Managing the New Workplace as the Pandemic Ends

July 12, 2021

By: Cathie Ruffner & Emily Tschimperle


Five reasons why you’ll probably need to rethink your approach

As the pandemic is brought under control, we’re all eager to return to what we recall as being normal. But what will that look like for the workplace and your ability to manage it?

We’ve all been re-examining how we work as well as where we work simply because we’ve had no choice. Many of us had to continue going to our regular workplace, whether that was a factory, a hospital, driving a bus or stocking grocery store shelves. Some of us, with varying degrees of success, worked from home. And some of us did both.

Maybe everything about your work environment will slide back together exactly the way it was before the pandemic hit. But more than likely you’re going to find — if you haven’t already — that the way we work and where we need to do that work will be different.

Managing employees and processes will potentially be more difficult. You may have to abandon years of “this is the way we’ve always done it” and look at each situation from a completely different point of view. The “new normal” is more than a convenient catch phrase; it is real and it might even signify the end of the traditional work week.

What kind of changes might you face? What are the essential differences between early 2020 and now? Here are five realities Marsh & McLennan Agency believes should command your attention.

  1. What happens when some employees return to the workplace, but some choose to stay home?

    Before COVID-19, working remotely was considered a perk, but that attitude has changed radically during the pandemic.

    Remote workers are still engaged in their work and organizations; they are productive; and they are finding they can be effective communicators using online resources. If remote workers want to remain so, it will be more of a problem for management to say “no.”

    A possibly unexpected problem with remote work appears to be how long employees are staying connected to work during the day. Studies show it can be as much as 45 minutes more each day. This can lead to additional stress that managers might find difficult to detect.

    But what happens when some employees are allowed to work from home, while others are required to return to the workplace? That can create issues between “white” collar and “blue” collar workers.

    The latter group was often on the front lines during the pandemic, working at jobs that were considered essential. If they wanted to keep their jobs, they had no choice but to face the pandemic head-on. Management will need to watch closely to determine if there is a widening disparity between the “stay at home” employees and those who must go — or choose to go — to the workplace.

    Yet another issue with remote versus on-site workers can be “proximity bias.” Employees who are in the workplace, seen every day by management and directly interacting with other employees, could easily be rewarded more often than remote workers with advancements, raises and perks. In many cases, those who split their time between remote work and on-site work could ultimately have the best of all possible worlds.

    The point here is to recognize that differences will exist and without an empathetic, active approach to managing the situation, could result in further problems.

  2. You’re still dealing with a wealth of different people who have different needs 

    You not only have to now manage remote, hybrid and on-site employees but you also still need to consider the wants, needs and issues of each of the five generations you may have in your workforce: Traditionalists (born before 1946, but some are still employees); Baby Boomers; Generation X; Generation Y (millennials); and Generation Z (born 1995 and after).

    Each of these groups are in different stages of their lives and need different things from work. You can parse that even further because you have multiple genders and orientations that could be affected differently by the idea of returning to the workplace as well as racial, cultural and religious differences that should be considered.

    Can you please all of the people, all of the time? Probably not. In order to successfully transition to the realities of 2021 and beyond, you’ll need to create a plan that tries to do just that.

  3. You will need to think beyond “the way we’ve always done it”

    Most everyone prefers the comfort of the familiar. But new challenges can’t be met with old thinking. It’s sort of the square peg/round hole conundrum. That doesn’t mean you have to push the envelope until it tears; you simply have to be flexible enough to look at today’s (and tomorrow’s) issues with a different set of eyes.

    This can mean switching from managing tasks and watching the clock to managing outcomes and trusting employees to get things done right.

  4. Can you create and maintain a culture when employees are scattered?

    The first key word to creating a vital, vibrant culture post-pandemic is “trust.” That means trusting not only those who are working remotely but those whom you see every day at work.

    The second key word? “Communication.” The management strategy of the “walk around” is still viable for on-site employees, but you’ll need to find equivalent solutions for remote workers. Some of that may have been figured out during the depths of the pandemic; if not, now is the time.

    The third key word is “Diversity” including gender, race, culture, age and even preferred working location. Having on-site, hybrid and remote employees could potentially hamper any new or ongoing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts if you haven’t planned for managing it.

    Whatever you choose to do — and however you choose to do it — you need to find methods to engage employees in meaningful ways.

  5. If you’re not willing to be flexible, your competitors probably will be

    We’ve talked about the “employee churn” that could occur in your company, which could steal away key employees at exactly the wrong time leaving you with the cost and delay of having to find their replacements. Studies show that approximately 27 percent of employees plan to leave their current place of employment as soon as the pandemic allows.

    It's a buyers’ market — especially for Generation Y and Z — so the task is to make sure your company is what employees want to buy.

MMA can help you start up again and thrive

Marsh & McLennan Agency can work with you to do an assessment of your physical space, communications technology, culture and more. Our experts will work with you to develop a return-to-work plan that works for your myriad employee groups and your individual business. To learn more, contact your Marsh & McLennan Agency representative.