How COVID-19 Changed The Way People Work

Adobe started a study with the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) in February 2020 to learn how the two largest age cohorts in the workforce—millennials (ages 23-43) and Generation Xers (ages 44-52)—approached work differently. COVID-19 was sparking a global shutdown that sent the majority of the digital workers home to work when the data arrived from the field.

Despite the inconvenient timing, the data revealed age differences and employee attitudes that were useful to businesses dealing with the crisis. More crucially, the research provided an early snapshot of the state of digital work before the pandemic. Employees weren’t only working from home as the pandemic developed; they were operating under extremely different, continually changing rules.

In this report, we reveal some of the most interesting findings such as the challenges of workers facing at work, areas where they are not affected but are still developing, and new expectations of a surprisingly engaged and resilient digital workforce .

Digital workers are resilient

Digital employees improved their knowledge of a range of fundamental professional abilities, including expressing their ideas, working with colleagues, managing conflict, and inventing, in the midst of a pandemic, as a reference to humans’ propensity to develop through hardship.

Digital employees were highly comfortable in a variety of job circumstances prior to COVID-19, from managing time to learning new procedures to prioritizing their work.
Despite the obstacles of a pandemic, employee confidence rose in crucial areas of work, including expressing ideas, which climbed by 4 points. Even more surprising, digital workers improved their capacity in two of the most difficult areas of work: working with colleagues across geographies (up 4 points) and coping with work-related conflict and difficult talks (up 5 points).

With face-to-face brainstorming and innovation laboratories no longer an option, digital employees turned to technology to reshape and reinvent work—to solve issues and develop in new ways.
• Workers are depending on technology far more than before the pandemic to encourage creativity and innovation (+9 points) and generate new ideas (+8 points).

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Digital workers have new expectations

In the face of an unstable job market and personal concerns, digital workers are taking firm stands on what they need to be productive and engaged at work, and the extent to which they will go to get it.

Prior to the epidemic, digital employees put “right” technology ahead of “new” technology. Workers are recognizing the limitations of older technology as a result of remote work. They claim that outdated technology makes it more difficult to take on additional work (+5 points), which is a concern given that driven personnel want more responsibility. Today’s digital workers want their workplace technology to be both updated and appropriate for the task.

Companies should provide the necessary tools and knowledge to digital employees, and employers should trust and empower them to know how to get the best results. Employees suffering from stress are substantially fewer (-10 points) due to the nature of remote work. They don’t feel as micromanaged as they were at the workplace. On the other side, they believe it’s more difficult to guarantee that their work is aligned with the organization’s goals. Priorities due to lack of communication (+2 points) and not having the option to choose how to achieve results that best support for the company’s objectives (+7 pts)

Despite the uncertainties created by a shaky job market, political and social unrest, and personal problems, digital workers have grown less forgiving of the parts of work they love most—and they’re prepared to act.
• Nearly a quarter (22%) of workers said they had already departed a job because workplace technology made their tasks more difficult prior to COVID-19. Today, over a third of workers (32%) say they’ve parted ways with a boss whose technology hampered their capacity to do effective job.
• Even more alarming, nearly half of American workers (49%) believe they are likely to leave their present job if they are dissatisfied or annoyed with the technology they use at work.

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Bad technology is also having an outsized impact on retention and recruitment:

• The proportion of persons who say they turned down a job because the technology was outdated or difficult to use increased by 12 percentage points.

• On the other side, the number of digital workers who applied for a job after hearing that a company’s staff utilize cutting-edge technology climbed by 7 percentage points.

Digital workers are even more engaged

Prior to the pandemic, digital worker engagement was quite strong. They’re even more committed now, despite major and worthwhile distractions.
• The percentage of workers who say they are extremely involved or invested in their employment increased from 79 percent in the first research to 81 percent in the second.
• Employees feel their efforts is making a bigger impact (+6 points) in their employers’ performance.
• The number of digital workers who believe that being able to perform their best job is more essential than wages has grown by 8 percentage points.

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Generations are impacted differently at work

Despite the large number of memes to the contrary, a large majority of digital workers—88 percent—feel extremely comfortable working alongside coworkers from different generations.

However, in the follow-up study, Workfront discovered a startling increase in differences in how various generations are responding to the pandemic’s continued strain. The bulk of generational differences fell into a few categories, where the trend was in the same direction but the magnitude of change was vastly different. Older employees, according to data, are more likely to be coping with the epidemic and, in some circumstances, gaining in confidence and success in this fast-paced atmosphere. Younger workers, on the other hand, are having a difficult time.

While all digital employees say their everyday job has a greater effect on their businesses’ success than before the epidemic, Gen Xers believe their contributions are far more meaningful (an 8-point increase vs. a 3-point increase from millennials). When asked if their ability to perform their best job is more essential than money, millennials scored 4 points higher, while Gen Xers scored a whopping 16 points higher.

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While digital employees have grown more acquainted with a number of basic job aspects in general, Gen X workers (ages 44-52) appear to be doing well. For example:

Communication: Millennials reported a small improvement in their ability to communicate ideas (+1 point) and express opinions (+1 point), whereas Gen Xers claimed an 8-point improvement in both.

Trust: The one aspect of work that digital employees have gotten less comfortable with is building and sustaining trust. When we looked at the data by generation, we discovered that the decline was due exclusively to millennials, who reported a 3-point loss in workplace comfort, whereas Gen Xers reported a 4-point increase in their capacity to develop and maintain trust.

Difficult conversations: Both groups became more comfortable dealing with disagreement and difficult topics at work. Older employees, on the other hand, reported a 10-point improvement in comfort in this area, while younger workers only reported a 3-point gain.

Digital employees are more likely than ever to leave or decline a job if the technology they use at work is outdated or makes their job more difficult. While both generations are seeing good growth, Gen Xers are more likely to leave (13 points vs. 7 points for millennials) and refuse offers (rise of 10 points for millennials and 15 points for Gen Xers) than their younger counterparts.

The role of work management in powering digital work

Work is centralized and connected across teams, departments, and organizations using enterprise-grade work management software. They break down silos, connect apps and data, and retain people in the settings they choose, all while revealing insights to help businesses anticipate issues, reallocate resources, and improve their people and processes. Work management enables businesses to power and maximize digital work.

Workplace management supports constructive interactions by giving data that is transparent and truthful, reducing friction. It offers everyone visibility into objectives, priorities, and the work being done, and it allows teams to negotiate disagreement with facts rather than opinions.

The workforce is increasingly relying on technology to solve issues and improve work, moving away from in-person roundtable discussion and toward virtual innovation and collaboration. Work management is a fundamental platform that integrates data, people, processes, and technology throughout a business, allowing digital workforces to address pandemic-related issues as well as rethink and enhance digital work.

When it comes to determining how to support business goals, digital workers desire autonomy and independence. Companies must move from a hierarchical to an egalitarian operational style in order to achieve successful autonomy—from telling people what to do to providing context so they can assess what needs to be done and giving them the ability to accomplish it. Work management gives everyone in the company the same context that executives do when it comes to tying strategy to execution, and it helps digital workers make excellent decisions.

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Anticipating and reacting to change rapidly is a need in today’s corporate world. Agility must become a permanent state of mind for businesses, with digital employees and their executives having rapid and simple access to the data they need to adapt, prioritize, and realign. Work management technology acts as a connection between tools, connecting and presenting data and insights from various systems to key decision-makers at the appropriate moment. A consolidated work environment becomes the source of truth for all work information and the engine for data-driven choices, allowing agility to become more than just a crisis reaction.

The pandemic introduced an extraordinary level of change and uncertainty, forcing businesses, leaders, and their employees to pivot, update, and revise their plans away from threat, toward opportunity. Being agile and able to adjust processes, systems, and workflows has armored both the company and its customers to stay engaged and inspired.


Jenifer Salzwedel
Senior Director, Marketing Operations and Enablement, Poly

Digital employees’ productivity and engagement are influenced by doing meaningful work and feeling valued for doing it. It’s also a must-have for younger employees who are feeling overworked and insecure. Work management software gives employees the “why” behind their working days, helps to ensure that they are aligned with the company’s most important objectives, gives insight and information to help them deliver decent work, and gives leaders awareness into what employees are doing so that they can remove frustrating obstacles and acknowledge great work on time.

Takeaways for leaders

It’s reasonable to assume that digital work will never be the same as it was before the epidemic. Regardless of how much of what has changed will last, the quantitative data mixed with the qualitative interactions leaders have with their frontline staff on a daily basis give valuable insights that organizations can use to help their digital workforce through uncertainty.

Technology and the people who use it are inextricably linked. Leaders must examine how and if technology empowers or hinders their workforces when making technological decisions. It’s vital to invest in new technology, but it’s even more crucial to invest in the right technologies.

For digital workers, technology is an integral part of engagement. Leaders who understand this are leveraging work technologies to mitigate the mundane and burdensome, and enable everything from flexibility and creativity to mental and personal well-being. Deployed thoughtfully—even in the most challenging times—technology can support employees in doing the best work of their lives.


Paul Tasker
VP Marketing Operations, Sage

Allow workers to work in the places and ways that they are most productive and creative. Invest in ecosystem techniques that enable employees to stay in their preferred tools and reduce context switching while providing shared information and collaboration areas. Encourage employee autonomy by putting in place the proper support mechanisms and trusting them to do the right thing.

Don’t confuse engagement with investment, or business with creating value, even when workers are working excessive hours and maybe generating more than before the epidemic. It is the company’s responsibility to offer the necessary assistance as well as a clear, common definition of success that each employee can contribute to. Employee engagement must evolve from a tactical HR problem to a strategic and multidimensional necessity for the board of directors and the C-suite.

 

Source: U.S Report State of Work 2021 of Workfront