Why the pandemic isn’t all bad for the workplace

To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of challenges for the workplace.

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But the situation has prompted positive changes as well, from enhanced leadership and more focus on employees to providing proof that remote work can succeed, says Andrea Goodkin, executive vice president of human resources consulting at HUB International. They are changes she hopes will continue post-pandemic.

“This is one of the greatest learning opportunities ever,” Goodkin said during a session this week at WorldatWork’s Total Resilience Conference, which is being held virtually over nine weeks after coronavirus forced the organization to cancel its annual in-person event.

Related: How HR is stepping up during the pandemic

In response to COVID-19, employers have been prioritizing employee connection and more regular coaching, feedback and communication, she said. “We know each other on a different level now,” she said. “Employees are craving emotional connection.”

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Employers’ focus on wellbeing and connection has given employees the leadership they wanted. And it actually has made employees more engaged with their workplace and company leaders during a stressful time, she said. According to research from McKinsey & Company, for instance, employees are four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report a positive state of wellbeing if their organizations responded well to the crisis.

“We need to build on this trust that has been built,” Goodkin said.

Related: 5 coronavirus lessons learned from Edward Jones’s CHRO

Among the positive workplace changes is a greater focus on ongoing support and feedback, Goodkin said. Many employers are asking for feedback from employees: What’s working? What’s not? How are you feeling? What could be better?

Asking for that feedback is important, Goodkin said, but so is acting on how employees respond. “[Employers] need to use and analyze the data we gather to make changes in the workplace,” she said.

Goodkin also said the current situation has proven that remote work is working and that management should consider future investments in it. Allowing and embracing remote work can give employees the flexibility they desire while helping employers widen their talent pool as geography doesn’t matter.

Related: HR leaders plan to embrace remote work post-pandemic

Importantly, employers should embrace permanently the changes they’ve made during the coronavirus pandemic, Goodkin said.

“The momentum is really here–we are grabbing on to what’s working, and we need to implement that as we move forward,” she said. “We need to make sure the positive changes are not time-bound–that they will continue in the future.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.