Feeling uneasy about the Future of Work? Remote work, tech, and Covid are causing some concerns

When we glimpse into the crystal ball of our working future, there are certainly changes to be excited about. New opportunities, low unemployment rate, salaries increasing, and new modern tools, to name a few.

At the same time, however, some of the same shiny new objects that we are jazzed about also cause feelings of uncertainty and apprehension to creep in. There is a reality to some of these misgivings, but those misgivings also give way to brainstorming solutions and tactics to work through them.

Concern #1: we love remote work – but where are the pitfalls?

Our recent blog about working moms outlined genuine concerns about transitioning to a remote work lifestyle. Sure, it seems like the best-case scenario on paper – convenience, balance, NO COMMUTE, and more.

In reality, workers suggest an imminent feeling of being overlooked and falling behind. And they may not be off-base. High-profile leadership has indicated that remote workers could become “second” in the workforce – meaning those that are present and give more in-person facetime will gain preference. A recent survey further supported this notion when it found that 66% of senior managers in the US want their teams to work on-site full-time as Covid-19 restrictions ease. Luckily it was down 5 points from a summer survey, so [hopefully] leadership is seeing the writing on the wall. After all, another survey noted that 50% of people working from home would find another job if the remote option were taken away from them.

So, who wins the tug of war? It’s early to say, but given the tight talent market and the need to retain workers against higher-than-usual attrition, candidates may still be calling the shots for now.

In addition to this hypothetical hierarchy, remote workers also noted a disconnect from their company and colleagues. As late as this past fall, 7 in 10 remote employees felt isolated. It’s easy to understand this feeling, especially if someone works in a remote location alone each day. There are no lunch meetings, no coffee breaks, no impromptu bull sessions to share ideas, network, or simply connect. Remote workers who work in the home setting buzzing with family activity may feel less so, but work connections and relationships are still meaningful parts of a career.

So how do we overcome remote work reservations?

Find a sweet spot and think about flexibility choices. This goes for both employees and employers. While there will be employers that offer little or no choice (in the office only vs. totally remote), chances are many employers are still exploring the best balance as well. For employers, gauging and surveying the team’s preference will help build the best flex-work policy. Companies may also consider satellite spaces or shared work offices that employees can use to get back that “going to the office” feeling again.

As employees, ensure consistent connection by making it a point to schedule check-ins and meet-ups online as well as off-site. Consider collaborating with colleagues in weekly or monthly on-site meetings that become part of the schedule. Several hybrid opportunities may be the ticket to blending the balance of remote work with the feeling of in-person connection.

Concern #2: Too much tech all of the time

At some level, almost all our jobs now involve some level of tech. Let’s face it, our lives are so tech-connected – from how we bank, to how we shop, to how we even listen to music, and more, technology essentially dominates. At work, however, that realization can be daunting. Take the “robot replacement” scenario away; the more likely concern is that employees might feel intimidated by a new program they have to learn or whether or not they can understand the technology language during company planning meetings as the next digital transformation is evaluated. There are new apps, platforms, programs, and tech skills to be mastered regularly, and it can be overwhelming. One recent study even found that one-third of respondents identified as “technophobes,” showing genuine concern that tech would replace their skillset.

What’s the solution for “tech-phobia?”

Training, transparency, and reassurance.

Organizations again who continue to struggle in the race for talent must make their employees’ concerns a priority. Tying concerns #1 and #2 together, it’s essential to make time for employee feedback, check-ins, and performance coaching to continually understand where their team might feel unsure of their value to the company. As for training, both employees and employers need to take point on this: organizations must make training resources available to their teams so they can work to their best ability, especially when the organization is implementing the change in tech knowledge or digital upgrades. Conversely, employees don’t sit back and wait. If the industry and job category is starting to lean towards a specific skill requirement, especially in tech, get out ahead of it. Find local classes or, more likely, online courses that can help further knowledge and enhance skills. Rely on networks for guidance – ask questions, and learn from your peers.

Concern #3: Covid has eased, but what happens if we have another wave or another unprecedented disruption?

As of February of this year, Pew research suggested that workers who cannot work from home are at “least somewhat satisfied” by their employers’ safety measures, but the hill to reaching “very satisfied” is steep. As pandemic restrictions have eased, we face additional economic and global crises like inflation, supply chain issues, and an eye on escalating conflict abroad. All of these factors and the looming “what if” question for future outbreaks of Covid (or worse) leave workers almost with a subconscious “unsettledness” on how company decisions and reactions will affect them financially, health-wise, etc.

How can employers ease Covid-relapse concerns?

At this juncture, most companies have some semblance of a policy in place to mitigate Covid concerns in terms of work location, testing and vaccine requirements, social measures, and more. If they don’t, there is no shortage of guidance available to help draft and set policy from state and federal sources. What’s most important, however, is that communication to employees is clear and timely. In the event that any procedures are reenacted, employees must feel supported and safe in their working environment.

In addition to the safety measures, employers have continually re-evaluated their support structure to improve the employee experience. Companies are adapting health policies to include mental health and wellness allocations with covered services, time-off, and support resources. Mental health has taken center stage due to the last two years; employees expect employers to provide resources that support their well-being since work concerns compound stress- and mental-health-related issues.

Another value-add that some organizations have explored is financial planning and management resources for their team members. A significant stress factor involves money and being able to stay afloat during work disruptions, furloughs, layoffs, and more. Having expert advice on how to plan for the future financially can bring some relief.

Calmly facing uncertainty at work.

As we navigate the future of work, while exciting, it’s not always the pretty picture wrapped with a bow that we would like. There are positives and negatives to each new transition to be managed against with the good of the workforce top of mind.

For employers planning for workforce talent needs, prioritizing these concerns will allow them to create an environment that speaks to current workers’ expectations and clearly outlines the company’s position and solutions to the candidates they engage with. As employees and candidates, it’s imperative to stay on top of workforce changes and cultivate a level of adaptability to feel confident in the choices for the jobs sought and the paths taken.

For advice on finding an opportunity in an organization that addresses your top concerns, recruiters at SSi People are ready to work with you to ensure that you are comfortable and excited about your own future of work.

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