As discussions in the workplace turn from immediate crisis management towards recovery, one phrase is being used again and again in relation to everything from the way we communicate to office layouts: The New Normal. 

This new normal was approaching us long before COVID-19 and has just been advanced by the current situation. There will be some lasting changes as compared to pre-COVID, but on the other hand, we don’t anticipate the revolutionary shift that others have forecast. The reality will likely be something in between, as both companies and professionals sort out what makes a more productive, fulfilling and effective workplace, whether that’s in the office or out.  

So what exactly does the new normal mean in the context of work, and what can we expect to see in the upcoming months as we transition into this new normal economy? 

Dynamic working

With the onset of this pandemic, by far the biggest change is the proliferation of dynamic working, including working from home. What began as a forced experiment with an uncertain outcome has turned into the realisation that remote work environments can be productive and effective. As offices begin to freely open again, we do not expect to see an extreme change in most sectors, but we do expect that there will be a move towards greater flexibility across the board. 

And as this flexibility evolves, it may translate into a shift in demographics towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. New parents, or those with family caretaking responsibilities may find it easier to return to work and to stay on their desired career path while also balancing personal commitments.

A workforce that’s unlimited by geography means a more elaborate talent pool for companies to choose from and increased collaboration between professionals of various backgrounds and skillsets. Time will tell, but as the emphasis on the physical workplace diminishes, dynamic working opens the door for a more diverse, less traditional workforce prepared to tackle upcoming challenges. 

Harnessing the Gig and Grey economy

Utilising temporary and contract professionals will continue to be an increasingly viable workforce option. As companies in recovery mode attempt to strike the balance between preparing for future growth, while being realistic about recovery, the flexibility to switch resources on and off where required will be attractive in a whole new way. Additionally, the “grey” economy, which utilises the expertise of experienced professionals on a specialist project basis will gain momentum. 

Returnees to Asia

For many, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of being home - around friends, family and familiar environments. This is causing many who have made a life abroad to think about returning home. And businesses in their home country are waiting with open arms (and open jobs). Companies are welcoming them back. We were already seeing increased demand for returnees across ASEAN, as professionals with international experience and a local perspective are valuable for firms operating in a globalised reality. 

Flatten the company curve

As companies make more data-based decisions, they will start to adopt flatter and simpler corporate structures. Agility, flexibility and the ability to work across functions and wear different hats will become even more valued, shifting the traditional professional career path from its current linear shape to something a little less predictable. 

A shift in what the best candidates will look for

As a side effect of having more time to reflect, the new normal will include a shift in what professionals are looking for in the company they work for. Employee experience is going to take the front seat when it comes to attracting the right talent. 

Candidates will be more discerning when considering where they will move next - looking at factors such as digital strategy, dynamic working plans, values, identity and purpose, diversity and inclusion as well as overall environment, social and governance initiatives.  

Hiring for potential 

While formal qualifications, technical experience and overall time spent at the company will still play a role in recruitment, companies will increasingly have to hire for future potential as new roles in AI, robotics and machine learning are created. Hiring criteria will have to be adapted to focus more on a candidate's scope for development and capacity to learn.

In this new normal, the future was brought quickly into the present. It’s now up to employees and organisations to adapt quickly and effectively in order to find their footing  - until the next new normal comes along. 

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