Not so long ago, it wasn’t unusual to stay with the same company for the entire course of your career. You could earn a pay cheque like clockwork, save for retirement, and eventually ride off into the sunset. Job security seemed more important. The narrative around professional life was more linear.

It’s unclear when things changed, exactly – but we know the internet had a lot to do with it. Job openings and resumés become more visible. Entirely new types of jobs were created. As daily activities became more flexible – banking, shopping, communication – increased flexibility found its way into the career narrative. According to the research firm McCrindle, job mobility in Australia continues to accelerate, with an average tenure of 3.3 years. This in addition to 5-7 career changes during an average individual’s lifetime.

The next frontier was flexibility within each job tenure – a trend largely driven by millennials entering the workforce, and a growing interest in experiences over things. These factors escalated the so-called war for talent. As an organisation, if you wanted to attract the best and brightest, you needed more than a good salary. You had to offer meaningful lifestyle benefits – including flexible start times and opportunities for remote work.

The pandemic has accelerated these trends, but for different reasons. In 2020, for the first time, remote work was experienced as a mainstream necessity. Managers have found themselves leading entire teams of remote workers, many of whom had never worked from home before. This has been done with varying levels of success. For many managers, the concept of building an airplane in the air has never been more relevant.

So…what will managers learn?

As social restrictions begin to ease, it’s easy to see why so many people in the business world believe that flexible and remote work arrangements will be more prominent from now on. We can’t know how many outbreaks could occur, and where in the world they could emerge over a period of years. That’s why the ins and outs of managing a remote workforce are becoming a point of focus – and we can expect a lot more dialogue (books, blogs, Zoom meetings, HR trainings) on that subject.

But perhaps the biggest overall lesson managers will learn through the pandemic is the value of being adaptable – of building more flexibility into the way things are done.

It’s true that remote work could become a more permanent fixture of the workplace, and knowing the tricks of the trade will be valuable. At the same time, we don’t know how metrics of productivity – much less the markets themselves – will change the way teams operate. Consider the number of people (you might be one of them) who can’t wait to get out of quarantine and back to the office. There is much to be said for personal interactions, meetings, trainings, conferences, and the daily experience of working with a team. Not everyone is similarly-suited to remote work. Given enough time, performance metrics will show this.

On top of that, we don’t know if social distancing measures will follow a linear path. Even if some parts of the world have been through the worst of 2020, new situations could develop, making remote work newly relevant in your city.

Lifestyles changes will also develop. Just as millennials came on the scene with a new outlook, young professionals entering the workforce in 2020 and beyond will have a different way of seeing employment. From a talent management point of view, the balance of virtual and physical workspaces will be an important factor – and it remains to be seen what effect the pandemic will have on the average job tenure in Australia.

In the midst of these changes, organisations that become more adaptable to social and governmental pressures are more likely to thrive. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s a lot for managers to take in. It’s a lot for everyone to take in – but if we ask relevant questions, we can find the answers together.

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