely to vary based on several factors, including each country’s efficiency at responding to the Covid-19 outbreak, but also cultural attitudes toward working remotely. In Japan, workers are more than twice as likely to say that their work can’t fit into the work-from-home picture when compared to the workers coming from the US or the UK. Similarly, they are also more likely to say that their productivity is up for a slump when working from home.
Clearly, there is no one-glove-fits-all type of solution but let’s take a look at the same respondents’ preferences when it comes to choosing a working location:
It looks like the hybrid solution, which includes both working from home and one or more other locations, is the front-runner. So, in addition to the general preference, let’s see how the respondents perceive key elements of working life, such as having a work-life balance, staying productive, and more.
Overall, remote work seems to have a positive effect on the work-life balance, leading to satisfaction with how their work has been arranged, which in turn reduces their work-related stress. Still, remote work isn’t all sunshine and roses as it comes with various drawbacks, including the lack of workers’ sense of belonging, which isn’t something that can (or should) easily be neglected. Aside from that, as we stated previously, working from home has its own challenges, and according to Slack’s survey, here are the top 5 challenges they found:
● Unreliable Wi-Fi
● Maintaining and building relationships with fellow colleagues
● Maintaining focus and avoiding distractions
● Feeling lonely and/or isolated
● Keeping up with what other colleagues are working on
Without a doubt, the Covid-19 lockdowns and pleas to shelter in place have forced millions of employees to work from home worldwide. In addition to that, there’s a visible trend in companies expecting to continue working from home even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
According to a survey conducted and published by IBM, in the United States, over 50% of adults said they want to keep working from home even after the pandemic is over. However, about three-quarters of the respondents expressed their wish to go to the office, even if that’s just on occasion.
Remote work does seem to be growing on people but we must know that this shift toward a more remote workforce requires more than a simple location change. In fact, a permanent shift to working from home may require the use of soft skills in order to keep productivity up and stay successful. It will come in hand with new monitoring tools and tools that will make our lives easier and keep us connected to the rest of our teams.
Another IBM study conducted back in 2019, revealed that maintaining a skilled and talented workforce is crucial in the upcoming years. Still, only 41% of CEOs surveyed at that time expressed their confidence in the capability in terms of people skills and resources required to execute their business strategies. Fast forward to the present day, we’re in the midst of the pandemic when a lot of companies are working from home and we are wondering how they are doing and what is going on with their office culture.
No one had the luxury of a simple “Heads up, you’re moving to your home offices now”, so the company culture is almost considered a natural casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even while working from home, companies must maintain the intangible and yet powerful aspect of their business. So, what happens to the regular, real-world things that seem to be a thing of the past? What happens with colleagues’ meeting? Business reviews? Hanging out by the watercooler? Socializing face to face? Sipping on some free coffee or squeezing a workout in with your onsite gym? What is going on with the office environment itself?
Once again, opinions are split. Some said their workplace culture improved during the pandemic rather than deteriorated, while others didn’t feel as positive.
The concept of company culture is potent and hard to pin down. Just think about it. If you start thinking about your own workplace, what do you see? An image of colleagues drinking cocktails together and munching on some roast beef in the after-hours? Or are you thinking of sitting in silence in a big, quiet, and cold-looking office? Most of us would probably describe our pre-pandemic company cultures as complex, based not on just a specific place or the individuals, but rather a product of both and more, such as people, places, values, activities, workflow, volumes, and a lot more!
Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, even though we are attending more meetings while working from home, the average meeting length has become shorter. Their conclusion is that we’re spending a lot less time in the meetings, collectively. Another important thing has come to light, in some companies for the very first time – employees have complex lives. When working from an office, it’s easy to just think of an employee based on how and when you see them in the office, without bothering to think about their lives outside of those office walls. Now, since kindergartens or child care have closed their doors, you can see their children running around while they’re on your desktop, having to mute themselves in order to communicate to the rest of their household and ask for some quiet time. Adding pets, elderly parents, roommates to the mix, just to name a few of the challenges the pandemic has pushed to the fore. Experts say this clumsy way of conducting video calls actually makes people feel more connected since they are able to see more intimately what their coworkers’ lives look like.
Still, when it comes to the relationship we have with our work, it seems that, in many cases, the pandemic has been reinforcing what people already felt about their employer. The astounding 70% of people who expressed confidence in their company’s culture before the crisis were more likely to say that the culture has only improved during the pandemic. Naturally, those who said their culture was already bad were more likely to express visible deterioration. This somewhat clear split between the two suggests that having a strong culture somewhat guarantees stability throughout the bad times, while adversity further weakens shaky foundations.
It may not be a huge revelation but it’s a useful lesson for companies who don’t invest in their company culture or make an effort to avoid toxicity and sponsor values, such as fairness and kindness among their coworkers. The biggest mistake organizations make is letting their workplace culture form naturally without first defining what they want it to be. So, the ones that chose the natural way could very well be the ones that are struggling the most right now.
It can seem challenging to focus on professional growth and career advancement while working from home, especially when you might have kids, pets, and the rest of your family vying for your attention. It’s hard to control what’s going on while you’re working from home. A neighbor choosing to mow their lawn during your conference call, your pet whining in the background because they heard your voice while you’re holding an online training, you’re significant other roaming around the house in the search of their keys. We’ve been there and we have seen others being there, too. So, it’s really easy to think working from a hectic environment is the out of sight – out of mind concept when it comes to promotion.
Employees are displaying their achievements during in-person meetings, presentations, and even the after-hour conduct. The significance of the physical presence in that matter is undeniable. So on top of all the hiccups at home, employees need to grapple with ways of sharing their activities. Working from home doesn’t necessarily need to impede someone’s professional development, it is, however, slightly more challenging as you have to adapt and embrace a growth mindset and find the ability to uncover opportunities that may have not seemed possible before.
Networking is considered to be a crucial part of one’s career advancement. But with in-person conferences, happy hours, and roundtables not happening at the moment, meeting new people is also more of a challenge than it once was.
Your boss plays an enormous role in your career trajectory but how do you get onto your boss’ busy agenda without the random hallway run-ins and other tête-à-tête conversations? This is where you need to get creative. Think about calls that your manager can reassign from them to you, or think about coming up with talking points for the big meetings, like weekly, monthly, and yearly business reviews. Find what is most important to your manager and work your way up by helping them get through their busy day – which you can certainly do even without physically seeing them.
Working from home isn’t a smooth sail but it’s actually not that bad as it may seem at the first glance. I personally haven’t had an office job since 2018, so all the struggles that people across the globe are experiencing, I’ve already mastered. It’s not ideal to swap an office space with your guest room or kitchen but you can figure it out. Think about the perks of remote work, you don’t actually need to be at your home – you can do it almost anywhere now. Obviously, this depends on the type of job you’re doing but it is not impossible. We live in a world filled with opportunities, and as corny as it may sound it’s true – almost anything is possible. With an accent on “almost”, because let’s face it, there are certain things we really can’t do, such as being a “Laird” maybe – unless we own larger estates or pieces of land in Scotland. Before we go into details of Highland Titles of Scotland, let’s settle the topic we’ve been onto today – the new reality or the new world of remote work.
The assumption that work will never be the same almost looks like common knowledge now, even if we can’t tell exactly how it will be different. What we can be certain of, instead, is that we have been provided with a once-in-a-generation chance to rethink everything we know about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies.
And, let’s really think about that – do you remember the times when the phrase “working 9 to 5” didn’t make us show a critical or disrespectful attitude towards someones’ work? How many times did you hear that a 9-5 workday is a thing of the late century? Even if you didn’t hear it more than once, you are still aware of that stance.
So what if we’re just part of the generation that will say the same thing about the traditional, office-centric work? This imposed working from home can actually be an opportunity to retain the good parts of the office culture, while freeing us from bad habits and ineffective processes. All those inefficient meetings, the unnecessary bureaucracy, time lost while commuting, can be things that we keep in the past.
From the workers’ perspective, this change is colossal and extremely consequential. Employees now have to include a list of new requirements when searching for a new home, having a designated workspace will be a necessity. In addition to that, they will have the opportunity to build new expectations about flexibility, working conditions, and that work-life balance, too. Even if companies choose the hybrid model, the employees would still need to take all these things into consideration.
Needless to say that this change goes hand-in-hand with a change in the tools a company will be expected to provide. The digital transformation has been substantial and comprehensive already but it’s going to sky-rocket now. Companies that are already embracing the change will drive engagement and they will achieve the organizational agility that everybody should strive for. On top of that, they will be able to keep their goals aligned and at the same time, they will empower teamwork across all subject areas and all sites. It goes without saying that these businesses will have a competitive advantage over everyone else who’s struggling to keep up with this new era of work.
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