In the first several weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the speed of workplace and personal life changes was dizzying. Three-plus months into it, many employees have settled into some semblance of a routine while still eagerly waiting for the time when things will get back to normal.

Don’t get too comfortable. The work routine you have now and the “normal” you’re hoping for will be a thing of the past before you know it. Here are several changes we’re anticipating for the new normal, along with some tips to help you get a head-start now.

Digital Transformation

What we’re seeing

We expect to see greater digital integration and transformation across all industries as companies move through the pandemic. With a majority of the workforce now working remotely, companies have scrambled to develop or increase the use of digital tools to complete work as well as connect employees with customers, partners and each other. While adoption rates vary, most employees and companies recognize the benefits a digital mindset offers for efficiency, collaboration and connection – and they’re not likely to return to previous ways of working just because they have returned to the office.

What it means for the workplace

Collaboration and creativity no longer depend primarily on close proximity. Digital tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout close the geographic gap, expanding the diversity. Because it greatly facilitates remote work, digital transformation also will expand the talent pool as companies hire for skills over geography.

What companies need to do now to prepare

Assess your current digital footprint. Do your digital tools facilitate work, collaboration and connectedness – or are they a source of frustration? Do employees know how to maximize the tools you have? Will your current digital footprint support operational or focus changes you have identified for the organization? Involve your employees in identifying gaps in how you’re working now and what is needed down the road and start working now to close them.

Focus on Purpose

What we’re seeing

During times of uncertainty, people often search for purpose – organizations and experiences that help them feel personally grounded and make life seem more meaningful. That search for purpose has extended beyond home to include work as well. Increasingly, employees want to understand what your organization stands for and how you contribute to the greater good. 

What it means for the workplace

Alignment between personal and company values is the number one driver of employee engagement for employees of all ages and career stages. Employees who are committed to and proud of where they work willingly power through these challenging times to help the organization evolve because they want to use their time and energy for something that matters. And while employees may not be job hunting now, they’re paying attention to how their company and others are operating. As the economy turns around, a clear, compelling purpose will be a key asset in retaining and recruiting top talent.

What companies need to do now to prepare

Now is the time to remind your employees why your organization exists. As you plan now for what’s ahead for your organization, take a critical look at your purpose, along with your mission, vision and values. Will they be meaningful as your organization evolves to the new normal you’ve identified? Are they clear, concise and inspiring? And most importantly, are they alive and well within your organization? Evaluating and reinforcing your purpose now gives you a major head start for activating what’s ahead.

Changing Expectations

What we’re seeing

COVID-19’s rapid arrival and uncertainty about its spread meant businesses – and employees – had to change the way they worked almost overnight. The ability to identify market conditions well into the future and pivot quickly is one of the key predictors of how companies will emerge from the pandemic. Employers need their employees to work in ways they never have before, sometimes pushing them well beyond their comfort zones. At the same time, employees expect more from their employers as they manage the juggling act that mandated work from home requires.

What it means for the workplace

Employees play a critical role in your ability to pivot quickly and successfully. Adaptability, foresight and resilience have never been more important in the workplace, and employers would be wise to prioritize these skills over tactical know-how. Organizations will need to increase decision-making speed; for many, that requires becoming comfortable with making decisions based on the information they have now instead of waiting for the information they think they need. Employees willing and able to adapt quickly will expect flexibility regarding how and when they work, along with humanity, support and connectedness from the organization.

What companies need to do now to prepare

Clearly define business priorities and imperatives. Involve employees in problem-solving and future visioning; those closest to the work often have the most valuable insights. Employees adapt to new ways of working at different rates, so prioritize employee check-ins so you can identify sticking points and adjust quickly. Regular pulse surveys are a quick and easy way to keep track of employee sentiment and challenges. The more you do now to engage employees in your business strategy, the more quickly and successfully they will be able to activate it. 

Culture Transformation

What we’re seeing

The prevalence of working from home is disrupting corporate culture in a variety of ways. On the positive side, getting a glimpse into your coworkers’ houses – and lives – has led to deeper personal connections and greater willingness to be vulnerable, proven collaboration and higher trust. At the same time, the shine of video calls and virtual happy hours is wearing off because, well, let’s face it – working via screen all day gets old after a while. We’re seeing some slippage in collaboration and signs of disconnection with the overall organization among employees.

What it means for the workplace

Working from home has worked for many companies. Many of them recently have announced plans to allow employees to work from home for an extended period of time, or even permanently. That’s not necessarily bad, but face-to-face interactions are key building blocks for organizational culture. You’ll have to work harder and more deliberately to foster a strong, connected culture that engages employees and drives performance.

What companies need to do now to prepare

Cultural transformation should be an integral part of your overall strategic business plan, which likely includes revamped goals, focus areas, operational changes and new ways of working. Does your current culture support the behaviors you’ll expect from employees to reach your goals? Involve your employees in a candid discussion about your current culture and how it will need to evolve to meet future goals. And since working from home isn’t going away for most people any time soon, create a plan now to strengthen the deeper connections and purpose-driven cultures employees are embracing.

It’s often been said that change is the only constant, and that certainly applies to the current work environment. Organizations that tackle and embrace the new ways of working necessitated by the COVID pandemic will emerge changed, but stronger.

To learn more about how Padilla can help, check out Padilla’s Return-to-Work (R2W)SM strategic business re-entry process.