It’s the topic that dominates headlines universally: COVID-19. Since 2002, the world has coped with numerous outbreaks of infectious diseases from SARS to Ebola. However, the novel coronavirus has completely upended normality, claiming lives in more ways than one. Beyond the infected and death toll, the stock market, small businesses and the job market have all been hammered by the virus. We’ve seen mass layoffs and furloughs, starting in the tourism and travel industry and spiraling out to all industries.
We’re still trying to decipher how to work through and during this crisis. Managers and business leaders must reconfigure and devise new ways to keep their teams together and productive to brace for the new normal. No one knows just how long we’ll be facing this crisis, or who we will be afterwards, but here I'll explore a few ways the job market can pull through and learn from our latest challenge.
Over the last decade, remote working has increased in popularity with more companies offering employees the flexible option even some of the time. While it’s become a necessity in these times for many businesses who have the capability, remote working has always been a boon to office workers. More than 4.3 million Americans worked from home in 2018, an increase of over 115% when compared to just a decade before according to research by GWA and State of Telecommuting.
Research also found that employees who work remotely at least once a month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive. Companies that offer remote work record lower numbers of employee turnover, with them losing 9% of employees vs non-remote work employers losing 12% in a year. The study also found that 76% of workers would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they offered flexible work hours.
So with COVID-19 forcing many to work from home for the foreseeable future, this is both a wonderful and challenging opportunity for companies to see the potential benefits of allowing their labor force to work remotely. For the 44% of employers that don’t allow remote working, with the global virus forcing this action now will be the time to review both the way they manage their staff and the tools they choose to work with in order to gain maximum productivity.
Remote Worker Management
Managing a remote workforce is considerably different than one that works in an office daily, there are key differences to the way a person needs to be treated and managed in order to get the most out of them.
In times of uncertainty, managers need to be particularly focused on maintaining and meeting the individual needs of a worker, especially when maybe a worker has not worked remotely before until now. Some workers love the liberalizing feeling that working remotely provides, whereas others can feel cut off and isolated away from their employer. People rely on routine and when it is taken away from them, it can affect their productivity, even their mental health. It’s important that management brings a strong sense of leadership, with accountability and a new routine for a person to adhere too.
The biggest lesson that companies will need to learn during these times, above all other things, is a sense of trust and belief in their talent. It’s natural to sometimes believe that when people are allowed to work outside of a place of work, such as their home, that they will be distracted and tempted to not be as productive. The truth is that the complete opposite happens with remote workers reported to be 65% more productive.
Provide the Necessary Infrastructure
Workers need the right tools to be able to communicate with management and each other, such as video conferencing like Zoom or chat facilities within Slack. They also need the latest platforms to allow them to reach customers like SalesForce and VERB.tech. These platforms can help workers close sales as effectively as they would if they were doing in-person meetings with their clients.
Beyond employers, governments should recognize the internet infrastructure restrictions that an issue like COVID-19 imposes. Now is the time to invest in the necessary internet fiber and network expansion that allows workers to be as productive at home as they would be sitting at their office desk. As of last year, 24 million rural Americans were still waiting on the infrastructure for broadband connectivity despite programs like the USDA’s ReConnect Program and Google Fiber pushing into underserved areas. Now more than ever, the government needs to commit to and provide the funding needed to create a fully connected nation that can cope with this crisis and be more effective in the future.
Corporate Responsibility towards Gig Workers
The loophole that companies like UBER and Grubhub have played in their favor to avoid the cost of medical insurance, sick pay and other benefits for their employees can no longer be ignored. The future of work is focused heavily on the gig economy and the workers who power it. These people cannot continue to be treated as “independent contract workers” when they’re integral to the function of these companies. The future of work can not be built on such shaky ground that there is little to no support for these integral workers during this crisis. If there is one thing positive that comes from COVID-19, it’s that companies that rely on such a workforce be forced to take on a level of corporate social responsibility for those employees.
Strong Leadership Across the Board
The way we work has changed drastically overnight to cater to the global pandemic COVID-19, but this is not a temporary change. For starters, we’re unsure how long we’ll have to keep up with these changes as the disease shows no signs of slowing down. However as we learn more about the virus, we should adapt to and embrace the chance to shift to a more “future-ready” workforce. Corporate, social and governmental leaders must take responsibility to embrace the “trend” of flexibility. It’s unfortunate that it takes a moment of crisis to force nearly half the companies in the market to move towards this trend, however it should be for the long term benefit of us all.
Companies need to be responsible for the labor force they employ, and no worker should be forced to work in conditions that put their well-being, or their customers, at risk. Governments need to enforce this corporate social responsibility by creating safety nets and legislation that protects workers in times of crisis.
Truly, we need strong leadership across all sectors to see our way out of this crisis. The physical impact of the crisis is compounded by social and mainstream media, leading to confusion and mass panic in the population. Through strong corporate and legislative leadership, we’ll be able to navigate our way through the challenges we’re currently facing and offer a sense of normalcy and routine during this time of drastic change.
I’m an optimist so I always try to see the positives in a negative situation. We should use the changes that are being forced on us by COVID-19 to come out stronger and more accomplished on the other side. My hope is that the cracks that have been exposed in our systems are repaired, creating a more fair labor force that’s more responsive and responsible to all workers. As a nation and a labor force, there are some things we deserve that we must now demand.
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