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Poole in the News

How COVID-19 Has Altered the Workplace

This article was originally published on April 19, 2020, on WRAL TechWire by Patrick Flynn, assistant professor of human resource management, and Beth Ritter, professor of practice of human resource management.

We asked Poole College of Management students to talk with working professionals in a variety of roles and industries about how social distancing and stay-at-home orders have impacted their work. Based on these conversations, there are a handful of implications that workers and managers should consider.

Flexible Work Arrangements

The biggest change has been the short-term boom in working from home. This shift has served to keep many non-essential organizations operating. Some organizations were much more suited to this adjustment than others. Organizations that already had partial work-from-home arrangements, like many federal government agencies, were able to scale an already productive setup. Other organizations, like universities, had a wealth of technological resources available that aided in a speedy transition without significant disruption in operations. However, some organizations were slower to adapt and face more challenges in continuity. Smaller organizations, such as law firms, often rely on institutional knowledge which presents challenges for agility. In these cases, new processes have to develop in work-from-home arrangements that may not have been formally defined during office work. Similarly, client-facing organizations have been forced to find alternative methods for meeting client needs, such as video chat.

Forecasting in Uncertain Times

A trend that came up in multiple conversations was around the uncertainty of future labor demands. Specifically, demands for business-to-business organizations’ products and services are likely to substantially increase when stay-at-home orders are lifted. This increase in demand is a double-edged sword in that it will generate much-needed revenue but is also likely to put increased strain on employees.

Cost Cutting to Save Headcount

While the March jobs report was grim, a number of organizations are working hard to avoid layoffs. A national beer distributor has prioritized employee continuity and is working creatively to cut costs everywhere but headcount. Further, they have changed their product offerings to restaurants from kegs to packages to enhance sales for carry-out-only restaurant operations. Along the same lines, many local restaurants have gotten creative through job-sharing to make sure that everyone is able to share a limited number of hours during reduced operations.

Individual Differences

The workforce disruptions appear to present challenges for workers that may vary based on their personality traits and family situations. Working from home provides a lack of social interaction that can be challenging for extroverts, but many of these individuals can turn to family and friends (virtually) as their social outlets. Alternatively, introverts may struggle to work from home when other members of the household are around during working hours. Some workers also have a high need for structure and have been forced to create new routines while working from home. These changes likely have had a negative short-term impact on productivity. Finally, many parents in dual-income households have to be creative in balancing child care with two jobs where parents trade-off at different times or on different days of the week.

Implications for Managers

Managers may want to consider the preceding insights and ask themselves the following questions to be poised for new opportunities coming our way in the post-pandemic workplace:

  • What changes have occurred in the way I work with my team in the last few weeks that I want to stop or continue after we have less restriction of stay-at-home orders and social distancing?   What can my team complete now while we’re forced to anticipate what the new demands on us will be?
  • What new roles have developed from the creative ways people have found projects to complete from home?
  • Which short cuts, workarounds, innovations, new processes or new services that were created in urgency do we want to embed for the future?
  • What have I learned about my co-workers that will improve our working relationship going forward?