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The Future of Work in a Post COVID-19 World

July 2020

Munich Re continually monitors the employee landscape. We’ve seen how many companies were forced to shift the work environment from an in-person, collaborative setting to virtual collaboration and accommodations for work from home due to the global pandemic. As businesses across the country and the world begins to return to pre-pandemic norms, we consider how the corporate environment, virtual hiring and training in particular, may impact risk and the benefits landscape long term.

As the world re-emerges from the global pandemic and recession, effective use of technology to measure production, recruit, hire, train, communicate and engage with employees will be critical.

Preparing to Reopen

 

Since the start of COVID-19, more than 40 million American workers have been furloughed or laid off permanently.1 While economists estimate that 60% of those jobs will return, not all employees are willing or able to return to work. Employees who are at a high risk of becoming severely ill and experiencing health complications may not be comfortable re-entering the workplace. Some individuals over age 65 are examining retirement, while others have opted to accept roles with new employers while on furlough. Some individuals have decided to wait for new job opportunities that will allow them to work safety from home. In addition, international workers might experience limitations related to required business travel and parents of young children are faced with juggling work with a lack of child care assistance  as half of the nation’s child care providers teeter on the edge of collapse.2

After unexpected closures and financial losses, businesses nationwide are navigating the new challenge of safely reopening and need a trustworthy staff to help them recover. To avoid missing out on retaining and attracting top talent, employers should proactively communicate with their furloughed employees to understand their return to work potential. Human Resource teams should revise existing job postings to reflect current dates, or to meet new and flexing job descriptions. It may also be wise to interview high potential applicants to create a pipeline for quick job placement as openings become available in this time of uncertainty. Companies that have an active reopen strategy and are vocal about employment opportunities will naturally attract more candidates.

As the world re-emerges from the global pandemic and recession, effective use of technology to measure production, recruit, hire, train, communicate and engage with employees will be critical to the survival of companies across the U.S. and around the world.  

Telecommuting is Here to Stay

While millions of service jobs still require employees to commute to work, the popularity of telecommuting among Americas “information” workers has been surging for more than a decade. Additionally, at home services such as telehealth appointments with physicians and live-stream fitness classes have become a convenient alternative for busy Americans. Over five million U.S. employees reported working from home 50% - 100% of the time in 2018 with as many as 24% of all employees working remotely on a consistent basis at some level.3,4 Employees and employers alike have embraced the benefits of telecommuting. This includes improved job satisfaction, work-life balance, enhanced production, cost savings through reduced office space and lower absenteeism, broader candidate pools, better employee retention, a smaller carbon footprint and, as we recently learned, the ability to work through disaster.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. in March 2020, telecommuting quickly became the lifeline that allowed businesses to continue operating, while protecting the health of workers, customers and community members. During this extended period of social distancing and shelter in place orders, it’s estimated that 75 million people, or half of American workers, are completing their jobs from home.5 While the rapid transition to telecommuting has had its trials, early feedback reveals the majority of remote employees are able to effectively work from home. Surveys show that 74% of CFOs intend to offer permanent telecommuting positions to at least 5% of their workforce and one fifth of CFOs plan to keep at least 20% of their workforce at home to cut overhead costs. 6,7 Where possible, employers are continuing to offer remote work opportunities through the summer and beyond. A third of employees are eager to return to an office environment, but many others are not. Approximately 28% of employees plan to look for a telecommuter position and 75% of the 25,000 adults surveyed by IBM “indicate they would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, while more than half (54%) would like this to be their primary way of working”.8,9 Now that millions of workers have proven their ability to be productive from home, their expectation is that employers should continue to allow full or part time telework after the country reopens.                                  

Hand Sanitizer Over Handshakes

The process of recruiting and hiring new employees has likely changed for the long term. For both “service” and “information” jobs, it may no longer make sense to interview several candidates in person, risking contamination to the applicant or others in the workplace. New social distance guidelines and the COVID-19 pandemic required hiring managers to get comfortable with video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams to conduct virtual interviews. Additionally, there are an increasing number of virtual hiring and onboarding platforms such as Hargen and SocialReferral by CareerBuilder.com.

One of the major advantages to hiring remote employees is that employers are not limited to hiring local candidates. With 30 million newly displaced workers nationwide and roughly half of the workforce preferring remote opportunities, the candidate pool has never been larger. This also creates opportunities for employers in high cost cities to recruit quality workers willing to work for less money when they live in less expensive parts of the country. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expects about half of Facebook Inc. employees to work remotely the next five to 10 years; however, there will be adjustments to salaries to account for the cost of living depending on the employee’s location.9

How do employers successfully recruit and hire the best person for the job?

ZipRecuiter and LinkedIn, as well as local staffing agencies and industry job boards, are still  feasible options. However, for those specifically seeking remote employees there, are a number of other free or low cost sources to consider such as FlexJobs, We Work Remotely, RemoteOK, Doodle, WorkingNomads and Remotive Jobs. The latest trend in virtual recruiting is to host or participate in an online job fair. Employers are matched with interested candidates through their virtual booth and conduct on the spot interviews, similar to a traditional career fair.

As a nationwide search becomes far too time consuming for hiring managers, employers can no longer simply rely on technology to pre-screen resumes and cover letters for key words. For better results, many companies are turning to pre-employment testing such as talent assessments, personality tests, cognitive test, emotional intelligence analysis and work simulations to narrow the field and predict which candidates will be best suited to join their company.11

Not every candidate will perform their best in a video chatroom so it’s critical that employers provide tips to prepare candidates for a success video conference interview.. This should include clear directions to test the software and video in advance, suggested dress code, tips for lighting and even practice questions. Hiring managers will also need to create as much consistency as possible between interviews,  allowing decision makers to focus on credentials and interview question responses  rather than  distractions of a poor internet connection.

Virtual Onboarding and Training

With new employees joining companies across the U.S., teams are likely to look very different, with a broader mix of employees working outside the office full- or part-time. It’s increasingly important to provide training that creates an engaging and inclusive work culture for those both in the office and working remotely. 

Traditional onboarding historically involved several in-person meetings with HR personnel, managers or other team members, and involved numerous forms, documents and activities to complete within the first 30 days of employment. Although the onboarding process is becoming more virtual, new employees still desire personal connections and feeling welcomed to the team – which is where video conferencing can be a beneficial tool.

Transitioning to a post-COVID work environment can be challenging, both physically and mentally. Employers should create social opportunities like “video coffee” or threads for sharing experiences on internal communications channels to ease any potential anxiety for all employees. Furthermore, the implementation of a peer recognition program can contribute to a culture of gratitude that’s often found in happy, long-term employees.

All employees need clear expectations, learning objectives and the ability to get answers to questions. They are interested in opportunities to contribute and receive regular feedback to set goals and measure their progress.12 Self-doubt is a destructive force that leads to early resignation and employee turnover. Setting up new hires for small successes early will help alleviate anxiety and build confidence that can increase employee longevity.

Whether you have hired one new employee or a class of 20, it’s important to acknowledge individual learning styles. It’s most preferable to have a self-paced training plan, with a combination of reading material, eye catching visuals and frequent opportunities for hands-on application. If your company does not offer pre-recorded training videos or computer-based learning modules, there are many low to no cost tools available. Screensharing tools provide quick access for answering questions and collaborative learning opportunities for trainees to observe and practice new skills under the observation of a peer. Ideally, trainees should be matched with an experienced mentor who is available for regular screensharing sessions, and one on one check-ins. This may require employers to adjust workloads in order to invest in training. Managers should also discuss the new hires’ progress with their mentor regularly and recognize the mentor for their training efforts.

Above all else, employees need the right equipment and tools such as corporate computers and phones, and proper ergonomic devices like chairs, keyboards and headsets to succeed long-term. Millions of companies implemented technology for remote access and cyber security very quickly to meet short-term business needs. The number one obstacle reported by employees working from home was the lack of proper technology.13 As time progresses, it’s clear that telecommuting will continue as a cornerstone for business continuity planning and long-term investments should be prioritized.

With Change Comes Innovation

As we transition through COVID-19 and beyond the pandemic, our industry will continue to adapt to ever-evolving risks with a variety of accommodations including new applied technology.  Munich Re maintains a keen eye on InsurTech and evolving innovation such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence,  and telematics/wearables that have become commonplace tools for neutralizing losses and improving customer experience.14 As the global reinsurance leader, we leverage our knowledge of natural and man-made disasters to navigating complex situations and provide innovative solutions – helping our clients gain a deeper understanding of underlying risk.

As the world recovers from the health and economic impact of COVID-19, the lessons learned leave us better prepared and will guide us through future crises. In-person interactions will always be at the heart of business, but the recent increase in adoption of technology has changed the perspective of working relationships forever. From hiring, training, and team meetings to closing deals and at-home services, technology will continue to evolve with innovative solutions to keep businesses flexible and thriving through the unexpected.

Contact the Author
Liesl Turner
Liesl Turner
Senior Group Reinsurance Consultant
Group & Living Benefits
References
1 Lambert, L. (2020). Over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the pandemic-real jobless rate over 23.9%. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2020/05/28/us-unemployment-rate-numbers-claims-this-week-total-job-losses-may-28-2020-benefits-claims-job-losses 2Peck, E. (2020). After Coronavirus Nearly Half of The Day Care Centers in The U.S. Could Be Gone. Huffington Post. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/coming-child-care-crisis-coronavirus-covid-19_n_5ea1fab4c5b6bb28aa34b642 3Lister, K. (2020). Latest Work-at-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics. Global Workplace Analytics. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics   4U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). 24 percent of employed people did some or all of their work from home in 2015. The Economics Daily.  https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/24-percent-of-employed-people-did-some-or-all-of-their-work-at-home-in-2015.htm 5Ruggles, R. (2020). 75 million people are working from home, increasing their chances of getting hacked. The Omaha World-Herald. https://www.omaha.com/news/state_and_regional/75-million-people-are-working-from-home-increasing-their-chances-of-getting-hacked/article_62aff675-b2d3-52a1-97d4-5024472789b2.html 6Pelta, R. (2020). Is Remote Work the Future of Work? Flexjobs.com. https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/future-of-remote-work-stats/ 7Knutson, T. (2020). Telecommuting Surge Likely To Last Past COVID-19 Crisis, Predicts Brookings Report. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedknutson/2020/04/08/telecommuting-surge-likely-to-last-past-covid-19-crisis-says-brookings-report/#3676431374ca 8Clarey, K. (2020). A third of workers predict employers will allow more remote work. HRDive. https://www.hrdive.com/news/a-third-of-workers-predict-employers-will-allow-more-remote-work-after-pand/576536/ 9Kilbride, J. (2020). IBM Study: COVID-19 is Significantly Altering U.S. Consumer Behavior and Plans Post-Crisis. PRNewswire.  https://newsroom.ibm.com/2020-05-01-IBM-Study-COVID-19-Is-Significantly-Altering-U-S-Consumer-Behavior-and-Plans-Post-Crisis 10Murphy, M. (2020). Facebook employees may face pay cut if they move to cheaper areas to work from home. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-employees-may-face-pay-cut-if-they-move-to-cheaper-areas-to-work-from-home-2020-05-21 11Doyle, A. (2019). Types of Pre-Employment Tests. The Balance Career.  https://www.thebalancecareers.com/types-of-pre-employment-tests-2059812 12Boogaard, K. (2020). 6 Tips for Training Your Remote Employees. GoSkills.com. https://www.goskills.com/Blog/Remote-training 13Arruda, W. (2020). 6 ways COVID-19 Will Change the Workplace Forever. Forbes.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2020/05/07/6-ways-covid-19-will-change-the-workplace-forever/#43e2384e323e 14Wargin, J. (2020). 8 Insurance Technology Trends Transforming the Industry in 2020. Duck Creek Technologies. https://www.duckcreek.com/blog/insurance-technology-trends/

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