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A worker leaves his office building after a day's work in downtown Mexico City on July 3, 2020.

Fernando Llano/The Associated Press

To many of us, the last four months have felt like Groundhog Day as depicted in the classic film, in which a TV weatherman becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to endlessly repeat February 2. Now, we are finally seeing some big changes starting to happen: more businesses opening, September school plans being revealed, people out (cautiously) enjoying the weather.

The truth is that even if it has felt like we have been living the same day over and over since the sudden shutdown and work-from-home mandates in March, a lot has changed, is changing and will change before our very eyes.

In a recent guidebook, Faculty of Change (a consulting team of futurists, strategists, anthropologists and designers) and my future foHRward business partner Mark Edgar provided helpful insights for how we and our organizations should handle increasingly uncertain times. While some of these themes aren’t necessarily new, they will likely become more common and require more attention from decision-makers in the future.

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What has changed?

The end of WFH prejudice: Prior to the pandemic, many companies still prioritized face-to-face time over outcomes: while remote working has been an emerging trend for decades, many companies did not appreciate the value. Many are now realizing that people can be just as productive, if not more so, working from home. For long-term sustainability of this “new” way of working, we will need to adopt new norms based on empowerment and trust to respect boundaries and mitigate burnout.

The new CEO (Chief Empathy Officer): Empathy has been one of the top capabilities required of leaders through these challenging times. While we all attempt to juggle multiple commitments on the work and home fronts, in addition to our teams’ and our own physical and mental health struggles, leaders at all levels have had to adopt a renewed “human(e) leadership” style. This pandemic has forced empathetic leadership through collective hardship. To maintain the new “E” in CEO as we emerge from this crisis, leaders will need to look beyond profits and share price to the sentiments and experiences of their employees in order to measure the success of their companies.

What is changing?

Bio-status: As companies grapple with the appropriate health screenings required for employees to return to the physical workplace, a clean bill of health becomes the new passport. Per the guidebook, “Knowledge workers with the privilege of self-isolation will continue to earn a full income, while workers at the front lines will be pushed further into precarity. Those that can prove (or pay for) good health or immunity will be granted freedoms restricted to those that cannot, ultimately putting greater pressure on governments to safeguard and support precarious workers.” In order to mitigate the amplified disparities among knowledge and front-line workers, organizations will need to proactively protect essential staff through interventions like strict safety protocols and access to health-boosting services.

A digital-first employee experience: The disjointed digital employee experience of pre-pandemic times will no longer be tolerated, and companies will be forced to design and implement a consumer-grade digital-first experience to attract and keep the best talent. Effectively standing up an entirely digital employee experience should not mean moving analog processes online. Rather, it will require a deeper understanding of employees and their current and evolving needs to create a digital employee experience that truly supports the organization and its people.

What will change next?

Holistic Wellbeing: As we’ve been navigating through the phases of this crisis, we’ve seen organizations shifting focus among three interconnected pillars of wellbeing: from physical to mental and now to financial. It has become evident that, per the guidebook, “a healthy employee is a healthy human first”. Learnings through this crisis, and the availability of data that informs us and enables us to tailor to individual needs, will inform a necessary shift in our approach to wellbeing – from traditional one-size-fits-none medical benefits packages to much more holistic and individualized mental and physical health and wellbeing offerings.

Conscious Capitalism: In recent days, we have seen examples of employees “voting with their feet” in protest of their employers’ lack of alignment with their own personal values. Now more than ever, customers and employees are not only watching, but also evaluating how companies address the challenges we face as a society, from returning to work post-pandemic to racial tensions. How companies respond will have a tremendous impact on their ability to attract and retain talent into the future.

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work. She is also a co-founder of future foHRward, a Josh Bersin Academy Partner.

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