How COVID-19 lights the way to a more cooperative and flexible workplace culture

As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve become accustomed to the “new normal”: wearing masks, social distancing, and staying home. For those fortunate enough to have jobs, safety procedures became second nature, or working from home became the norm.

For business owners and managers, supporting employees through the transition has been a challenge. But some companies willing to adapt have started to build a new relationship with their workforce.

Face time not so essential after all.

Traditional career wisdom holds that being seen is important to getting ahead. Whether it’s staggered shifts to bring fewer employees on site or working from home, though, more people are contributing out of sight of their supervisors. During the pandemic, managers have coordinated efforts with employees they may not have seen in person for months.

Decoupling face time from the value of accomplished work could lead to more flexibility in working arrangements post-pandemic. A productive workforce made up of virtual employees could avoid some of the political maneuvering common in the 20th century high-contact workplace.

Technology makes it happen.

As tired as many are of videoconferencing, today’s technology made the difference in weathering the pandemic. With remote work easier than ever before, more people have been able to stay productive while staying home. And for essential workers, temperature scanners and quick virus testing helped reduce the spread of coronavirus in the workplace.

The best employers understand the value of technology to their changed circumstances, but also recognize the need to humanize the experience. Taking the time on a Zoom call to chat replaces the social contact that is so valuable in the physical workplace. Giving essential workers more tools to communicate when visual cues are masked helps staff connect. These adaptations may require training (this article suggests medical staff learn non-verbal communication techniques, for instance) for companies to receive the full benefit of existing and emerging technologies.

Trusting the workforce.

Tech companies already laid the groundwork for self-regulation of work time. Roku, Survey Monkey, and Sony are just three companies offering unlimited time off. Employees use their discretion to decide how much time off they need given their workload. If anything, companies with these policies report that workers take too little time off. In fact, some companies now require employees to take time off to maintain their mental health.

With fewer people in the office, more businesses were forced to let go of direct oversight. As with leading-edge tech companies, many discovered that their employees manage their time well, completing projects without as much hands-on supervision. As more companies discover that the right employees can be trusted to do the work in a more open-ended environment, employees may enjoy more choices in their work location or schedule.

These changes prompted out of necessity by the pandemic may lay the groundwork for greater mutual respect between businesses and their employees. What is required, however, is a thoughtful review of workplace culture and needs, rather than an automatic reversion to the former state of play. That means that businesses and employees must listen to each other to chart an improved way forward.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels