4-minute read

The impact of the pandemic on businesses has been a newsworthy item for almost a decade. What will its legacy be for Talent Leaders? Here are five big takeaways:

#1 A flexible workforce becomes business-as-usual

Employing a full-time workforce was the assumed behavior of companies in the 20th century. At the beginning of the 21st century, we’ve seen the resilience of full-time employment contracts placed under the spotlight. Almost no job is ‘for life’ anymore, and the deal between employers and workers has broken.

Stated employment rates by governments consistently underplay the proportion of individuals who run their own private business purely to be a contractor, or people employed by intermediaries acting in the role of an Employer-of-Record. Ask employers themselves and they will commonly state that something in excess of 25% of their work is being performed by contingent labor, outsourcing providers and contractors. For larger companies in the US, the figure steps up closer to 40%.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 there were nearly 6 million contingent workers, or workers who did not expect their jobs to last, represented 3.8 percent of U.S. employment. 

It comes down to money. Full-time workers are expensive, and hidden within every contract are downstream ‘costs of change’ whenever resourcing demands fluctuate causing demands for new competencies. So-called ‘gig workers’ offer employers greater workforce management flexibility married with lower operating costs and risks. Faced with markets in a constant state of flux, organizations can ill afford to restrict their adaptability through inflexible workforce contract structures.

32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers

#2 Acceptance of the viability of remote working

Remote working went main-stream in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. Business bosses found, to their general surprise, that the drop in productivity and operational challenges (such as data security, IT systems, etc.) weren’t as scary as they’d first thought. ‘Necessity’ overcame any impracticalities.

Gartner analysis shows that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 30% pre-pandemic. Additionally, 74% of CFOs intend to increase remote work at their organization after the outbreak.

If you’ve been in the workplace for any number of years, you’ll likely have experienced a workplace where no one wants to be the first to go home or the last to arrive. One of the more positive impacts of the remote working trend has been an erosion of old fashioned long working hours culture. It’s no longer possible for workers to be the last man in the office, even were they to want to.

Data published by Harvard Business Review reveals that 62% of high-earning individuals in the US work more than 50 hours a week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours a week.

Whatever the motive for working long-hours, there’s strong evidence to suggest that long working hours are bad for your health.

A 2019 study from France has found that regularly working long days of ten hours or more increases our risk of having a stroke. Other research has found that employees who work long work hours are likely to have poorer mental health and lower-quality sleep. 

While it might make you feel more positive and less guilty when your boss asks what you’re doing outside of work hours, evidence suggests that working long hours does nothing to boost productivity.

A Stanford University study published in March 2020 found that productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week.

#3 Humanization (and dehumanization) of workers

Some would say, the increased use of online conference calls has made visible the home life challenges of individuals and this has caused some employees to form more connected relationships, while others moved into roles that became increasingly task oriented and more isolated. It’s not easy to maintain a positively energized and engaged office culture when there’s no office. Understanding how to engage task workers in the team culture and creating a culture of inclusiveness has become more important in a virtual working world.

#4 The Re-Evaluation of Productivity for Knowledge Workers and the Emergence of Social Operating Systems

For businesses accustomed to a tight command and control structure—something that used to be reenforced by supervisors monitoring staff from the corner of the office where they worked—remote working has made productivity management more difficult.

Already, some organizations have rolled-out Machiavellian tracking systems to monitor remote workers, presumably because they don’t trust their workers to deliver on their work hours promises. I have no doubt, some bosses will claim it’s about nurturing the most productivity from workers by guiding them on how to work smarter. Personally, I don’t buy that.

Organizations are increasing their passive tracking of employees as their workforce has become remote. An April Gartner survey suggested 16% of organizations are already passively tracking employees via methods like virtual clocking in and out, tracking computer usage and monitoring emails or internal communications/chat, with passive tracking experiencing double-digit growth.


#5 Digital Collaboration – An End to ‘Water-Cooler Moments’ and the Birth of Ideation Platforms

One of the reasons why some bosses prefer their team to be in the office lies in the human interactivity made possible by having people in the same building. The impromptu meeting, the water cooler moment; these are things that are difficult to replicate in a digital collaborative platform. We all need REASONS to book a meeting. ‘Just having a chat and see what comes out of it’ isn’t a reason.

Reasons for engagement, problem solving and ‘ideas’ in general are important to the success of any enterprise. This is causing technologists to evolve new ways of communicating in a digital context—not attempting to replicate age old office contact behaviors, but to curate a ‘something new’ for the new era of digital collaboration. Ideation platforms are an example of this, providing technology ecosystems to motivate, nurture and support the sourcing and execution of ideas.