Ten (10) Post-Covid Trends for CEOs and Boards

Never in the history of mankind, has there been a crisis as global and long-lasting as the current one caused by the pandemic. The resulting transformational paradigm change, which is unfolding before our eyes, will cause our priorities as a nation (and across much of the globe) to change forever. There will be impacts to societal as well as business norms that will impact every aspect of our lives and our businesses over the coming years. We will look at our health, where we live, our finances, our jobs, our freedoms, role of our government, global climate change and much more quite differently. 

Our “Future of Work” Mastermind experts envisioned this future and discussed what trends CEOs and Boards need to prepare for, beyond their immediate concerns and issues. Below is a summary of the ten (10) key trends they highlighted. We will discuss each of these at future Mastermind Roundtables, and report on them in further detail in the coming weeks.  

         1. The Hybrid Workplace

All organizations, including those who have been reluctant in the past to embrace remote work, have had no choice but to experience WFH (Work From Home) to varying degrees. And now they have solid data on how they performed. C-suite executives are discovering the upsides of WFH, including lower office space and parking requirements, fewer safety issues, and increased productivity from the workers who have embraced working from home, to name a few. 

Having experienced the benefits of working from home, many employees will demand that in the future, at least part-time. They have also realized that they can be more productive without all the unnecessary interruptions that happen in an office environment” said Patricia Neuray of Tangelo Media, who works with organizations on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns and helps mission-driven businesses tell their story. These employees will likely lobby for a hybrid schedule that includes some presence at the office, if needed, and regularly scheduled days working from home. As much as people have missed their offices and co-workers, few have missed the time, expense and hassle of their daily commutes. As Susan Burnett, senior executive and CEO of “Designing Your Life,” pointed out during our discussion: "Younger people are spending more time in their own neighborhoods. They can’t imagine why they would commute again."

         2. New Safety Standards and Procedures

Hygiene and general cleanliness in the post-covid office will go far beyond a note posted in the breakroom asking employees to “help keep things clean.” After stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, reopening your offices and plants will likely involve a multi-stage process. Specific health & safety protocols will need to be formally decided on, put in place, and most importantly, enforced. Some are even predicting the demise of the “open office” concept and the return of cubicles as a way of ensuring social distancing and keeping employees safe. 

Expect to spend real time and money rethinking everything from how you set up your office space to how you keep it clean around the clock, as  employees move through, possibly during staggered working hours. You may even need to decide on restricting employees to certain areas based on their respective functions and needs. New procedures will be required for handling incoming mail, packages and visitors. The time to start imagining your new safety standards and procedures is right now.

        3. Changes in the Workforce

Expect more changes in your workforce than just having more employees working from home. Many industries will get more serious about automation and using other strategies to cut down on the number of permanent employees they need. One wildcard going forward will be the fate of the “gig economy.” 

Our experts were mixed in their opinions on this subject. While companies are likely to still want the advantages of hiring “gig workers,” the Covid-19 crisis has taken a toll on many of them who are now finding they don’t qualify for unemployment and other benefits that “real employees” have. This might lead to a widespread societal demand for more W2 jobs, with benefits and more job security, and fewer 1099 contractors. 

Since smaller companies won’t have as many resources, there is also the possibility that for the first time in many years, younger workers will be more interested in working for larger, more established companies instead of rolling the dice with newer, riskier ones. We might even see a renewed interest in union membership across a wide range of industries. Some experts envisioned a transformation of the gig economy to become more equitable and offer better job security and protection in times of crisis. 

        4. New Leadership Core Competencies 

The “new normal” isn’t out there somewhere on the horizon. We are all living it right now. The leaders who are successfully making an impact today, are flexing the kind of skills and management muscles that have atrophied in recent years. Mastermind member and HR executive, Mike Kohn, summed it up this way: “Empathy, flexibility and adaptability will be key sought-after traits. This situation has been a reminder of how important these forgotten aspects of leadership really are... and will be.”  The stereotypical “brusk, brash and successful” executive model will seem awfully out-of-place to employees who have just survived a pandemic. This crisis might succeed in making business more human, and a new set of leadership core competencies will need to be defined and tested. 

        5. The Salesforce: New Tactics and Territories

How has your sales team been doing during this crisis? Meeting with, and eventually closing on, sales prospects over a video chat requires a different approach and skillset than a face-to-face sales meeting. You might find new sales stars emerging while formerly productive team members struggle to make their numbers. How will this affect your post-covid sales strategies and goals? You will have to rethink the necessity of those expensive face-to-face sales calls as well as the whole concept of “sales territories.” Data-driven and better targeted sales strategies will come to the forefront for most sales teams, and prove to be critically important in reaching your customers and closing deals. 

        6. The Supply Chain: Moving from Global to Local?

The crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities of our globally integrated supply chain. Public health experts are already warning that we should expect new local and regional outbreaks along with intermittent shut-downs for months and possibly years to come. This has companies exploring a return to localized manufacturing. However, let’s not be quick to jump to conclusions as it may not always lead to the long-promised “return of manufacturing jobs” to developed countries such as the US. 

Successful companies will reimagine their manufacturing and assembly processes with a risk management focus, which may mean redundant capabilities in carefully selected locations in different parts of the world. They will also increase automation with skilled human supervision to the full extent possible, as opposed to the lowest cost options which have dominated the last few decades. Workforce training to re-introduce forgotten skills or develop new ones will be important. Even immigration laws may be revisited in developed countries like the US to ensure sufficient supply of the skills that will be required in this new normal.

        7. Business Travel: To Do or Not to Do

Changes in business travel won’t be limited to your sales teams. It’s estimated that pre-crisis, about half of all “business travel” involved trips by executives to various facilities that a company already owned. C-suite executives are unlikely to see much value in going back to the old way of doing things in person, if video calls using Zoom or other readily available technologies have proven to accomplish at least 80% of the objectives without the added time, expense and hassle of “flying out for a meeting.” Cost savings will also result from eliminating or reducing related processes of making travel arrangements, negotiating rates for flights and lodging, travel insurance, and reimbursement of travel expenses. In the longer-term, advancements in “Telepresence” technology, which currently only refers to a higher quality and more reliable version of videoconferencing, may follow with innovations around seamless integration of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) into current platforms.

        8. Around the Clock Operations

Having been thrust into a completely new reality and having to deal with a lot of uncertainty, the silver lining of this pandemic is that more companies and their leaders are likely to experiment. CEOs and Boards will feel much more comfortable with trying new ideas and strategies that have been talked about for years but never implemented on a large scale. Working from home is only  one of those concepts. For employees who will soon need to report to their offices and plants, companies are already planning less centralized operations with a distributed workforce, working staggered shifts and 24/7 operations. These and similar strategies will be more broadly implemented, resulting in new operational models for businesses that used to operate 8 to 5, and more challenging operational requirements, even for those that were used to extended shifts seven days a week.

        9. Success in the War for Talent

Mike Kohn summed up the success factors in post-covid recruiting and hiring: “Your employer value proposition for the rest of 2020 and into 2021 is your response to the current crisis.” Your future hires will want to know about how you handled every aspect of this crisis, especially how you treated your employees. 

Many of your post-covid hires will have recent, and possibly not so good, memories of how their previous employer treated them when difficult decisions had to be made. Mike’s earlier comment about the increasing value of leadership empathy and adaptability goes to this point as well. Staying connected and understanding your employee’s experience during this period, are critical to not only addressing your current employees needs today, but also answering your future hires’ questions. This could be a catalyst for long-lasting positive change, if leaders can see past the current fears, immediate concerns and uncertainty, and rise to the occasion. 

        10. The New World of Compensation and Benefits

Moving forward, candidates will most certainly have different expectations and priorities than they did pre-covid. Hiring and HR Managers need to be prepared to answer questions about how the company treated their employees during the crisis. Expect longer conversations about other elements of compensation than their regular take-home cash. 

How will you address questions about compensation during periods of business disruption, non-cash compensation for extraordinary work-related expenses, and assistance with employees’ personal finances in times of need. Benefits packages will have to be overhauled to make sense against the backdrop of the crisis, with childcare and family care taking center stage. Employee training and coaching to better deal with challenging circumstances beyond employee’s control will be needed, as well as innovative solutions such as long-term low interest rate loans for employee assistance.

In short, 2020 will be the year your company shows its true colors, one way or another. Companies who survive and thrive in the new normal have leaders who can deal with the current issues, while proactively setting their sights on longer-term trends and strategizing on how they will respond to significant uncertainty and change in the years ahead.

Stay tuned! Future Mastermind Roundtables will address the trends discussed here, and much more. If you are an HR, workplace culture, or D&I professional and would like to join the “Future of Work” Mastermind Community, please go to https://www.ouroffice.io/future-of-work/