The new normal: 3 trends that are changing how we work

Long-held perceptions of the 'traditional' workplace are shifting post-pandemic. Consider these three examples of the new reality of work
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A quick Google search of the term “new normal” will return countless results outlining how life has changed as a result of the pandemic. Spanning virtually every industry and touching on numerous facets of our daily life, it’s safe to say that things will never return to the way they were prior to March 2020.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, particularly when it comes to the changes driven by our new reality.

When you think about COVID-19’s corporate impact, the remote work shift is likely one of the first things that come to mind. According to a February report from Pew Research, 59 percent of U.S. workers who say their jobs can be done remotely are continuing to work from home even as offices have opened back up.

[Also read Hybrid work: 4 ways to strengthen teams and boost productivity. ]

This is far from the only workforce trend companies must contend with as they plan for the future, though – read on for three important additional considerations shaping how people are working now and in the future.

1. Company culture must align with personal values

Many companies have made great strides in the past two years to prioritize the health and well-being of their employees, their families, and the communities in which they operate. This has been heralded as a welcome change by workplace experts who have long championed that people are the greatest corporate asset. But as we settle into our new reality, companies will need to take their culture initiatives to the next level.

Employees now expect flexible schedules, physical and mental health assistance, and similar support services. Social justice causes are becoming increasingly important to millennials and Generation Z, and they want companies to take a stand on these issues. To distinguish themselves, organizations must create a compelling company culture that does more than pay lip service to the mission statement on its “About Us” page.

For example, prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that the office population is reflective of our diverse society and incorporates a broader worldview. Job candidates will also increasingly research corporate donations when considering job offers and reject organizations that may have aligned with a cause they don’t support.

Organizations must create a compelling company culture that does more than pay lip service to the mission statement on its 'About Us' page.

2. Increased pressure to embrace ESG

As employees place greater importance on working for an organization that aligns with their values, it follows that there will also be increased interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives.

Transitioning to net-zero emissions by mid-century, as outlined by both the UN and COP26, is part of this. But employees will also expect companies to demonstrate their sustainability focus in more tangible ways, such as partnering with transportation companies that use electric vehicles in place of the standard gas-guzzling SUV when arranging car travel.

Another consideration is changing the food provided in company kitchens or served at events to be more low-carbon – i.e., offering fish and vegan options at traditionally red meat-centric summer cookouts and other company outings.

3. Balancing productivity and security

Another trend that’s gaining traction is employees’ expectation of productivity anywhere. Powered by the remote work and hybrid models, people expect to be able to access all the files and systems required to do their jobs effectively regardless of their physical location. For example, through 2024 Gartner predicts remote employees will use at least four different device types to perform their business activities.

While there is much to be said about the productivity benefits of this approach, it can lead to security headaches for IT staff. Having more devices connected to the network and accessing corporate files increases the attack surface for hackers. In addition, if some or all of these devices are also being used to access personal accounts or non-work sanctioned sites, additional vulnerabilities can emerge.

To balance the two important concerns of employee productivity and corporate security, companies must first take a step back and assess the primary risks facing the organization. From there, they should evaluate any new technology that has been deployed to support the remote/hybrid shift and audit the security of these applications. Once they obtain this visibility, they can determine the best strategies and mitigations for addressing these threats while simultaneously balancing employee productivity.

We’re at a pivotal time in terms of how we choose to work and live, and what we want the intersection of these two worlds to look like. Rather than pitting employee vs. employer, many of the trends taking shape today stand to deliver significant benefits to individuals and companies alike. In our new reality, companies that can react nimbly to the factors outlined above will be most likely to attract and retain top talent.

Put another way, these organizations will be best primed to capitalize on their greatest asset: their people.

[ Don’t try to recreate what was normal before the pandemic. Learn from leading CIOs in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation. ]

Rupert Colbourne, Chief Technology Officer, Orbus Software