How the pandemic is permanently changing the job market

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We are witnessing a revolution, and there may be no point of return. The genie came out of the bottle. I recently spoke with executives from dozens of companies, and they all have one thing in common: they all plan to convert up to two-thirds of their jobs to remote-only positions.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen up to 42% of the US workforce work from home full-time. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom said more than two-thirds of US economic activity – measured by gross domestic product and based on income – comes from the work that millions of Americans do from their kitchen tables , their basements and bedrooms.

Forty percent of job opportunities in the United States can be successfully completed from home. Social distancing has highlighted a new reality for many people in which working remotely is feasible.

Remote work has not always been as publicly supported as it is now. The drive to work from home was prompted by security concerns over Covid-19. Without this flexibility of employees and employers, the US economy would have collapsed and many more people would have died; However, the flexibility shown by workers in the transition to remote work illustrated new opportunities for business leaders.

Since March 2020, online meetings and conferences have grown exponentially – and why not? They are our only (safe) option. And they are here to stay.

A new study by Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT and five other economists points out that even when stay-at-home orders were relaxed, many workers voluntarily continued to work from home. Even when a COVID-19 vaccine finally comes out, I have a feeling businesses will be reluctant to return to dense offices. In other words, the way we used to work doesn’t work anymore!

Besides security, there are many reasons why companies, including mine, may be inclined to pursue remote work. One of the benefits of employing people from home is that companies can attract talent from around the world. Employers can focus on hiring the best employees, regardless of geographic boundaries. And with all the virtual work going on, we’re creating a new generation of workers who will have learned to easily adapt to working outside of an office.

Another benefit of working remotely is the inclusiveness it can promote. While employing people to work from home, companies are able to create inclusive environments for people like introverts who may prefer less social interaction or parents who value flexibility for childcare purposes. In addition, people with various disabilities can enjoy greater freedom to create their own work environment. The possibilities for improvement are endless because each employee can build their ideal and personalized work environment.

Although the culture of virtual work has many advantages, employers face challenges in adapting to this new climate.

Two of the biggest challenges employers face are ensuring that all employees have access to a quality internet connection and a work-from-home environment that is conducive to productivity.

Unexpected challenges in assessing the costs for employers to maintain their workspace are plaguing business leaders around the world. In the Netherlands, the National Institute for Information on Family Finances has calculated that employers would have to increase workers’ wages by €2 ($2.40) per day to cover the costs of electricity, water, coffee and toilet paper used by staff during boss time. Businesses can consider options such as refund policies for office equipment and wifi. But some companies are looking to cut the costs of working from home, arguing that employees are already benefiting from time and money saved on commuting.

The many challenges of adjusting to a largely remote economy are daunting for employers, but there are steps they can take to effectively manage their employees as people embrace virtual work. Mental health has been a big concern during the pandemic, and that concern is not expected to change. Some leaders are putting structures in place to offer professional mental health assistance online in addition to encouraging virtual meetings and happy hours with colleagues to encourage a supportive and engaging virtual work culture.

As leaders, it’s up to us to make sure people can work comfortably from home. Employees want to see that their leaders are willing to go the extra mile for them. Be flexible, innovative, aware and inclusive.

Be sure to have heart-to-heart discussions with everyone on your team to see how remote working will work best for them and what support they need, whether it’s a chair office, new lights, better computer cameras or anything else.

Finally, leaders must remember to learn how to engage online. I’ve spent the past few years studying meetings, online trainings, and webinar sessions to understand why most virtual gatherings bore sleeping groups. Teach yourself the skills of being a ranged-only leader and hit “reset” on yourself to start over in this new era. Set the bar for you and your team and embrace the new way of working. Above all, don’t look back, because that’s not where we’re headed.

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