Ask an optimist – call her Pollyanna – for their predictions for the remainder of 2020, and they might tell you something like this:

“Fingers crossed, everything will soon be back to normal”.

In many aspects of life, “normal” would be truly welcome (not least for all the staff of our NHS). But is this a realistic expectation when it comes to the world of work? We’re not so sure. 

We believe instead that, for many, work will be permanently changed. Covid-19, for all its impact on wider society, has released some workplace genies that simply can’t be squeezed back into the bottle. 

Of course, it’s difficult to predict the future. But we’ve given it a go anyway! Here are our five predictions for what businesses (and their HR teams) should look out for on the other side of the pandemic. 

Continued re-evaluation of a business’s purpose

Milton Friedman’s widely-held 1970 doctrine (that businesses exist solely for shareholder profit) seems increasingly out of step with what a company now needs to be. The virus has brought whole teams closer together – ours included! – despite the physical separation. This mirrors the wider community, where you’ll find increases in donations, volunteering etc. If Covid-19’s shown us anything, it’s that people matter – more than any balance sheet. 

All this speaks to a likely re-evaluation of the purpose businesses serve. Last year, 181 US CEOs did just this (by signing this Business Roundtable statement), but we’re banking on this being just the tip of the iceberg..

New management styles

Remote working will inevitably cause even the most avid micro-manager to develop more trust in their charges. We believe this will encourage a step-change in management styles, allowing leaders to invest more time in personalised development plans, and to waste less resources tracking workers’ every move. 

This is especially likely as poor L&D investment continues to be linked to high turnover. Now is probably a better time than ever for leaders to take note, and make a change in how they lead.

Culture as armour

Sadly, not every business will see its people pull together as Covid-19 bites. Those with poor cultures before are unfortunately expected to find this period harder than those with shared values, beliefs and behaviours.

We expect the perceived value of a strong culture to rise, therefore, when viewed through the lens of this pandemic.

Many businesses will need to double down on their culture as we come through the other side of this period. Whether that means hiring the right people, identifying and reinforcing values, or even overhauling whole employer brands, keep an eye out for organisations targeting meaningful cohesion among staff and leaders.

‘Skeleton’ staffing

Alternatively (and this is perhaps our least optimistic prediction), one potential outcome is companies coming to see the value of only keeping a very small permanent staff. These could be supplemented on a needs-basis by contract workers, offering greater flexibility and cost-saving opportunities in challenging times (i.e. now). 

This is already an increasingly attractive option for many businesses. EY found that 40% of businesses in 2019 were planning on increasing their use contingent workers over the next five years.

This approach, of course, has drawbacks – not least for businesses simultaneously targeting a meaningful culture! EY discovered that one in five business leaders expect increased use of contingent workers to have a negative cultural impact.

More flexible working

Rounding off with perhaps the most obvious. Working from home has turned from a perk into a necessity. We think there’ll now be plenty of people around the world who haven’t been missing their long, cramped commutes into far-flung offices. You may be one of these people. Will you relinquish the right go remote when the pandemic’s over?

On the one side, expect to see flexible or remote working become more of an employee expectation. From employers’ perspective, this won’t just lead to reduced office costs. It will also mean a shift away from presenteeism, helping to develop mutual trust and contribute to a more productive working culture. 

The next frontier

With so much distress in plain view at the moment, it can be difficult to look beyond it. But, with a little bit of optimism, it’s clear that there will be opportunities for a better world – both in work and out. 

There’ll be no going back to normal. But, maybe, by valuing people and seeking connections despite this long period of isolation, we can create something better.

Interested in preparing your hiring strategy for the future of work? Arrange your Arctic Shores demo here.