A massive work-from-home (WFH) experiment is underway, ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic. By most measures, the experiment is succeeding. An estimated 56% of jobs can be done from home, and currently are.

Managers are learning to trust that “out of sight” doesn’t mean decreased productivity or lack of focus. While occasionally straining to meet peak bandwidth demands, organizations are reaping a WFH payoff from investments in scalable VPNs or desktop as-a-service from cloud providers like Amazon, Citrix, Microsoft and VMware.

The Future of Work Arrived at Warp Speed

In short, the COVID-19 lockdown has accelerated the future of work into the present. A transition that many expected to unfold over two to three years roared through in just three weeks in March and April 2020. Of the many changes we can expect as people gradually return to the workplace when the lockdown is lifted, two stand out:

  • First, we have real-world proof that for much knowledge work, location truly doesn’t matter. Investments in remote work technology (VPN, virtual desktops, video collaboration) enable companies to comfortably recruit talent in other cities, countries and continents – a particular boon for high-demand skills like full-stack software engineers, data scientists, artificial intelligence experts and the like.
  • Second, the success of WFH during the COVID-19 breakout will accelerate a shift in the employer-employee power dynamic that was already underway. Employees with in-demand skills call the shots. Those who find they like working from home will insist on it. Employers can’t rationally argue against it because we’re seeing that team members don’t need to work in the same physical space to collaborate. 

Coming Out Ahead on the Other Side of the Lockdown

When the pandemic lockdown is lifted, some companies will emerge ahead; others will come out limping, if at all. One factor distinguishing the winners will be their embrace of new talent acquisition and retention practices reflecting the WFH ethos. Ways to prepare now include:

  • Start offering a concierge-like hiring experience to compete with “destination companies” like Amazon and Google. The old drill – a one- to two-month-long process with multiple interviewers saying, “Tell me about a time…” – doesn’t cut it with millennials and their Gen-Z siblings. Instead, test job candidates on the job they’ll perform. For software engineers, schedule a pair day to see their skills in action.
  • Work to retain millennials and Gen-Z employees by giving them a purpose as well as a paycheck. These workers seek out employers that invest in social causes and the health and well-being of the workforce. Be open to temporary employment.
  • Invest in advanced technology for collaboration, DevOps, etc. Top talent looks for employers that offer modern tools that enable them to excel.
  • Reward based on merit, not tenure. In software organizations, this requires application transformation – that is, rewriting aging, monolithic applications understood only by people who have worked with them over 10 to 20 years. Cloud-native architectures built from interlocking microservices are easier to understand and maintain, freeing development teams from depending on one or a few individuals.
  • Flatten the organization to speed up decision-making and ensure employees are heard. Actively solicit ideas from every role.
  • Build relationships with partners that offer a deep bench of talent to supplement your own – which pivot around the cultural elements and processes for collaboration. 

Getting Ready for a Global Workforce

Preparing for a post-COVID-19 workforce – globally distributed, comfortable with WFH – is not simple. The companies that succeed will understand that transformation demands not just a minor tune-up to legacy talent acquisition processes but a major overhaul. Revisit where you look for new employees, how you evaluate candidates and how to make employees feel valued.

Starting now will put you in a stronger position when the lockdown is lifted and you resume innovating in a post-COVID-19 world.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Rich McGhee

Rich McGhee

Rich McGhee is Global Technology Lead, responsible for innovation, products and technology strategy within the Digital Engineering Practice at Cognizant. Rich has spent... Read more