Mar 31, 2021 - Economy

What's next at work after the coronavirus pandemic

Illustration of a briefcase with a red line graph coming out of it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

We've recapped how the pandemic upended the working world, but what's coming next?

The big picture: As vaccinations send people back to work and the world comes out of pandemic hibernation, these are the biggest trends to watch for in the workplace this year, according to experts.

Most workers who have been telecommuting will continue to work from home at least one day a week.

  • 69% of employers expect at least half of their employees to work remotely some of the time even after a full vaccination program is in place, according to new research from Gartner.
  • "People are going to be demanding the option to work from home," says Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution's Economic Studies program. And employers who don't offer it may have a hard time recruiting.
  • Firms are already hiring C-suite and director-level people just to oversee telework, and they'll continue to do so.

We'll see a spike in turnover when the pandemic is behind us.

  • Employees have been reluctant to switch employers during the pandemic," says Brian Kropp, head of Gartner's human resources practice. "They were concerned about being the last person hired if the company started to struggle. Many employees were also hesitant to change employers over fear of joining an all-virtual team."
  • But now we're almost out of the woods, and "given the pent-up turnover demand and the improving economy, employers should expect to see an increase in turnover," Kropp says.

Offices will change — and shrink.

  • Several companies, such as Target, Nordstrom and Salesforce, are giving up a share of office space to account for increased telework.
  • And even if we do go back, shared snack areas, office happy hours and company gyms won't be up and running for a long time.

We'll have shorter and fewer meetings.

  • Pandemic-era telework has resulted in a great deal of digital burnout, with people around the world spending 148% more time in meetings in February 2021 than in February 2020, per an analysis of aggregate Microsoft Teams data.
  • Look for companies to learn from this burnout and cut down on the number and length of meetings.

Reskilling is the next big frontier of corporate social responsibility.

  • 17 million U.S. workers will need to find new occupations as a result of job displacement during the pandemic, per McKinsey. Teaching these people the skills they need to get new jobs is becoming an essential part of the recovery — and a hot corporate social responsibility initiative for some of America's biggest companies.
  • Amazon announced an effort to provide free cloud computing skills to 29 million people by 2025. Microsoft and LinkedIn have provided digital skills training to 30 million people throughout the pandemic.

The return to work will be gendered.

  • Surveys at firms across the country show that men are likely to return to offices sooner and for more days than women, says Kropp.
  • That could worsen the gender wage gap because "64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home," he says.

The bottom line: The pandemic has been an accelerant for every work trend — good and bad.

  • And while companies should embrace the parts of telecommuting that make work more inclusive for workers with special circumstances, such as disabilities or child care, they should also be aware of the inequities in pay or workplace culture that remote work exacerbates.

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