COVID-19: Has It Permanently Changed Small Business?

Here are 3 ways businesses are expecting lasting changes to their worlds of work.

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It’s the question of the month, the season, the year: Has the pandemic changed the way businesses run forever? Or is this just a temporary thing? Something required for the times, but that we’ll all really go back to the ways things were?

In all reality, it may be too early to tell for sure, but leading HR indicators suggest the pandemic has indeed changed small business in permanent — not temporary — ways. Consider this: According to a Zenefits survey of more than 900 United States small business leaders that was published in February of this year, 79.8% (almost 8 out of 10!) small business leaders said the pandemic has permanently changed the way their company operates.

And it’s not just curbside pickup and mask wearing we’re talking about here.

79.8% (almost 8 out of 10!) small business leaders said the pandemic has permanently changed the way their company operates.

Top 3 ways businesses are expecting permanent change

The top 3 ways businesses are expecting permanent change to their worlds of work are in work styles (65.1%), their physical workspace (59.8%), and their people or employees (49.2%).

Work styles

Work styles refers to how companies run their operations and processes. This could be anything like how work orders are approved, how meetings are hosted, or how quality assurance measures are completed for example. Business leaders say because of the remote work transition they were forced to rethink the way standard operating processes happened, and in many cases, these new ways improved the whole process.

Physical workspace

Next, there were the changes to the physical work environment that business leaders considered permanent. This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that companies are fully aware that the future of work might not look like it used to. And it’s important to consider the less obvious ways in which work spaces have changed outside of an increase in remote work. There are more plexiglass barricades, potentially more space between cubicles, or fewer people allowed in break rooms. And these are just a few examples of how the future might look and feel different. Perhaps businesses are considering more cleaning rooms, and a change to how employees enter / exit office buildings when employees return to work.

People or employees

Finally, businesses point to a change in their employee make up as the 3rd most important, and permanent, change to the way their business works. How companies are hiring, who they are hiring, and the skillsets they are seeking might all shift. With more remote-enabled teams companies are no longer bound to their local talent markets for hiring, which means hiring and recruiting just got a much bigger sea. But it also means the kinds of people companies are looking to hire might shift. Self-starters may be more sought after than team leads. Or people who somehow have a captivating presence via Zoom meetings may be more solid candidates than bookish types. This is all very speculative, but you can see how removing the boundaries of work locations could have permeating changes to workforces, and it’s something both employers and employees should be aware of.

Ok, so you might be asking yourself now: OK, so now what? Yes the world of work has changed, and yes we can expect this to be a lasting shift. But what can HR managers or People Operations specialists do to better usher in this new phase of work?

Key things HR leaders should keep in mind as the world permanently changes

Again, it may be too early to be definitive in our predictions here, and time will be our best tool in teaching us all what is required and useful as transition into a post COVID working world. But already, we can take some educated guesses about what HR leaders need to be privy of:

1. You’ve got to embrace flexibility. 

Even before the pandemic hit, flexible work environments were the 2nd most important employer benefit after health insurance, and you’re going to feel that now more than ever. Your employees have tasted what it’s like to have no commute, to work in their sweatpants from the kitchen table … and you know what? Many of them like it. So as HR managers, we’re going to need to adjust our flexible work policies in larger ways that meet employees where they are.

Your employees have tasted what it’s like to have no commute, to work in their sweatpants from the kitchen table … and you know what? Many of them like it.

2. Second, you’ll likely want to invest in more technology systems that allow your workforce to run smoothly no matter where they are. 

Things like productivity apps, chat apps, and mobile HR apps all helped companies stay smoothly productive during the hardest moments of the pandemic, and we’re betting that won’t change. If flexible work arrangements increase, your technology support systems that allow your processes to run smoothly will need to shift too.

3. And finally, you’ll likely want to update your employee handbook.

Employee handbooks aren’t legally required documents for employers to provide to employees, but they are strongly recommended to keep employees informed of new policies, expectations, and consequences of missed behavior or conduct. If your world of work has changed at all at your company, take a few minutes to review and revise your employee handbook and make sure it’s up to date. And if you think employee handbooks are antiquated pieces of forlorn business artifacts, think again. According to a 2021 survey of 500 employees during the pandemic 67% of employees said they find their employee handbooks useful.

Pro tip: Here’s a free online employee handbook builder tool if you need a great place to get started.

So, yes, the world of work is changing. But if you are aware of how the world is shifting, you’ll stay ahead of the curve, potentially provide appropriate benefits to your team, and increase your systems for good.

If you’d like more information on the future of work, or want HR templates and tools to make this consider subscribing to where we publish new HR resources daily.

Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “Has the pandemic permanently changed small business?”

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