New and Old Normals: Finding a Common-Sense Balance for Post-Pandemic Operations

We didn’t know it at the time, but March 2020 was a tipping point in the history of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit, and public health mandates and social distancing requirements forced many offices to shut down and switch to remote work. Though this wasn’t the first time people had worked from home, never had so many people collaborated from outside the office before. More than a year later, things are starting to return to normal — but many workplaces remain in a state of flux.

Some people have returned to the office to find that there are fewer desks and collaboration happens on digital meeting platforms rather than in person. Other people are still working from home while their employers determine when it will be safe to come back to the office. There’s also a significant percentage of the labor force that will never return to the office; after all, 2020 proved that remote workers could in many cases be just as productive as in-office workers.

It remains to be seen what the new normal will look like. However, one thing is certain: The status quo has changed. That news will bring cheers from some and skepticism or concern from others. Regardless, a future that includes far more remote work will require every employee, manager, and company to adapt. That’s the only way we can achieve a common-sense balance between how we worked before the pandemic and how we work after.

A New Wrench in an Old Machine

Technology makes remote work possible. As more people work outside the office, more daily operations will happen through digital channels rather than face-to-face interactions. But building the robust tech infrastructure that large-scale, long-term remote work requires won’t be easy.

The technology procurement process can drag on for months or years. Companies need to vet tech options carefully and shouldn’t race through the selection process. But they also need to implement solutions sooner rather than later to meet the demands of this transformative moment.

Picking the right tech solution quickly is even harder now that cybersecurity in IT is such a major issue. Companies need to vet the cyber-risk created by any technology they’re considering, but time and budget constraints might make it difficult to invest in ironclad solutions.

In these and dozens of other ways, companies will need to find the nexus between cost, timeline, security, and features. The right technology makes new ways of working both possible and practical — but the wrong technology can do the opposite. Which tech tools companies choose (and when they implement them) will impact their operations for years to come.

The Sweet Spot Between Talent and Tech

HR departments in particular exemplify how people and technology are working together to adapt to post-pandemic conditions. Today, many companies are actively recruiting and hiring in new, nontraditional ways.

Video interviews on digital meeting platforms are in some cases replacing in-person interviews. They allow companies to quickly, easily, and affordably connect with candidates anywhere in the world.

Scheduling software is also having a big impacton HR, helping people connect easily whether they’re sitting at adjacent desks or in different countries. That same software can also help people reserve desks or conference rooms in our new reduced-capacity offices.

The pandemic has changed the way HR professionals use preemployment assessments, too. Online testing makes it easier to assess far-flung candidates and allows for a more extensive and customized testing process than is possible on paper. Like video interviews and automated scheduling, online testing tools became popular because of the pandemic and are likely to become a permanent fixture of the hiring process moving forward.

Post-Pandemic Lessons for HR

Even once the pandemic is “over,” the lessons from this time will inform HR operations for years to come. Those lessons include:

Don’t underestimate the power of flexibility. Some companies made their entire workforces remote during the pandemic, yet productivity remained high. Businesses are more flexible than they think. It’s time to redefine what is and isn’t possible.
Look forward, not backward. Companies need to be prepared for anything — not just the next pandemic. It would be shortsighted to prepare for only the most recent disruption. Instead, HR should help teams and companies become resilient to anything.
Make operations remote-friendly. This isn’t the end of the office, but it is the rise of remote work. From this point on, every component of operations, from hiring and beyond, needs to be accessible to remote workers. Companies should be open to experimentation and pilot testing to fully assess return on investment and contributions to morale and engagement.

The past year might prove to have a silver lining: introducing fresh ideas and overdue innovations to the workplace. The future of work combines what worked before the pandemic with what got us through it — and that future starts now.

Jim Higgins is a director of talent assessment at Biddle Consulting Group, Inc.

Get the top recruiting news and insights delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for the Recruiter Today newsletter.