What Will Work Look Like After COVID-19?

Most of us have now been under local lockdown orders for several weeks or more. We’ve rolled with the first waves of scary COVID-19 news and, for those who are office workers and new to remote work, we’re adjusting to the new normal of working from home. The future is uncertain to some degree. But we do know that sooner or later the social distancing guidelines will relax. And then we’ll start climbing out of the economic hole that opened beneath our feet in March.

As we get back to work, what can we expect for the rest of 2020? What will work look like after COVID-19? For leaders and their teams, I believe we will see a continuation of four key trends that were already happening, but have now accelerated under pressure from the pandemic.

1. There will be a more pronounced shift from managing to coaching

With nearly everyone who is nonessential working from home, these workers are in a less structured but more stressful environment. People are worried about their own health and that of loved ones, about their financial security and the larger economy. And many parents are juggling demanding jobs (or stress around job loss) with the needs of their children.

Add to this that managers face the same pressures themselves, and anyone working right now needs to be a lot more self-directed and self-aware. If you’re a manager, focus on guiding your employees rather than telling them what to do. The goal of coaching is to empower the person you’re coaching to come up with their own solutions to challenges – encouraging the autonomy that will be a win-win for both of you. If you want to deepen your self-awareness – a good idea during times of extreme stress like we’re in now – check out these tips.

2. Gig, contract and remote workers will make up even more of the workforce

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, remote work was growing by about 10 percent per year. That’s jumped exponentially in the past month, and it’s likely to continue for at least a time for large segments of the workforce. First, because social restrictions will likely ease gradually. And second, because most every organization will be in cost-cutting mode as we emerge from this crisis. (Rent is a big expense for most companies; cost-cutting will also lead companies to choose contractors over staff.) Finally, the option to work remotely makes employees happier and can make many teams more productive. If remote teams have been able to function and even flourish during COVID-19, many will expect to continue that way.

3. There will be renewed emphasis on soft skills as key workplace proficiencies

Automation and other technological advancements mean intelligent machines are taking over more of the physical, repetitive and lower-level tasks humans have previously done, according to this McKinsey study. As a result, there’s more workforce demand for the soft skills that machines can’t learn (or at least can’t learn yet), including problem-solving, dealing with ambiguity, and communication skills.

Add in the prolonged psychological stress of COVID-19, and all of us are going to do better with leaders and colleagues who have high emotional intelligence. Need a quick EQ refresher? Here are some easy tips for enhancing yours.

4. Teams will be more matrixed and agile

Waves of disruption spurred by innovation already move quickly through the business world. To keep up in a fast-paced global marketplace, companies need to innovate at the drop of a hat. And for that, they need the right talent at the right time.

Today’s sophisticated technological capabilities mean teams can come together virtually from across the world. According to a recent study by Bridge on workforce shifts, this means more and more business teams will follow a “movie-production” model of quickly bringing together and disbanding teams on a project-by-project basis. Why? Because team-based models perform better, faster. These ever-shifting teams will be matrixed rather than hierarchical. And they will be flexible enough to pivot quickly as priorities change. Because COVID-19 has brought uncertainty, competing priorities, and maxed-out psyches, there’s a mandate for every team to be flexible and adaptable. And likely to a greater degree than they’ve ever been before.

Take steps now to prepare for what’s next

It’s been an overwhelming few weeks for nearly everyone. But a pause in business as usual has also opened up opportunities – and schedules – for many of us nonessential workers. As these four trends take hold, it’s a good time to brush up on the skills, habits and attitudes we’ll need to prosper going forward.

These include communication, facilitation and coaching skills; self-awareness and self-management; relationship management and social awareness; and embracing a growth mindset that engenders the flexible thinking and problem-solving the times require. And they also include familiarity with the technological tools that can unite teams and ease remote collaboration, and insights about the best ways to use them. Focus on the competencies where you need some deeper fluency. Do this, and you’ll be in a better place when it’s time to accelerate out of the flattened curve.

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