Op-ed: After two tough years, we should celebrate the new ways in which we work

Pandemic forced us to persevere and blaze new trails

Can you believe that after two years of this pandemic, we seem to collectively agree on something? The way we work has changed forever. 

Make no mistake, this pandemic has either resulted in a feast or a famine for many businesses. It all depends on the kind of work we were doing in the “before COVID times.”

The Great Resignation everyone has been talking about is the real deal. We had to make some tough choices. We could either pivot or we couldn’t, or maybe we were just fed up and wouldn’t. 

As an HR expert reflecting on the past two years, I wonder if, instead of the Great Resignation, this is more of a Great Realization? We have had permission to redesign how we work. There was no roadmap. We were figuring it out together. Somewhere along the way, many of us came to the Great Realization that the way we used to work wasn’t necessarily serving us well as human beings.

At first, many of us thought this was temporary. Two weeks tops. That was adorable, right? We created makeshift home offices at our dining tables and on sofas. If we were trying to find a quiet space away from pets or children, we might even work in our bedroom. We found ourselves, for the first time ever, on video “in our natural habitat”, with people we never thought we would allow inside our private lives.

What we thought would be one full lockdown turned into several. IT departments worked around the clock to set up, or further secure, remote access solutions. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and hair dye were in high demand, along with laptops, earbuds and headphones.  

Everyone knew someone who was impacted by a temporary layoff, job loss or financial hardship. Our federal government launched a succession of financial and tax relief measures. Those of us working in HR, legal and finance industries were doing our best to translate those programs into digestible bits of information that people would find easier to navigate. I likened it to building an airplane while it was flying. 

We figured out how to order our groceries and just about everything else online. Grocery store workers were given “hero pay premiums.” Companies that designed fashionable masks struggled to keep up with online orders. Delivery vehicles were everywhere. Staff shortages that we had been beginning to see across all industries prior to the pandemic reached new heights during the pandemic. 

Many people struggled with mental health and well-being. The isolation, long hours in front of screens, working in high-risk settings, home schooling, cancelled vacations and social events, and dashed hopes when COVID variants infiltrated our communities wore down even the healthiest and happiest among us. 

Despite all of that, our workers persevered. They blazed trails where none existed. They found solutions and new ways to get the job done. More than we could have predicted, many moved and / or found new jobs.

It’s been two years and finally we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  Spring is just around the corner and, with that, we have a collective sense of a new beginning.  As we prepare for that new beginning, we owe it to our workers to ask them what new thinking they have about where, how and when they do their best work.  

How might that new way of working result in better ways to collaborate, learn and nurture work relationships? We need to rethink the workplace yet again to make sure we never go back to where we once were.  

Let’s put into action all that we have realized about the wonderful ways in which our work has changed and enhanced our lives.  

Karen Brownrigg is the CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services. She has spent decades helping employers of all sizes, within Canada and around the world, navigate difficult questions and implement solutions.