COVID-19 has shifted the way many people in Squamish and around the world do their jobs and some of those changes — and challenges — will remain once the virus is no longer a threat, say two experts The Chief consulted.
Marianne Bulger, CEO and co-founder of the non-profit Prospect, which is a Canadian job hub for startup companies, echoes what tech leaders have been saying in Canada, which is that “we have been catapulted 10 years into the future in terms of what the future of work would look like.”
One of the biggest promises of this unprecedented time is the innovation that will come out of it as employers and employees adapt and consider what is working well and what isn’t, she said.
Remote work is likely here to stay, says Krysten Merriman, with Admin Slayer, a virtual assistant company.
The shift was already happening toward working from home, but the pandemic “has really been a tipping point and even if people do end up going back to their office for a day a week or something like that, the default going forward is going to be working remotely.”
Executives with tech giant Shopify announced in late May that post-pandemic their labour force will be made up entirely of remote workers.
Bulger said she hopes that post-pandemic, the agency, and the autonomy of workers become a priority.
“Not being forced to go through rush hour… just to sit at a desk all day and creating a space in which employees can design their lives is going to be really promising,” she said. “It gets me excited thinking about parental leave and the balance of work and life and how we can start to rethink those systems.”
She said that before COVID, a study showed 70% of Canadians didn’t like their job.
“I often wonder if they don’t like what they do or they don’t like who they are doing it with or they feel too controlled and that they aren’t really able to live their lives and perhaps this is going to push us into a new era of agency where we can start to work and play in the way we want to.”
Bulger said that what she is hearing from HR leaders across the country is that it is too soon to tell definitively what will happen, but many are starting to consider what a flexible work model can look like.
The traditional 9 to 5 work schedule doesn’t work well for those starting a family, for example, she said, but there may be more flexible options employers are more open to considering.
Before being forced to send workers home to wait out COVID-19, many employers feared a loss of productivity in work-at-home employees, but are seeing that workers can be as productive or even more so if they work from their homes, both Bulger and Merriman said.
While the benefits of remote work are obvious, there are still concerns about the model.
Merriman says that cybersecurity is already an issue some companies are being forced to deal with as their video conferencing is breached by an outside party, for example.
“If a lot more things are happening by email or instant message… then making sure that cybersecurity is tight is very important,” she added. Where previously workers were using company computers and a company network, many are now at home perhaps using their own laptop and home wifi.
“So, if they haven’t put a password on their home wifi then there are vulnerabilities there. There is more work to do there to make sure that working remotely is as secure as it would have been in the office.”
Bulger said, how workers can stay connected, collaborate and the speed of innovation is also a concern.
“We are seeing a slow down of innovation and collaboration in some respects so I don’t doubt that as a… country we can work remotely for many different positions, but we don’t have in place the systems to foster what you get from people sitting in a room together.”
With a mix and match workforce where some choose to come back to the office because it works better for them, and others stay home, how do you ensure the stay-at-home workers aren’t missing out on opportunities in the office — if half of the colleagues are there, Bulger added.
It remains to be seen if old biases toward work-from-home employees will continue once people can choose how to work.
“There’s very definitely concerns about that at the moment,” she said.
Most homes were not designed with employment spaces either, so that will have to be dealt with.
“It is an incredibly privileged experience to have a separate space in your home to sit and work,” Bulger said.
Youngtech workers, in particular, are likely in condos where they are working on their dining room table if they have one.
“In the short term it was OK, but in the long term?”
Physical realities of working on the couch are showing on workers’ bodies too, because they don’t have the ergonomic office setups at home, Bulger said.
There may be a shift in what benefits employers offer, if a flexible work model is adopted.
Instead of some of the perks employees are used to, such as a gym membership, a stipend to help set up a work from a home office may be available.
“I have actually heard of some companies sending people to your home to help you design and set up your home office for productivity, so lots of different things to consider,” she said.
Hiring is changing too, with more companies hiring online and remotely.
“I think at first there was a huge trust issue, not just in who you are hiring, but in your own gut instinct and so there’s actually been an increased demand for the human-centric side of hiring where people really need to see your human side to trust you, to hire you,” she said.
“Allowing people to be more than the stats on the paper and be more about the conversation you are having.”
Some hires are getting to talk to other people in the organization more often than they would have been afforded the opportunity to before with traditional hiring practices she said.
Video conferencing is evolving, Bulger said.
“What we are seeing in the market is that there is only an acceleration of video-conferencing technology being built today,” she said. “I think video conferencing is here to stay, but I do think that we will see drastic innovation in the experiencing of video conferencing.”
Bulger said that there is a bridge that needs to be crossed where we determine better when we need to see someone on the screen and when a phone call would do.
“For some reason, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet of finding that balance,” she said.
Having multiple video calls is far different than getting up from your desk and going to a different room for a meeting in person in the typical way we work, she said.
Further, she said that conferences out of town are likely not going to come back to the same extent as they used to be held.
“If anything, COVID has demonstrated the ability for people to do business from afar and find creative ways for people to connect with their clients and customers without needing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to travel across the country or the world to wear a lanyard and connect a bunch of swag,” she said.