As a company, we at Infinium count ourselves among the fortunate. The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused major disruptions to the entire world, yet, we have largely continued on in our efforts to serve you uninterrupted. But make no mistake, we are the exception to the rule and COVID-19 has undoubtedly left a lasting mark in the workplace. While the degree of impact varies based from one organization to the next, one thing is certain; the shape and feel of all workplaces have changed. For starters, the pandemic opened up many organizations to new possibilities, including working from home, telemedicine, and the need to embrace digital transformation.

The pandemic also highlighted gaps in the workplaces that required immediate attention. For instance, organizations were forced to restructure and define future workforce needs. They also started becoming more diverse and inclusive. With the global economy slowly going back to normal, here’s a comprehensive overview of how COVID is re-inventing the workplace.

How Has the Workplace Changed Due to COVID-19?

When COVID struck, organizations that had adopted digitally-enabled workplaces such as remote working and virtual onboarding processes were in better shape compared to the rest. This is why it was no surprise that 1 in 3 US organizations fast-tracked their digitalization plans while others began pushing technological transformation.

Here are the top 4 ways that COVID has changed the workplace.

Companies Are Now More Future-Oriented

Organizations had to create structures that focused on the future to increase their businesses ‘ and employees’ chances of survival should there be another pandemic. This is because most companies had to take a break during the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2020 when the impacts of COVID became too overwhelming. In fact, some businesses even had to shut down and let their employees go. This mandated most organizations to align their business practices with a multi-stakeholder model.

Towards the end of 2020, there was an increased focus on ESG ( environmental, social, and governance) metrics and responsible investing. This was brought about by the markets becoming less volatile, and a significant rise in diversity concerns brought about by the Black Lives Matter campaign. In 2021 however, organizations had to go beyond DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) and surface-level sustainability. They also had to integrate ESG metrics to increase their chances of high revenue growth. Some of them even found ways to direct investments such as retirement portfolios towards sustainability.

Another feature that emerged in 2020 was stakeholder empathy. Studies reveal that 40% of US companies have integrated empathy with inclusivity to enhance the future resilience of their business. This is proof that employee health and wellbeing are being prioritized to energize workers, ultimately keeping them loyal to the company.

Employees Are Increasing Their Skill Sets

Organizations realized that to thrive during COVID, they had to transform their workforce so that they were fully equipped for the new world economy. This is why it is no surprise that in 20201, most businesses focused on enhancing their flexibility, expanding their learning systems & talent, with a few organizations prioritizing significant workforce transformation. HR professionals, however, highlight that their main challenge in achieving this goal was employee exhaustion.

Before COVID, organizations’ primary challenge when it came to successful transformation was the lack of the proper execution skill sets. However, during the pandemic, it became clear that the rapid deployment of resources and ability to adjust employee capacity was not only possible but a critical success factor. So, companies began looking at their employees and operations through a skills lens. This enabled them to create flexible business models that allowed them to react to the changing economic environment quickly. HR leaders have, however, discovered it’s relatively difficult to implement a skills-based talent model. They also have to choose between developing the skills in-house or bringing in skilled talent. The good news is that thanks to technological advancements, they can easily use AI technology and various skills databases to identify the right talent or pay for skills.

To get employees on board, organizations have to quantify their value. They also need to show that when the employees learn new skills, they’ll get tangible rewards, promotions, or recognition. This will ultimately help them proactively incentivize business transformation.

Organizations Are Harnessing the Power of Data 

During the pandemic, companies had to integrate human intuition with AI to gather operational insights. In 2021, however, most HR leaders were mostly focused on enhancing their analytics capabilities to improve their strategic workforce planning. This made it easy to get the right size of talent needed and to adapt them to the shape of work. Additionally, due to a high focus on DEI, the urgency to offer equal pay and prioritize health trends when redesigning the workforce has increased. This has led to 1 in every 3 companies prioritizing their employee’s mental health, a primary concern that was brought about by economic insecurity and prolonged remote working.

Even though organizations had DEI initiatives, few of them were fully accountable in the past. Currently, most companies are using quality, consistent and precise data to offer public reports on their initiatives. This is because investors are evaluating companies based on their DEI metrics, including attrition rates by demographic groups, pay and benefits, & representation, as well as their human capital management. Employees are also paying close attention to the inequalities in organizations and are unafraid to speak up.

It’s expected that companies will start offering inclusive benefits by leveraging AI to understand the different employee needs in the future. In addition, HR leaders will also use AI to reduce unconscious bias by using it to conduct demographic analysis to determine the benefits of hiring from segments such as minorities and older workers.

Employers Are Inspiring Workers Through Empathetic Experiences

COVID pushed organizations to start invigorating and inspiring employees to redesign the workplace experience. This is critical because flexible working has become the new normal, and most employees are working from home. Even organizations that are opposed to remote working have had to shift their perspective to avoid losing their appeal among talent. There’s just one challenge; companies are having a hard time creating flexibility for their entire workforce in a sustainable manner. They’re also facing challenges implementing a blended working model that enhances productivity for both the company and employees.

Digital health has taken the limelight, and telehealth has become a priority. In fact, over 55% of US companies are planning on making remote health more accessible to their employees. It’s clear that organizations will make digital care delivery an essential element of employee re-engagement programs that are meant to improve the wellbeing of the workforce. They are, however, likely to face challenges such as multiple virtual health options, overlapping services, and app fatigue.

Moving Forward: What Next?

Now that the economy is steadily stabilizing, organizations need to come up with a business continuity plan. Here’s how they can get started as well as practical tips on how to accelerate business growth.

Tips on Getting Started

  • Create and maintain a sustainability strategy: collect input from your employees on what they think sustainable business practices, responsible investment, and employees look like. Then, use this information to create a strategy and infuse it with ESG goals for maximum impact.
  • Streamline your organization’s skill information: find out the skills that are readily available across your organization and the ones you require. This will help you align the skills to the available jobs.
  •  Stay true to your DEI initiatives: find out where your organization lies on the diversity, equity, and inclusion scale, determine where you’d like to be, and create a strategy to help you get there. This includes improving organizational governance and changing unhealthy talent practices.
  • Prioritize your employee’s mental health & well-being: this is the time to go beyond using basic metrics and try to understand the challenges your employees are facing. This will help you significantly improve their experiences.
  • Create a sustainable, flexible working environment: COVID has proven that employees don’t have to be in the office for operations to continue. If you have already adopted a flexible working system,  create a strategy to make it sustainable.

How to Accelerate Business Growth

Once you’ve begun re-inventing your workplace experiences, here are effective tips on how to accelerate your organizational growth.

  •  Free up available resources by outsourcing non-core activities. This will allow your talent to focus on core tasks that are critical to your organizational growth.
  • Embed employee welfare protections in your operations by putting stopgap measures such as better benefits for parents and caregivers.
  • Prioritize HR transformation and determine how you can change your current models to break away from traditional models that are now ineffective.
  • Speed up your DEI progress by implementing effective employee listening techniques such as digital focus groups and engagement surveys. Don’t forget to audit your organizational compliance regarding the set DEI policies.

What Does 2022 Hold for the Corporate Environment?

2021 was the year that saw many organizations transition from normal operations to re-inventing their workplace. This is, however, a long-term process, and HR leaders will have to let go of the crisis mindset. And even though the pandemic came with intense workplace pressure, organizations now have the opportunity to define their workplace experiences. The economy is stabilizing, and with the right strategy, they’ll be able to fast-track their growth in a post-pandemic world.

As you financial advisors, the state of the world as it relates to the COVID-19 Pandemic absolutely plays into how we go about constructing our portfolios. Recall in April of 2020, the themes we discussed were the following: Inflation, high-quality companies, and irrevocable changes to our daily lives. Seemingly these thoughts about the future have hit the mark, although frankly we wish we were wrong on many fronts. But, life is full of curveballs, and it’s our job to stay on top of those for you to steer you clear of long-term threats and to capture the opportunities. Know we remain fully committed and welcome the challenge!