If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s that our economy and our people are inextricably linked. The way your company handles the outbreak will say a lot about your corporate culture and values. It will also give you a sneak peek into the future—namely how prepared you are for a global shift toward remote work-forcing.
Throughout the world right now, we’re seeing widely divergent responses to COVID-19. On the one hand, there are essential workers like government officials, first responders, and others who need to keep working to keep the country afloat. On the other side of the spectrum, you see service industry workers who companies hope will continue to come to work to keep their doors open. Somewhere in between, you have the nonessential business employees—those who have likely worked remotely in the past and breathed a silent “hallelujah” when the email regarding mandatory work-from-home went out.
The thing all these groups need to remember is this: the cat is out of the bag. Those who once looked at working from home as a mere luxury (and a chance to get some extra laundry done) may not be willing to return to life as usual in the coming months. And service employees—they’re going to remember how they were treated when the outbreak began. The following are some things that will push the future of work forward in the next few months—and a couple that risk pushing it back.
Moving the Future of Work Forward after COVID-19
- Caring for employees first. The outdoor wear company Patagonia made an unprecedented move to protect its employees by closing all stores, offices, and its website until March 27. Not only that, Patagonia employees will continue to receive their regular pay during the closure. Likewise, Apple closed US retail locations for the same time period and committed to pay employees impacted by the closures. (The company stopped short of cutting off online sales, however.) Point being: these companies are focusing on what matters most during the emergency—their people. And that, I can guarantee you, will push all industries forward. Employees throughout the country will see what quality businesses do for their employees and start demanding it, as well. Is your company willing to do the same?
- Donating services. What says most about a company and its culture? What they do when they won’t benefit from it financially. Zoom has stepped up in that way to offer its free online meeting communities to K-12 schools that are impacted by COVID-19 closures. Again, the future of work will be about not just producing new technology but putting it to work where and when it is needed the most. Both employees and customers are taking notice.
- Remote work in general. As noted above, with so many companies encouraging employees to work from home at this time, the case for remote work will only increase beyond the outbreak. Companies that were already prepared—i.e. those that had both remote work technologies policies in place, and trust employees to perform their jobs regardless of location—will be the most well-positioned when this all plays out.
Moving the Future of Work Backward
Well—maybe it’s more like moving certain companies backward as others rise to the top. The companies that will fall back right now are the ones that weren’t only ill-prepared for an emergency like the coronavirus, but who treated customers and employees both as afterthoughts to their economic plight.
Qualities that will move your company backward right now: fear of remote workforce/a lack of trust of your employees; creating anxiety in your employees by assuming the worst of them as they work remotely; forcing employees to come to work in service positions while knowing they may be exposed to the virus; forcing employees to take an economic hit that your company can more likely rebound from.
Yes. Right now, your companies may need to take a hit in order to create the kind of employee and customer experience that will help move you forward later on. When you make the right decisions for your employees and customers, you create loyalty that lasts far beyond the current emergency situation. It could last a lifetime.
If remote work is new for your company, take heart. There are lots of ways to keep employees productive and distraction free. The COVID-19 outbreak is offering your business a chance to explore the growing trend toward remote working. If nothing else, it will offer a glimpse into the ways your company needs to step it up in terms of agility, resilience, or culture in the coming years.
My fellow Futurum Research analysts Shelly Kramer, Sarah Wallace, and Fred McClimans discussed all of this on the latest episode of Futurum Tech Podcast. Check it out below.