We all feel that the pandemic may or may not be over yet. In fact, it seems that we may just be entering a 4th wave in many European countries, and are already in the middle of it in some other parts of the world. However, several countries experienced a relieving break recently after the 3rd wave, in many cases with employers opening up their offices for workers again for the first time since the virus hit us all so badly. And many of these employers experienced a subtle change in the character and attitude of their workers at the same time.
We at Codecool decided to open our offices when the time was right, and not much later invited our students back to the classrooms, too. But we also felt that the pandemic has changed us, our colleagues and our students (among whom may be your next junior programmer colleague, who knows). We felt that we’re just not the same anymore, but also that it’s not so easy to get around this feeling. It’s not so simple or black-or-white. We may be facing another lockdown and return to stricter work rules, and possibly a full WFH (work from home) setup in the coming weeks or months. But we want to be aware of the nature of change we’ve already went through, get prepared for whatever may come next, and maybe adjust the ways we do management in the meanwhile.
So how are we all different after 1+ year of isolation? Why exactly? What should we do or not do about the change? How will Codecool graduates be different from previous years’ alumni, and what will they be like at their brand new work places?
We decided to dig in just to find a load of amazing research and articles already written on the subject. And then opted for a brief summary of the insights we found most interesting and eye-opening.
We then grouped the insights around 4 topics:
- Work from home
- Speedy digitalisation
- Health and wellness prioritised
- Global crisis mode
Let’s jump in! See if you find some of these insights familiar or inspiring yourself.
1. Work from home
With the abrupt enforcement of social distancing as the primary means to slow down the new pandemic, WFH quickly became the standard way of working early last year. A Eurofound research showed that about 37% of the EU workers transitioned to WFH, 24% for the first time ever. Previously an employee benefit, WFH was now enforced in a non-negotiable way – only wherever it was feasible, of course. Essential / non-essential service, as well as work requiring physical proximity / work allowing remote setup quickly became relevant labour categories.
The solitude and isolation of single-household workers impacted introverts and extroverts differently, but in general increased depression, boredom and anxiety. In larger households WFH increased familiar disruption taking our focus, and therefore leading to stress. It also shifted our priorities to family and private life.
With management moved to remote mode, too, self-management became key and many times a challenge, including flex time management, and especially over-work, paired with unchanged performance (resulting in lower efficiency). Previously rare Zoom calls taking over our work days proved especially draining and stressful in this period.
On the upside, some people experienced a bigger freedom in parallel with the breakdown of physical ties to the office. They started to appreciate the mobility, digital way of work and their new-found relative independence from day-to-day micro-management.
Makes sense, right? Been there, done that. Now wondering, how did all this change your employee and how you should change your ways as a manager?
Here are a few changes paired with useful tips:
→ Balance out changed productivity
Long isolation makes socialising and personal connection both desired and unusual. Workers may be less productive in the office, too, especially in the beginning, because of spending too much time enjoying each others’ company. The experience may also be draining for them, too, because it’s all new and tiring to have people around again. What can you do? Let them be. Let your workers enjoy just being with their colleagues and take their time talking over coffee or take long lunch breaks. They need this for a healthy balance, to be able to perform on WFH days or overtime.
→ Take back from hands-on management
After experiencing self-management your team might react to your old management style differently now. Take back from managing your workers in general, including micro-management, encourage self-management, increase scope of ownership, make conversations instead of directly assigning tasks, build on the trust you have built out during the remote work period. This will not only help your colleagues deal with the situation, but also you, to grow as a leader.
→ Leave WFH options open
WFH can grow on you, even if you had trouble getting used to it in the beginning. It used to be an employee benefit before for a reason after all – it’s convenient, comfy and practical. Even those workers not particularly fond of the new setup might now expect having the option to work from home time-to-time. Others may not want to return to the office at all, and there are many preferences in between. Make sure to find out how your colleagues feel about the topic and try to take their preferences in consideration when updating your WFH policies. A little flexibility and generosity will go a long way and might actually become a decisive factor for your employees in the end when planning their future career at or outside your company. Plus, WFH might mean faster, simpler and less expensive labour for your company – you just have to adjust your management style in the long run (→ see also previous point)
2. Speedy digitalisation
In parallel with transitioning work to employees’ homes, companies were forced to move their products, services, processes and channels online, too. Meaning those, that were actually able to, because of their industry, competency and agility. Many others, outside of the non-essential service categories experienced severe disruption, sometimes irreversible losses and went down together with whole industries. And we could see anything in between, too, in different industries, including layoffs, hiring freezes, working time caps, mandatory holidays and pay-cuts.
Workers of digitalising companies had to face further challenges in parallel with moving work home. They had to get used to and manage brand new digital work tools, processes and products, all of these sometimes requiring new tech skills, too. This made them question their own work status, abilities, confidence and blurred the lines of previously clear career prospects. And they had to get to learn to work with a new type of connectedness, digital connection, which gained so much ground in times of social distancing.
They also saw the world of work becoming not just a much more digital, mobile, connected and global, but also an insecure place where people can lose their jobs from one day to another, many times with no feasible “plan b”-s to quickly bounce back to.
Sounds familiar? We’ve all been part of this and we’ve all been impacted one way or another.
Here are a few things you can do about some of the changes left on your employees:
→ Go agile now
One shared trait of organisations surviving and thriving after the 3 waves of the pandemic is agility. It’s not too late to go (more) agile even now, it’s rather a must. We just learnt how an unforeseen global crisis can stop our world and force us off our beaten paths. Can we really expect something like this to not happen again? Better get prepared now. Prepare your teams and processes to act fast on change in opportunity or demand, recover from an unexpected fall and continue to operate in some alternate setup. Go creative and think out of the box together – and don’t try to predict the way things will turn out, rather hack your future by preparing for as many options as possible building on an agile way of thinking and frameworks.
→ Apply new ways of reskilling fast
Newly digitalised businesses require new digital skills from employees. It’s high time to prioritise strategic skill planning and rapid reskilling. According to Forbes the 2 key skills needed to manage uncertainty and digitalisation of the future are coding and empathy. Codecool‘s developer courses help build a strong foundation of both coding and soft skills, using a project-based curriculum and agile workplace-like setup. They are available for individuals and companies, too, both for absolute beginners and more advanced professionals.
→ Automate part of the work
Whatever can be automated, should be now. Maybe it’s a bigger challenge in your industry than in some others, but think tasks instead of whole jobs. Especially routine tasks which used to be done in-person previously, but must now be solved online can be good candidates for automation. Think of it as just one more step ahead, to manage higher demand, changed WHF work-load and also, your employee’s motivation.
3. Health and wellness prioritised
With a global pandemic at the center of all the shake-up, our and our loved ones’ physical and mental health quickly gained priority on our list of concerns. What contributed to this? The strictness, urgency and extent of different protective measures, the questions around the nature and seriousness of the new virus induced disease, the risk to our health, isolation and / or being closed in together with our families, plus the media hype on top of it all had their share.
Stress levels rose, and depression and anxiety cases became common even in people not directly impacted. Those who fell sick got an extra dose of the mental burden, too, plus experienced mild to serious physical symptoms and even have had to start getting used to the fact that some kind of post-covid symptoms might also impact their lives even on the long run (possibly hindering their performance at work, too). And many others, who experienced loss and tragedy have still have to learn to survive and live a full life, or at least regain some of their motivation to be able to function, and not just at work. All this resulted in people in general starting to reprioritise health and wellness, valuing rest and off-work time more than before, turning inwards and also to others with more compassion.
You can help your employees with these issues, too.
→ Make their physical health your priority
Supporting your employees in keeping safe from or dealing with health issues should be a no-brainer. It’s also in your best interest to do everything you can to help your workers maintain their good health. Consider how you can contribute from facility management through work-time policy review to employee benefits system adjustments. Small changes matter, too.
→ Use office space to help mental recovery
Let the work place take on a new, important role, to give space to healing through community experience. You might even want to adjust the size, function and outlook of the work space to support this new role. It should encourage team and 1-to-1 connection, fun moments and quiet withdrawal, too. Provide for random encounters, scheduled social ceremonies and sufficient personal space and time.
→ Provide access to professional mental support
Endorse and communicate the idea that it’s OK not to be OK. Notice and avoid toxic positivity. But in the first place, accept that as an employer it’s in your best interest to care about the mental health of your workers. Don’t try to solve the new challenge in-house, find a professional partner to help your employees with consulting, coaching or team sessions.
4. Global crisis mode
Accept that the global pandemic is in fact a crisis, and you’re crisis managing. We’re all in this together, which makes the situation even more overwhelming for everyone. We all feel lost in the middle of the information overload, sensationalist news and conspiracy theories. We question our priorities and values, and also our purpose. Not so sure anymore what we should want from life.
All of these problems may sound like aspects way beyond your managerial scope and competence. But you should care if you want to retain and motivate your employees once again. And the good news again is that you can actually make a difference.
→ Stop the infodemic
This pandemic is also a “digital epidemic” causing information overload. To stop it on an individual level “social media distancing” can help. As a manager you may want to share only relevant and updated information about the situation.
→ Make the situation clear
Management in times of uncertainty, change and complexity requires clear communication. Aim at simplicity and transparency. Besides telling your employees what will happen, what will not happen and what you expect from them, make sure to use their words, ask for their feedback and answer their questions the best you can. You can’t and shouldn’t know everything, but whatever you know communicate with clarity. It restores a level or safety, strengthens trust and creates openness in the organisation.
→ Give a sense of purpose
Reinforcing your shared purpose might also be important for your employees in these uncertain times. When everything is being questioned, including what we should believe in and strive for in life, a sense of purpose and connection to work and how it benefits customers might help them more then ever. Make sure you make the occasion into a discussion rather than an announcement. Spend time to understand their needs and expectations and build on these.
Sounds like a lot of changes and to do’s? We feel you.
But instead of thinking expectations, try to look at all these tips and insights as opportunities. We at Codecool do our best but still don’t yet do everything suggested above. The point is that we do our best and that we show that we care.
And we also do care about your future employees, also because we are training them right now. Besides turning our students into the best junior programmers you’ll find on the market, we’re helping them strengthen their soft skills and work together with them in an agile framework.
All this to make sure they’ll not only be able to code, but also to cope – whatever challenges we all might face next.