The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we work—or don't work—as much as it's changing the way we live. While millions of Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last month, many of those still employed are working remotely from home as they obey the shelter-in-place orders affecting 95 percent of U.S. residents.
It's unclear how long this situation will go on or how it will resolve, but nonetheless, it's possible for business leaders to predict how this experience may change the way we work in the future.
Remote work will be ingrained in professional jobs
Companies all over the world have had to scramble to enable remote operations as the coronavirus crisis has quickly deepened.
Gaylan Sankey, an employee experience thought leader who has worked for decades in human resources, predicts that employers will fall into two camps post-COVID: Those companies that will embrace doing more remote work in the future and those that will revert back to their former habits.
And, she says, whether companies continue to embrace remote work is going to affect employee engagement. Many employees will be unsatisfied with the lack of work-life balance in fully in-office work arrangements now that they've seen that they can successfully perform their roles remotely.
"People are going to gravitate toward employers that are open to a remote workforce," she says. "Those employers are going to become the employers of choice. For those employers who stick with it, they're going to see longer tenure and have a better choice of talent because they're going to be pretty popular."
Digitizing the workforce has been a hot topic in her circles for years. With the virus forcing their hands, companies now get a chance to glimpse the many benefits remote work can bring, both for employers and employees.
"It increases employee engagement, it's better for business," says Sankey. "Now, companies are scrambling and doing it quickly. But the question will be whether they'll be willing to put in the work after this is over."
Almost three-quarters of CFOs surveyed by Gartner expect that some of their employees will continue to work remotely even after the coronavirus pandemic recedes from the headlines.
A return to normalcy will bring a dynamic labor market
When the economy begins to open back up, especially once social distancing is no longer needed, people will be more than ready to get back to their favorite activities, which will increase the demand for employees across the economy.
"When life returns to normal, one of the things that people will want to do right away is go out to eat," Leslie Silverglide, CEO of restaurant chain MIXT.
When employers restart hiring, job seekers will face a lot of competition. In industries that have come to a standstill, such as the hospitality sector, the number of candidates for any new job in future months will likely be overwhelming.
"There's going to be a shift in the dynamic where the jobs that have been difficult to hire for in the last couple of years—like in back-of-house, dishwashing, and prep—that will no longer be the case," Silverglide predicts.
Long-term, it may take quite a while for the labor market to settle into a new normal, and even then, there may be sectors that come back stronger and others that fade from prominence for the foreseeable future. The travel and tourism sectors will likely be reeling from unrecoverable losses for years, while industries related to energy efficiency and a "green" economy may find new vigor.
Regardless of industry, the best business leaders post-COVID will opt to prioritize employee support programs, an empowering company culture, and work-life balance. Those that want to remain nimble in the face of another possible upheaval will invest heavily in workplace technology and digital infrastructure and will be open to increasing remote work.
Successful business leaders will change with a changing world. And their employees will thank them for it.