8 Remarkable Changes the Pandemic Has Brought to the Workplace
What better tagline could the pandemic have than “change is the only constant”? Over the past 18 months, the workforce has shifted dramatically and unpredictably in many ways. My company, InHerSight, a company reviews platform for women, has spent this challenging time surveying working women about their experiences and interviewing career coaches, consultants, and psychologists about how that feedback speaks to the evolution of our workplaces. These insights are some of the most valuable we’ve collected—and think will continue to impact our work environments, management styles, and women’s careers even after the pandemic is over.
1. A deeper understanding of privilege—even when that privilege is temporary
Recognizing privilege isn’t a new concept in the allyship space; it refers to acknowledging how your demographics might give you an advantage over others in the world or workforce (the privileges of a white man vs. a Black man, for instance). But every stage of the pandemic has underlined the variety of ways privilege impacts our experiences and stress levels. Karen Catlin, founder of Better Allies, says temporary, pandemic-specific privileges, such as not having kids at home or being a nonessential worker, have affected the ways we’ve navigated the pandemic.
Catlin says there’s no rule book for navigating crises as unprecedented as this one, but a good first step is to acknowledge where you might be at an advantage or disadvantage compared to others. The spectrum of privilege can and will vary within your community and organization.
Acknowledging our own privilege, even if it’s situational, helps us think more critically and empathetically about the people we interact with every day. Does that coworker you’re stress-emailing even have a desk at home? How might that affect their ability to focus or work for long periods? We’re serious. A desk is a privilege.
2. A shift in work patterns, valuing deliverables over time spent working
The pandemic has been rife with distractions and burnout, sometimes making it impossible to answer a single email. Those most productive at this time have been working in flexible environments, where logging in from 9 to 5 is less important than working on projects when you have time. Clinical psychologist Karen Bridbord explains: “Punching in simply is not realistic. Remote work becomes more efficient when managers set goals and expectations so employees know what they’re being evaluated on.”
Maybe employers shouldn’t be monitoring how active their employees’ computers are every single day.
3. Bringing conversations about mental health into the workplace
The one wellness benefit women want most from employers during the pandemic is mental health support, according to an InHerSight survey. That makes sense, as in September McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace report found that 42 percent of women are burned out—up 10 percentage points since last year. Ongoing stress and overwork have women—and people of all genders, really—needing additional support.
In response to an uptick in conversations about mental health, we’ve seen employers respond in a variety of ways: additional therapy allowances, weeks off in the summer and winter to decompress, and subscriptions to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm. But this is just the beginning of the mental health conversation. “The modern manager embraces their own vulnerability and the vulnerability of their workers,” says HR consultant Amy Robertson. ”Being a great manager during an emotionally or mentally tough time doesn’t mean you have to know all of the facts, but being able to recognize the situation is critical.”
4. An renewed emphasis on transparency and empathy
If you’ve thought to yourself, “What is happening?” at any point in the past year and a half, you definitely aren’t alone. Many employees and leaders have struggled to know how to move forward without a clear plan for the future in sight. Leadership coach and consultant Adrienne Partridge emphasizes the importance of embracing transparency and empathy during ongoing crises like these. “There’s a fine line between protecting your employees and giving them information,” she says. “Decide what is in your control to share. Acknowledge what you don’t know. Don’t overpromise. … To me, empathy is part of transparency. People want to know where they stand with you.”
5. A shift toward ‘experience’ over ‘years of experience’
In the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement, job postings for diversity, equity, and inclusion positions skyrocketed, but Shilena Battan, the former head of people at Cozy, went viral on LinkedIn for calling out companies for requiring 10–15 years of experience in their job descriptions.
Not only was DEI not widely prioritized 10 or even five years ago, but when we reached out to Battan ourselves, she said, “More often than not, a BIPOC is already leading DEI work in their organization/community in an unofficial capacity, and they have the advantage of bringing lived experience to their work. To disqualify their candidacy solely based on years’ experience is likely something concocted by out-of-touch HR departments looking to level-set a new DEI leadership role to other VP/chief positions in the organization.” It’s high time to rewrite job descriptions, and hire based on all of the real-world experience candidates bring to the table—for positions in DEI and beyond.
6. Bringing politics and social justice into the workplace
In a time of unfathomable change, why not debunk all of our social norms as well?
Talking about race and politics have traditionally been considered “taboo” in the office, but both of these topics have been impossible to avoid during our chaotic news cycle. Bringing those conversations into the workplace is a good thing.
Anti-bias consultant Suzanne Wertheim writes that catchphrases like, “Politics shouldn’t be a part of the workplace,” “We need to stay professional,” and “Let’s keep things PC” are actually masked language—phrases that mask and sweep aside social reality. They imply that discussions of change and diverse experiences are off the table.
7. An shift away from paternalism, and instead moving toward asking employees what they need
Throughout the pandemic, career coaches and consultants have told us time and time again that regularly checking in with employees is key to company success and team morale, especially since one of InHerSight’s studies during this time found that 42 percent of women working remotely feel less valued than they did when working in the office.
Organizational psychologist Melissa Doman says recognition can be used to reinstate feelings of value, but managers need to ask employees first what would make them feel best. “Organizations need to be flexible and realize that they can’t predict the future around what’s going to happen,” she says. “Instead of just throwing things at their staff, this is a good time to check in and ask what would be helpful. Obviously you can’t cater to every individual’s needs, but I think there is an organizational duty of care to ask.”
8. A renewed and widespread interest in flexibility and work-from-anywhere
The astronomical shift from in-person work to working from home has been a thing to behold during the pandemic, but will it stick around? Our data says it should. Fifty percent of women tell InHerSight they would like to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, and 47 percent part-time. Only 3 percent want zero remote work in the future. Emily Howe, a Silicon Valley gender equity advisor, tells us that this change has been in the works for a generation: “Millennials of all genders really want that flexible, results-only work arrangement,” she says. “They’re pretty much done with that live-all-night-at-your-tech-company, stay-until-3-in-the-morning atmosphere. They want to be able to go home on time and do whatever they want to—be with their family or have hobbies and downtime. So there’s been a real shift.”
To remain competitive for talent, companies should expect employees to ask for permanent flexible and remote options in the months and years to come.