Companies Embrace Future of Work Trends Post-COVID
SAN ANTONIO — The pandemic may have been the catalyst for workplaces around the country to adapt and solve common issues experienced before COVID-19 forced companies to change their everyday operations.
Although the economy has largely recovered from COVID-19 following unprecedented legislative action, some companies aren’t in a hurry to return to their old ways. As some companies and businesses struggled to tread water, others overcame their difficulties through novel means and will likely keep some of their new methods in place as the pandemic subsides.
Industries and companies that facilitated the move to remote operations and kept workers at home typically experienced huge gains throughout the still-ongoing pandemic period, Simon Anderson, founder of Venture Foresight and international applied foresight consultant, told The Well News.
Netflix, Zoom, Peloton, and DoorDash are great examples of companies that found success in work-from-home environments, even though each of these companies experienced huge drops in their stock prices — which Anderson notes could possibly be due in part to volatile market conditions attributed to macroeconomic conditions.
“Pre-pandemic there was already a big push for employee flexibility,” Anderson said. “This could mean the option to choose where and even when employees did their work. The next big shift could be improved employee experience. This includes time and place flexibility, but also changes in benefits.”
For instance, while many companies already provide employees health care benefits, businesses could instead choose to help workers with student loans or child care expenses, he said. On-demand pay is another concept gaining traction with major companies like McDonald’s, Kroger, and Walmart — meaning that those businesses will let their workers access their pay as they earn it, often via debit card.
Whether more companies will look to keep workers at home post-COVID depends largely on the industry and their respective roles, Anderson told The Well News. While some employees who work in customer-based retail or manufacturing will need to be present for those jobs going forward, workers in other fields may resent having to go back to commuting to work each day when they’ve already demonstrated they can work productively from home.
“A good example of this shift in employee perspective is with the pushback Apple has received trying to get their employees back to their $5 billion ‘spaceship’ campus, which is arguably one of the coolest physical spaces in the world to work,” he said. “What does this mean for companies trying to get their workers back to their non-spaceship cubicles and office parks?
“Additionally, many roles once thought impossible to do remotely have proven to be quite possible away from the office and this makes it more difficult to convince workers that their jobs must be done in-person, on-site.”
One caveat to these changes is that many major companies are beginning to utilize bossware, or software that tracks and measures workers’ productivity in order to manage them remotely.
Further, Anderson said more companies may begin using this technology to monitor both remote and in-house workers to better inform decisions about where and when their employees are most productive.
Hybrid scheduling — where employees spend some days working from home and others in the office or workplace — is another arrangement that companies may decide is more suitable to their operations moving forward.
Moreover, hybrid work schedules in the future could entail employees that live in the same metropolitan area meeting at a co-working space a few times each quarter as savings generated from not having to own or lease office space could be used to finance employee get-togethers and events on a regular basis.
One counterpoint for companies to consider on this end, Anderson said, is that hiring fully remote workers doesn’t solely increase the pool of qualified applicants for employers to field — it could also increase the chances for employees to leave for other job opportunities since they are not tied to that employer’s location.
Airbnb stumbled upon a significant indicator in the demand for workplace flexibility when it “reluctantly” took its fully-remote modality a step further by allowing its employees to work from over 170 countries for up to 90 days in each one. This resulted in around 800,000 visits to its careers page shortly after the policy was announced.
“It also seems as though we had a collective mid-life crisis during the height of the pandemic,” he said. “So many people had a chance to take a step back and think about what they wanted from life and how that was influenced by their work.
“For many that could, they quit working at jobs they hated and started finding ways to do something they found more meaningful or a better fit for their lives, even if just incrementally at first. This was also a good illustration of how fast things can change. The rate at which many companies and industries moved to [remote work] would have seemed unthinkable in late 2019.”
Five Days No More
Similarly, widespread acceptance of a four-day work week might have been equally inconceivable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s another example of a concept that is gaining popularity as a new potential standard for the future of work. In tight labor markets, Anderson said offering a four-day work week could serve as a powerful recruiting and retention tool.
The Well News first reported on four-day work week trials in June 2021 when former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his cabinet approved new recommendations that allowed employees to work four days per week. Microsoft Japan adopted a four-day work week model in August of 2019 and reported a 40% increase in productivity thereafter, leading other companies in the nation to attempt the same thing.
Over 3,000 workers at 70 companies located in the United Kingdom recently began a six-month trial, based on the “100-80-100” model. Under this model, workers will receive 100% of their regular pay, and work 80% of their typical weekly hours while committing to generating 100% of their five-day productivity.
Joe O’Connor, chief executive officer of 4 Day Week Global, told The Well News that the pilot program was being instituted in partnership with the think tank and research organization Autonomy along with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.
“Really what we’re trying to achieve with these pilots is to demonstrate that they’re really positive outcomes and the case studies and the success stories where both the employer and employees saw this as a real win-win,” O’Connor said. “And so, we’re trying to demonstrate that that can be replicated on a much broader scale with lots of different companies in different industries all over the world.”
The model is also being tested by companies based in the United States and Canada, as well as in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, he said. While the final results of the program won’t be known until the six-month trial ends later this year, O’Connor said midpoint results from the first trials have been received with overwhelming positivity.
“We’re seeing that work satisfaction has increased, wellbeing has improved, stress and burnout levels have decreased, [and] people actually feel that even though they’re working for a shorter length of time they have a greater capacity to get their work done within the time available than they did when they were working on a five-day work week,” O’Connor told The Well News. “This is unsurprising to us — this was our expectation, and the research that we’re doing on these programs is independent of our organization.”
While employees may at first be hesitant to undertake the trials out of fear of intensification and faster work rates, O’Connor said fewer inefficient inputs have led to greater efficiency in workers’ outputs. In the modern era of digitalization, the four-day work week could be the key to doing away with outdated and unnecessary practices that shift focus away from high-value priority tasks.
Although having a perpetual three-day weekend might be highly coveted from an employee perspective, 4 Day Week Global has found greater demand for the model in sectors like tech, finance, information and communications professional services. For health care workers, consultants and retail industry professionals, it is difficult to reduce the number of hours worked without increasing employment costs through hiring more workers.
But most companies that try out the four-day work week model eventually commit to making it permanent, O’Connor said. Most of the companies that don’t end up instituting the model are ones that back out or postpone their involvement before the trials begin.
“Once companies actually start trials, the vast majority make it permanent and the vast majority can make it succeed,” O’Connor told The Well News. “And I think we have a lot of companies out there who are committed to doing this. So, our expectation is the vast majority of companies in our trials will become permanent four-day work week companies.”