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Workplace Changes We’re Hoping to See in Our Next Normal

May 29, 2020

From a greater emphasis on mental health to a shift toward more compassion and empathy, here’s what we’re predicting will change about culture once we return to work.

By Marina Khidekel, Head of Content Development at Thrive Global

As we start to think about what our offices and businesses will look like once we begin the re-entry to work (our “next normal”), it’s becoming clear that we won’t return to business as usual, not after what we’ve been through and learned as a result of COVID-19. “The pandemic has made it all too clear that we cannot continue to live and work the way we have — breathlessly and always on,” Arianna Huffington, Thrive’s Founder and CEO recently wrote. “The crisis has… underlined the urgency of building a future where our physical health and mental resilience are at the forefront.” 

We asked our Thrive community to share the things they hope (or predict) will change about workplace culture in our next normal. Which of these do you hope to see in your workplace?

An emphasis on work-life integration

“The new normal will force all of us to think about our ‘personal’ selves. Work is not disconnected from our lives — but rather, it’s actually part of it. This includes working at home with our toddlers or newborns around and not feeling guilty, taking a break between meetings without feeling irresponsible, and realizing that the only true sense of urgency is the one about our own well-being.”

—Francesco Onorato, business development, Phoenix, AZ

A sense of togetherness

“The phrase, ‘We’re all in this together’ took on a more valuable meaning during isolation, and I’d hope that as we go back to the new normal, we don’t lose this empathy that we’ve shown each other. When I think of applying this approach to the business environment, I see a shift in our behavior that involves stripping labels, and the judgement that goes along with it. I hope that we’re all seen as individuals and each a contributor to making this world a friendlier place to live and work in.”

—Christine Hourd, personal development coach, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

More flexibility  

“I think that the silver lining in the pandemic is that it has forced us to pivot and adapt in ways that we might never have considered possible. I hope that a flexible work environment with less days of commuting is now built into the new normal. I predict this will improve our mental health, as flexibility uncovers time in our days that we can fill with morning walks, meditation breaks, and quality time with family.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker, and life coach, Toronto, Canada

A greater sense of gratitude

“I see the new normal changing our relationships, making them more respectful and accepting. I can see an emergence of more conscious conversations, especially at the office, and other ways to express gratitude and appreciation. People will deepen their connections on a spiritual path.”

—Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance strategist, Lithuania 

Encouragement to bring our whole selves to work

“One thing I have actually enjoyed about working during COVID-19 lockdown is the appearance of all of our pets, children, and spouses in our Zoom backgrounds. These signs of real life have been refreshing and humanizing. Instead of feeling embarrassed or pretending we’re in complete isolation without any other living beings or creatures in our presence, I feel like we can all finally stop trying to put on a show. I think — and hope — that when work resumes under more normal circumstances, this recognition of real life will stay part of our culture. I hope this carries into workplace culture not only for those of us who work from home anyway. I think it’s always been true that we bring our whole selves to work — good and bad. Now, it feels like we can finally acknowledge and embrace that.”

—Deb Gordon, author and healthcare expert, Cambridge, MA

A focus on employee morale

“I’ve worked with hundreds of organizations on optimizing employee relations and workplace culture. Now is the time for leaders to lead with purpose and presence. Many organizations are in an existential crisis of sorts. It might be easy to overlook morale, considering it an icing-on-the-cake kind of proposition. The opposite is actually true. The more positive your employees feel about being back at work, the more likely it is that you will cultivate organizational resilience, which is more necessary than ever. It could just mean the difference between surviving or not. Look for simple ways to boost morale: virtual or distanced meetups, walking or running challenges, and other ways to create a sentiment of ‘we’re all in this together.’” 

—Sindy Warren, HR consultant and mindfulness coach, Shaker Heights, OH

Empathetic leadership

“I hope we return to workplaces with empathetic leaders who see the need to innovate and challenge the norms. Our very cores have been rattled, shaken, and completely flipped inside out. Our workplaces need to reflect the change that has occurred and continue to push forward to make all of the heartache, distance, and loss worth something. Our world was forced into a lot of change, and workplaces need to understand the diverse needs of workers and their families, and be more flexible — because the world needs a little flexibility.”

—Korey White, architect, Chicago, IL 

Fewer meetings

“One thing I hope will change about the workplace after COVID-19 is that we will have fewer and better meetings. We will be more mindful of holding meetings that actually start on time, and ensure that people leave with a clear and common understanding of the decisions made, and who is responsible for what.” 

—Herdis Pala Palsdottir, talent leader, Reykjavik, Iceland

A new definition of productivity 

“Having spent the bulk of my career on Wall Street, I’ve spent countless hours at the office in the spirit of ‘hard work.’ Coming in early and staying late were expected, and it was not uncommon for my colleagues to brag about how worn down and tired they looked. Bags under the eyes were a sign of dedication, and a badge of honor. This time has provided a perfect case study for companies and managers to watch their employees remain productive and produce high-quality work on their own time. Now more than ever, companies are seeing firsthand that if you create a trusting and safe work culture and encourage personal growth, your employees will shine, regardless of their physical location. We no longer need to slave away at an office in order to prove our worth.”

—Ryan Sterling, wealth coach, New York, NY

More authenticity

“The COVID-19 shutdown has been such a welcome time for reflection and balance, albeit also wildly challenging and difficult. I think we will walk away re-prioritizing social and familial connections. I have enjoyed seeing people’s authentic lives via video and hope that in our new workplace, there will be an emphasis on individuals being their whole selves. Leaders will hopefully be more flexible with accommodations to support healthier lifestyles better aligned with our values.”

—Priya Jindal, transition management consultant, Washington, D.C

A trusting culture

“I’m certainly hoping to return to a culture where not only do we communicate and lead with more empathy and compassion but, even more importantly, we begin to transform restrictive and dominant hierarchies into participatory democracies. I hope people will be encouraged to talk openly about anything they feel is important to them, and where leaders have moral authority and truly prioritize employee well-being, for we can no longer afford to ignore the importance of work-life integration. Workplaces need to finally realize that productivity is a function of efficiency, and efficiency a function of employee well-being. And employee well-being is a function of an enhancive organizational structure whereby a culture of integrity, transparency, and trust emerges by default, thus humanizing our workplace.”

—JC Wandemberg, Ph.D. president and founder, London, UK

An increase in remote work

“Although the future of work can feel quite uncertain for many people at the moment, one thing is guaranteed: Work as we know it is forever changed. Employees are now seeing that they can perform their jobs without endless office meetings and unnecessary travel. So we’re going to see more efficiencies and better prioritization around required facetime. Employees will also  have more confidence in asking for flexible and remote work. Although our current situation is far from perfect, we are seeing that work can go on, even with a fully-remote workforce. Remote and flexible work will become a permanent part of U.S. work culture, and not just a perk or benefit for the select few.”

—Erin Halper, founder of BeTheUpside, New York, NY 

A shift in values

“In this powerful pause, I believe we are getting a deeper understanding of what we value and need in our lives. We’re focusing on internal change and shifts, and what is emerging is a transformation on how we think and see the world, and how we relate to one another.”

—Eva Redpath, life coach and Nike master trainer, Toronto, Canada

A new definition of success

“As we all navigate a new sense of normal, there is an interesting question that is starting new conversations: ‘What is your definition of success?’  I expect your answer has changed dramatically in recent weeks, and your reply will set the stage for both your personal and professional action plan as we all begin to journey to a new reality.”

—Trish Tonaj, master coach, speaker, and author, Toronto, Canada

Closer attention to mental health

“Good leaders always pay attention to employee wellness — not only because they value their employees as more than just proverbial cogs in the wheel, but because they know that the happier their employees, the better their productivity and results. We have not yet begun to truly understand the mental health consequences of the pandemic, but suffice it to say that they are tremendous. Between isolation, illness, and economic impact, most workers are suffering. Leaders must bring a hyper-awareness of this fact back to work with them and offer as many resources as they can. Mindfulness trainings and other mental health resources should be top of mind.”

—Sindy Warren, HR consultant and mindfulness coach, Shaker Heights, OH

A revised onboarding experience

“This time has proved that the resume is an antiquated and ineffective tool to measure potential talent. With so many now looking for their next professional opportunities, I hope we see improved recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding practices.  If organizations truly want to come through this crisis in a better place, they must value the fresh perspectives and diversity of thought that new employees provide.”

—Stacy Cassio, founder and CEO, Charlotte, NC

A consideration for how individuals work best

“My hope is that leaders will emerge from this situation understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach is not best for anyone. We each have different priorities, needs, and lived experiences, and we all thrive in different ways. My hope is that business leaders will seek out and consider individual needs and preferences and then tailor working situations that bring out the best in individuals — allowing each person the space to define for themselves how they can best show up to work.”

—Cara Planitz-Clatanoff, MBA graduate and emerging entrepreneur, Culver City, CA

An acceptance of each other’s imperfections

“I’m hopeful that leaders and colleagues will continue to honor and accept the ‘whole employee.’ With all of these Zoom meetings, we have had the opportunity to see people’s children, pets, significant others, and even decorating style. We have heard the true background noise of each other’s lives: laughter, fussy babies, barking, meowing, and doorbells. We’ve seen each other in sweats, sans makeup, three weeks of scruff, in desperate need of a haircut or the comical evidence of an ill-advised home haircut. The opportunity to meet each other’s authentic selves has deepened connections, and, for me, has enhanced collaboration. I sincerely hope that we are able to maintain that.”

—Cindy J., executive search and human resources consultant, Boston, MA

What do you hope will change about workplace culture in our next normal? Share your opinion with us in the comments!

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— Published on May 22, 2020

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