COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it.

From eerily empty city streets to whole companies ‘going remote’ in a matter of days, the global impact of coronavirus is palpable.

This ‘new normal’ is set to stick around for the foreseeable future, and has left everyone asking the same question: what happens next? 🤔

Well, no one knows for sure, but there is one thing we can all agree on: the workplace won’t be the same after this.

The virus has had a huge impact on business: in just three months, shares in video-conferencing tech company Zoom went up 145% while some media outlets claim the coronavirus will bankrupt more people than it kills. Meanwhile the world’s overall reliance on remote-first tech has soared as people turn to their computers to help them stay connected.

But what does this global upheaval really mean for the future of the workplace?

Here’s a quick rundown on what we can expect when the coronavirus crisis finally blows over.

1. There will be way more remote-first companies

Nationwide lockdowns have meant huge gains for remote-first companies like Zoom and Slack (which recently beat growth estimates by almost $8M).

Interviewed by Forbes, Ben Huffman, CEO of freelance work platform Contra, said: “[This] will lead to a renaissance in how we work and enable all of us to achieve greater work-life balance. COVID-19 is an accelerant to a trend that has been long overdue. We have seen a 10,000% increase in membership on our platform in the last month alone.”

With companies like these seeing massive growth, plus experts agreeing many businesses will stick to remote work post-COVID-19, it’s clear remote-first companies are set to rise.

2. Companies will experience a cultural ‘reset’

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”

It’s a common refrain among business and world leaders over the last few weeks, referring especially to the home-working shift used to keep employees safe.

But for some, these ‘unprecedented measures’ have simply accelerated an already growing trend and shone the spotlight on something tonnes of companies already knew: remote working works.

In an interview with The Guardian, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of WordPress and Tumblr owner Automattic (whose employees already work remotely), said, “Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick… This might be a chance for a great reset in terms of how we work.”

We already know remote working is more productive but many companies previously believed it would be disruptive to culture, budget or deadlines. COVID-19 has shown them remote work is possible and—more importantly—it actually works.

3. The digital skills gap will grow

Now, for the downside. The digital skills gap was already a big challenge for HR leaders before the coronavirus crisis.

And as the world’s tech-reliance grows via lockdowns and shifts to remote working, the digital skills gap is only set to grow bigger.

Back in 2019, the World Economic Forum estimated 54% of employees will need reskilling by 2022 to fit growing digital needs—but how big that number will grow post-COVID-19 is something we’ll just have to wait and see.

4. HR pros will have to re-examine employee perks and benefits

Successful businesses are made to be resilient.

From environmental impacts to industry changes, the difference between biz heros v zeros is how they choose to weather the storm when it comes to change. ☔

But, no matter how resilient your company is, no one could have guessed the true impact of a global pandemic (even those who claim to have ‘predicted’ the whole thing).

That’s why every company will need to rethink their company cultures post-pandemic.

Here are a few examples:

  • Colleague connection: With the introduction of the 2m rule, hanging out at the water cooler is no longer an option. Things will change, eventually, but it’s important to prioritise employee health and think of new ways your employees can connect (preferably from a distance).
  • Paid sick-leave practice: COVID-19 has meant serious upheaval when it comes to paid sick-leave, with some governments paying up to 80% of the salary for self-isolating employees. The pandemic has shown the need for flexibility when it comes to leave.
  • Remote working: Now your employees have worked remotely, there’s no going back. It’s time to seriously think about your flexible working offers and what that might mean when it comes to your apprentices.

Preparing for the New Normal

No matter what happens over the coming months, we all need to brace ourselves for major change.

From the growing need for digital skills to outdated employer views, the coronavirus crisis has highlighted issues that were previously brushed under the carpet and gives us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these societal challenges as a group.

This is a new normal for all of us and in this time of unprecedented change it’s important to remember the things we have to be thankful for: human resilience, tech advances and—above all—the strength we have as a collective.