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How Covid-19 Exposed 3 Big Flaws in the Way We Work

This article originally appeared in INC by Marcel Schwantes

Employers are realizing, more than previously, that caring for employees isn’t just good for people. It’s also good for business.

The coronavirus pandemic has shined a light onto societal and economic systems across the world, exposing all kinds of flaws in the way we work – especially around remote work, the treatment of essential workers, and workers’ rights.

Before all of this, it was common to believe physical company headquarters needed to exist, employees couldn’t be as productive working from home, having in-person meetings was essential, and being vulnerable amongst coworkers was taboo. Now, that’s all been flipped on its head.

I recently spoke with three leaders to explore these fallacies. Here’s what they revealed.

Flaw #1: Upskilling was a possibility, not a priority.

Sean Chou, CEO of cloud-based enterprise software company Catalytic, thinks COVID-19 exposed our short-sightedness when it comes to prioritizing employee upskilling. “COVID disrupted every aspect of how we work,” said Chou. “As a result, we’re seeing many positions evolve and employees being thrust into new roles that require a greater level of autonomy and technical proficiency. And that highlights where many of us went wrong.”

“We put our digitization efforts into the hands of IT and consultants, rather than investing in upskilling employees,” said Chou. “The pandemic heightened customer expectations, and front line employees were closest to the changing requirements. To adapt, they were often forced to remotely uplevel their skills faster than ever before.”

Chou notes one positive of all this is we no longer view upskilling as a nice perk, but as a necessity. “By actively investing in these programs, we’re making a great impact on our employees’ professional development, boosting morale and improving retention.”

Flaw #2: Caring wasn’t at the core.

Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer and chief science officer of employee experience software company Limeade, believes there needs to be a radical rethinking of work. “In the past, we’ve seen traditional HR practices largely treated as transactional,” said Hamill. “Now, employers are realizing, more than previously, that caring for employees is not just good for people, but good for business – and care has the power to be transformational.”

In fact, research from Limeade’s latest study found that one in three employees have left a job because they didn’t feel their employer cared about them as a person.

Hamill states organizations have a responsibility to change for the better post-lockdown. “This time has revealed a great deal more openness, understanding and vulnerability and it’s forced us to be more intentional about creating human connections.”

She goes on to note that “leaders have an opportunity to help at a human level. It’s crucial we apply learnings from this time and recommit to well-being, inclusion, and culture.”

Flaw #3: Mandatory office space and hour-long commutes.  

Christian Lanng, CEO of Tradeshift, a cloud-based business network for supply chain purchasing, believes we should revisit the idea of mandatory offices and our lack of work/life balance. “Anyone who’s spent 10 hours a day on Zoom for the past five months will tell you they miss the spark and energy you get from human contact. Many will also tell you they don’t miss the stress of an hour-long commute each morning and rushing home to pick the kids up each evening,” said Lanng.

That lack of balance is one of the biggest flaws, according to Lanng. “We were pretty unanimous that offices weren’t obsolete in our organization, but they’d instead become optional. That led us to ask what to do with the space we already have. Now we’re looking at the idea of more, smaller offices. Collaborative spaces closer to where our employees actually live.”

Leading a remote workforce requires you to lean in with more empathy than you might in a normal office environment, Lanng notes. We’re breaking barriers that we normally don’t. Before, we might’ve asked a colleague about their kids, but suddenly every interaction we have, we’re invited into their homes. I’m also acutely aware of the mental burnout that can occur when you work from home.  As a leader, I’ve found myself having to tell others to take breaks.”

Our ability to adapt to change and work through challenges is what inspires innovation and allows us to improve upon the way things have always been done. Together, let’s ensure a silver lining of COVID-19 is a new definition in the way we work and care for one another.