December is the time of year that blogs, like this one, look back at the year gone-by and wax philosophic about what we hope for the year ahead.
I think we can all agree that we hope the year ahead is a big improvement over the one we’re in.
But even as COVID upended a lot of good things, it also managed to dislodge a few stubborn workplace issues that deserve to be jettisoned for good.
What did 2020 do away with?
One-size workdays: 2020 took everything we knew about the workday and turned it on its head. Today, nothing about how we work is standard – not style, time, or place. And now that we’re wise to it, expect it to stick, with some folks WFH, others WFO (work from office), and still others WFB (work from both) -- what our UK friends like to call “hybrid work” (we’ll be writing about that a lot going forward). In the future, “Where people work will depend less on standards than on individual projects, roles, and need to collaborate,” one CEO told me. Short story: the answer to whether the future of work is at home or the office is…yes.
Invisible children: Remember when this guy was an anomaly? These days, we’re so used to seeing children make cameos in our work meetings, it would take the entire 6th grade choir appearing behind dad to sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to surprise us. And even then, we’d probably all just dutifully rise to our feet and applaud. And we’re actually ok with that. Some of these unscheduled performances will fade away once school is more predictably available (to which parents everywhere are saying, “Pleeeeezzzzze”). But the acknowledgement of parents’ balancing act? An unequivocal breath of fresh air.
Hidden personal lives: Remember the last time someone tried to hide the fact that they had kids? We don’t either. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that parents were afraid to tell bosses and colleagues they had children…at all. The elephant (or 3-year-old) in the room made that subterfuge unnecessary, freeing moms and dads to at last be candid about why they had to miss a meeting (“I have a parent-teacher Zoom meeting"). Additional sidebar: it’s now clear that child care challenges don’t end when preschool does (something parents have known for years). And guess what? Jobs are still getting done. Maybe that’s because parents are ace multitaskers. Our hope is that invisible parenting (and in fact invisible elder caregiving) is banished for good.
Hidden burnout: Ask a group of employees, “Who’s experienced burnout?” and three-quarters of hands will go up. It’s a big problem with a little silver lining: it’s at last on the radar. Mental well-being in general is at last getting its due, with leadership moving it to the front burner, so much that our CHRO Maribeth Bearfield regularly schedules meetings with her team just to check in. “We have a call where there’s no agenda,” Maribeth told a webinar recently. “I tell them please come with questions or stories. I want to know how you’re doing and what’s on your minds.” Thanks, Maribeth.
Dancing around diversity: Unfair treatment of Black and brown colleagues used to be cloaked behind delicate euphemisms. But the murder of George Floyd made us all finally call it what it is – racism – and take stock of our roles in it. The conversations have been raw and unvarnished, with Black colleagues detailing discrimination they’ve kept hidden from white colleagues for years. It’s a first step in a long journey that’s been equal parts heartbreaking and eye-opening…and long overdue.
Degrees as the singular path to skills: COVID has dealt a blow to the college experience. Will it change whether kids enroll? Survey says yes. Recent numbers show freshman enrollment dropped nearly a quarter, signaling a detour on the well-worn path from school to skills. That will put the pressure on employers to provide the methods and the means for those skills we all want and need (hint: lots of folks want shorter, less-expensive programs). But look for one of the payoffs to be a little phrase we call “employee engagement.”
Has the year been exclusively about things we’re happy to jettison? No. Under the heading of “necessity meets invention,” there have also been worthy new developments we’d like to keep. How we support people was already evolving before the pandemic. And as for every industry from technology to toilet paper, the era has lit up the innovative spirit. In nine months, we’ve seen an explosion of new ways to help people check multiple care boxes. Employers in healthcare say it’s the only way they’ve been able to make inroads fighting the virus.
We’ll be talking about all of it in the months ahead. But one thing is clear.
The HR ideas may have been born from the pandemic. But we expect the adaptations to last long after it’s done.