The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the workplace. Even as a vaccine becomes available, a return to “normal” will not take us back to what life was like prior to COVID-19. Instead, 2021 will be marked by a series of “new nows” that society will navigate as populations are inoculated, vaccines prove their efficacy, and the virus mutates. Employers will need to remain agile this year as they adapt to changing conditions and expectations of both employees and customers. The implications of all this change are as varied as they are numerous. However, employers must focus on just four:
1. Communication Tools will become a Necessity
For years, the importance of effective communication with employees has been self-evident. But despite its obvious value, the job of quantifying the ROI of improved communication has remained elusive. As a result, large employers have struggled to justify the expense of modern employee mobility tools like WorkJam and Shyft. The reality today is very different. Instant, two-way communication between employers and their employees has proven critical to organizations as they continue to adjust to the changes wrought by the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders, reduction of workplace capacity and ever-changing, local restrictions on what business and individuals are allowed to do have underscored the importance of employers being able to communicate with their workers – whether at work or at home. This communication must be bi-directional. Employees who have concerns and questions about work need a method to raise them to their employer wherever they are. This year will bring a massive increase in the number of organizations going live on these mobile communication platforms.
2. Health & Safety Processes will Become Permanent
Workplace health and safety protocols that were implemented under COVID will largely stay in place long after a vaccine is widely available. After all, ten months of living with the coronavirus has had a long-lasting impact on our psyche and personal habits. One can only imagine how engrained these habits will be after another six to twelve. Furthermore, not everyone will choose to be vaccinated, vaccines will not be effective on everybody, and it is possible that future variants of the virus will be less affected by available vaccines. Therefore, handwashing, social distancing, and mask-wearing will continue for well over a year. Employers will need to continue the rigorous cleaning and sanitation procedures implemented during the pandemic – all of which means continued training and communication for staff.
3. Cost-Savings will be a Top Priority
For employers, health and safety protocols are expensive, contributing to an organization’s COVID overhead. Beyond the cost of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, handwashing, social distancing, and other sanitation procedures increase labor costs and decrease employee productivity. Employers will need to find ways to reduce costs and increase productivity while maintaining the health and safety of their workforces. Some efficiency can come from redesigning and streamlining procedures that were hastily implemented during the pandemic. More improvements can be realized by leveraging technology to unburden managers and employees. For example, self-scheduling and task management saves time and increases job satisfaction for hourly workers. The greatest and longest-lasting change will come from the adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics.
4. Machine Learning and AI will Go Mainstream
Before the pandemic, artificial intelligence and robotics was reserved for very large enterprises and had growing, but limited, real-world use. In the year or two leading up to the pandemic, commercial software applications that use AI and machine learning to automate manager and employee decision-making began to appear on the market but had not been widely adopted. Most organizations that I spoke with acknowledged the potential benefit from AI and advanced automation but did not intend to adopt it for three to five years. The pandemic and its related costs are accelerating corporate timelines and those organizations looking to not only recover but thrive in 2021 and beyond will begin using advanced automation in ways that seemed like science fiction before COVID-19.
In summary, our world and our workplace will continue to be reshaped by the coronavirus. Even as vaccines become more widely available, employers will need to stay nimble to respond to the shifting circumstances of the new now, and technologies that enable communication, reduce costs, and automate or improve decision-making will be a key enabler of workplace agility and long-term organizational success.
If you would like to learn about these predictions in more detail, or better understand their implications for your organization, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org