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How the Coronavirus Suddenly Changed the Workplace

3 experts predict how U.S. jobs and companies will be forever different after the pandemic

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Chris Gash

En español | The huge shock to job security that has occurred since the coronavirus hit America with full force in March and April will have long-lasting ramifications for older workers. No one should think that once the pandemic passes, the workplace will go back to how it was. Too much has changed for that. So, forewarned is forearmed.

Businesses of all sizes have laid off or furloughed workers — 10 million as of early April — or sent them home to work remotely. Nearly half of the jobs in the United States — 70 million — have been directly affected by COVID-19, according to the rating agency Moody's Analytics.

“There are 33 million jobs at high risk of job loss, lost hours or pay cuts and another 37 million at medium risk,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's. Entire industries are shattered by shutdowns.


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Even for those with job security, there have been critical shifts in the way business is conducted. If you didn't know how to teleconference, share digital documents and keep a computer functional on your own, you had better be able to do so, and the sooner the better.

While it will take months or even years to get a bead on all the work-related fallout, there's no doubt that companies are doing things in radically different ways, and many will embrace lessons learned, instead of returning to the status quo.

For older workers, that means adjusting to fewer staff jobs, the immediate need for new skills and an overall flexibility that is far different from the salaried days of even the recent past.

For insight on future work trends, AARP turned to three workplace experts. Here are their predictions.

Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs and Remote.co

It's the tipping point for “work from home” as a valid and important component of a healthy organization. For so long, working from home has been kind of like a second-class citizen. I don't think there will ever be a company again that doesn't consider that some element of emergency preparedness has to be made, and working remotely in some form needs to be addressed and, hopefully, turned into a formalized policy.

More people are knowledge workers, meaning that they work with ideas and information, rather than with machinery. The knowledge economy naturally supports jobs that can be done from home. Offering workplace flexibility through remote work is one way that employers can retain and attract skilled workers in the future.

Plus, there's the bottom-line payback: By letting more employees work from home, businesses and nonprofits can reduce the cost of office space and equipment and see improvement in productivity.

Not everyone is hardwired to be a remote worker. Workers need to be honest with themselves. Are they self-disciplined, focused, organized, skilled at time management? They must be able to set boundaries around their work environment. And they need to be tech savvy, open to learning new tools and comfortable fixing minor technical problems.

Some older workers may have a bit of difficulty with job prospects moving forward if they haven't adjusted to the new remote work environment, as well as learned technology skills and how to use the tools needed to collaborate in today's environment.

"By letting more employees work from home, businesses and nonprofits can reduce the cost of office space and equipment and see improvement in productivity."

— Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs and Remote.co

Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence and author of Back to Human

Companies will be slower to hire, and there will be minimal pay increases for at least a year as they recover financially. Compensation for every job in every industry will be affected, whether there's a layoff, a pay cut or no bonus.

Those who are getting paid the most, however, are vulnerable right now because they are big targets for pay cuts or layoffs by companies desperate to save money in order to remain afloat.

Companies will more than likely invest in automation technology as a way to limit their future exposure. And more firms will get comfortable with using video-interviewing technology to interview candidates for jobs, after realizing the cost savings, efficiency and reach. These video interviews will be much more common, even coming out of the pandemic, much like remote work. Instead of on-site training, there will be more webinars and virtual experiences, in addition to access to online training courses.

Professionals will be more open to having multiple income sources, so I see the demand for freelancing and side gigs increasing. Overall, I think both employees and companies will be more conservative for many years to come, and the way generations think about money, savings and jobs will forever change. I hope that more companies will adopt and extend paid sick leave and additional worker protections.

Lindsey Pollak, a multigenerational workplace expert and author of The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace

It is scary to predict things when things are unpredictable, but I do see a couple of overarching trends.

Contract work will probably be the dominant story as companies work with leaner teams and rethink their budgets, meaning that they will hire more contract and fewer full-time workers for cost savings. That will be a huge problem — people who have no choice but to take on contract or gig work will have fewer, if any, employer benefits as a contract worker versus a full-time employee.

One positive outcome: Mentoring will take center stage. There will be a greater demand for older workers to mentor younger ones who have never faced an economic shock and difficult business environment. A lot of older professionals have more knowledge of weathering and working through disasters. If you entered the workforce 10 years ago, you haven't even experienced a recession. This is certainly unprecedented, but I find myself relying on some of the lessons I learned after 9/11.

I'm 45, and I have found myself talking to my younger colleagues about how work changed after that moment and also how I was laid off from my first job in the dot-com bust. There is a mentoring opportunity there. Experienced workers can bring a calming influence. We can all appreciate that right now.

Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50 +: Finding Work that Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the BillsGetting the Job You Want After 50 for DummiesLove Your Job and What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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