By Jan A. Sikorsky, Ph.D.
For the better part of the last three decades, researchers have been studying workplace requirements and evolving their views on what’s needed to be successful. Skills like time management, critical thinking, and good communication practices have long been listed as necessary for job applicants (workforce readiness)—but 2020 has required a whole new set of skills as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the United States, before the coronavirus news, 30% of the total workforce was estimated to be working from home at least part-time. Recent estimates have this number growing as high as 48% post-COVID, for various reasons. Many major companies have announced employee-friendly policies that include extended work-from-home arrangements through the end of 2021 (or permanently). Some of the same skills that make people successful in the office also help them succeed in a remote work environment. In addition to the skills listed previously, being tech-savvy and having reliable equipment help with staying connected, self-management is important to find and maintain work-life balance, as is the support from companies encouraging boundaries to be drawn and set work hours to be observed.
COVID-19 isn’t going to push everyone to a remote work arrangement, but being in the office will likely look very different and may even become a status symbol in the post-pandemic era. Donning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to get a cup of coffee from the breakroom or having your temperature taken to enter the office building will likely become the new norm. Many companies have already begun to adapt their workforce through reskilling/upskilling (professional development). Here are some of the fascinating ways changing career fields are adapting to the post-pandemic world.
When faced with the reality that social distancing would impact all parts of the investigative and legal process, leaders in the legal community and U.S. justice system—one of the country’s oldest and most respected career fields—needed to think like supply-chain experts. How could they enhance post-COVID productivity? Ranging from splitting into A- and B-shift investigative teams at a forensic laboratory, having experts deliver depositions and testimonies on cases remotely, and employing mobile notaries in PPE to have legal documents signed via house calls, the days of the traditional law office and wood-paneled courtroom may be a thing of the past.
Another area that has rapidly advanced due to COVID-19 is the practice of medicine. In addition to society now being conditioned to use protective gear and social distancing practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease, physicians have grown more efficient by hosting routine check-ups and consultations remotely. Telemedicine is hardly new, and while the long-term rate of adoption is still unknown, in the weeks following the initial COVID shutdown, telehealth visits spiked. As there continues to be little to no decrease in service, patients will likely see that lengthy stays in waiting rooms and the potential to be exposed to other diseases aren’t worth sitting face-to-face with a healthcare provider when they can achieve their desired results by Zooming in from the comfort of their homes.
As was mentioned in the context of the legal community above, how we purchase and consume goods as well as supply-chain management could look drastically different post-COVID. One could make a case that the ability to secure goods and services is one of the most important current national security concerns. While running out of toilet paper may seem behind us, the potential to run out of crucial items remains very real. Treating cost as the driving factor for where products are manufactured has now given way to safety, security, and reliability dictating where businesses will establish supply chains. Additionally, international travel will be an area of great debate over the coming months and years. Given the potential for the global spread of communicable diseases, mandatory contact tracing and travel restrictions will likely be normal topics of conversation as the U.S. looks to insulate itself from future outbreaks.
Supporting local businesses will be critical to get the U.S. economy back on track and increase job opportunities for those displaced by the COVID-19 shutdown. Whether a restaurant that’s now offering food delivery or meal kits to cook at home or a local hardware store that’s now offering same-day delivery in the local community, small businesses have been forced to innovate. This has required individuals to be creative, use design thinking to define a problem, and create user-centered solutions that provide real value for the post-pandemic customer. If it hasn’t already, this user-centered approach will revolutionize how businesses approach the post-COVID era. Outside of how they view customer needs, businesses need to support themselves by establishing enterprise-wide talent pipelines and talent-development plans. These professional development approaches have become more important to create a competitive edge and retain talent when a larger portion of jobs are no longer tied to a physical location.
While it’s too soon to know for sure what the world will look like completely post-COVID, the rapid adoption of services that have kept us connected (professionally or personally) during this time is lasting. Usually, when a company’s brand starts being used as a verb (ex: Google), you know a product/service is going to stick around (Zoom). As we continue to see improvements in the medical community for overcoming the virus (decrease in transmission rates, more effective treatments, increased probability of a vaccine), it will be interesting to see what other industry changes transition from temporary solutions to become new words in the 2021 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.