Entrepreneurs

Council Post: How The Pandemic Has Empowered The Workforce

By Danny Beckett Jr., Founder and CEO of Assemble.

2020 was the year of change, and now 2021 is the year of the worker.

Anyone living on planet Earth could tell you that the past year has been a whirlwind of change, especially when we turn our attention to the workforce. From swapping an office for the kitchen table to balancing work and life in closer quarters than ever, professionals everywhere were forced to adapt to an entirely new way of working. This was a complete 180 from the “same old, same old” companies have been doing for decades.

Among the flurry of changes that workers faced last year, one particular shift stands out: remote work. Very quickly, it became apparent to workers that almost any job can be done remotely. They learned that shifting their schedules to fit in their children’s doctor’s appointments or quick workouts didn’t make the entire department fall apart, as leadership may have claimed.

Now, armed with knowledge and flexibility, workers have the ball in their court. 

Workplace decisions used to be driven by what leadership thought was best.

Since the 1800s, when the 9-to-5 workday was born, leadership had all of the power: They decided the schedule, lunch breaks and even the uniforms. For many decades after that, the working world has maintained this routine, extending past manual workers and into the modern-day corporate environment as well; then came the pandemic. 

Leaders were forced, seemingly overnight, to do everything they had fought for years: asking their workforces to work from home and releasing most of the control they had over employees in the office. Many leaders refused to loosen their grip on staff members by means of screen monitoring or time tracking, burning out their workforce even more so than before, with 67% of workers reporting they felt pressure to be available at all times of the day. 

Now a quarter of the way into 2021, the new normal is quickly approaching, and leadership everywhere is scrambling to decide what the future looks like in a remote world. Every day, companies release announcements filled with buzzwords such as “hot desks” and “open concept”— workplace promises meant to get employees excited to come back to the office, but workers don’t want to go. Even after a year of remote work and flexibility, many leaders are making decisions about the future based on what’s best for their workforces — without asking the people who actually work for them. 

Flexibility is leading in the race back to the workplace.

The pandemic gave workers a chance to finally experience remote work, many for the first time ever. And there’s no going back.

A total of 96% of workers desire at least some form of remote work in their careers, according to a recent FlexJobs survey. Now that remote work and flexibility are here to stay, companies that wish to return to the office face difficult challenges and more threats to their talent pool than an office space may be worth.

With the prevalence of flexibility increasing within the business landscape, workers know they can easily find a job that offers flexibility — in fact, a 2018 survey from IWG shows that 80% of workers would choose a job that offers flexibility over one that does not. But why the push for flexibility?

For workers, it’s not just about having the ability to schedule work around their life; it also increases their productivity: Flex+Strategy Group’s 2018 research report found that 60% feel more productive and engaged with a flexible schedule, and 45% say it increases their ability to collaborate and communicate with their colleagues. Bottom line: Flexibility isn’t just a perk workers are looking for; it’s essential to their success, and they aren’t willing to let that go. 

Loud and clear, workers across the world are making it known that they are prioritizing flexibility in their careers, sparking a change that employers won’t be able to ignore. 

Workers have more power than ever in deciding their careers.

Nearly 30% of workers say they would quit their job if told to return to the office full time, with 61% saying they want their company to allow remote work indefinitely. For employers looking to fill their offices once again, the future is looking empty. 

This shift toward flexibility and power to the worker doesn’t just stop at choosing flexible full-time roles; for many professionals, they’ve realized they don’t want to return to one job at all. 

The pandemic saw the largest freelance booms to ever occur, with 59 million Americans freelancing in 2020, representing 36% of the American workforce, and many of them are choosing to stay on this path. Independent contract work completely unties the worker from full-time life: From their projects to their time off, the worker has autonomy to decide everything. 

An independent and flexible freelance career is quickly becoming a viable choice for workers looking to leave the full-time world. With new technologies and freelancing platforms, professionals no longer need to fear going freelance and being haunted by constant billing, hunting down new projects and marketing their skills. At my company, a talent-matching platform, we’re seeing an increase in freelancers doing only the work they love on their own schedules — a much-welcomed change from the daily, full-time hustle. 

The tables have turned in the working world, and the future of work will be built by the workforce itself, rather than the employer. Covid-19 tipped the scales on the power dynamic, finally placing the worker in the driver’s seat of their career, replacing the traditional values many companies led with for decades. With flexibility and autonomy becoming the “new normal,”companies that are refusing to adapt to these practices will face serious challenges ahead. Those who refuse to adopt flexible practices will see their talent pool suffer and lose any competitive edge they previously held as a result.

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