This is a guest post written by Jack Wolstenholm, Head of Content at Breeze, a digital-first insurance company that offers simple, affordable income protection for working Americans.

From long-awaited weddings and graduations, to simply watching sports and getting a haircut, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all that normalcy shouldn’t be taken for granted. It has also revealed numerous lessons about life — including life at work.

“We know that previous major world events had a profound impact on workplaces and the kind of work people do,” said Michael Wilmot, an assistant professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.

“In fact, these events led to the demise of some markets and businesses and the creation of others. This pandemic is no different. It will change work in fundamental ways, and this will challenge people to learn to work in ways dramatically different than previous generations.”

COVID-19 has changed the way many of us work, and a lot of these shifts will likely be permanent even after the pandemic has subsided. Here are four areas where COVID-19 has taught us the most about life at work and what it means for the future.

Where We Work Doesn’t Always Matter

The pandemic has accelerated the trend of remote work. In the August issue of American Psychologist, researchers pointed to a recent survey of 229 human resources professionals

The survey indicated that roughly half of the companies had more than 80 percent of their employees working from home during the early stages of the pandemic. The companies expect substantial long-term increases for remote work after the pandemic.

The sudden move toward remote work creates or complicates a number of workplace issues, including:

  • The inability of some people to set boundaries between work and home.
  • The trend toward “presentism,” in which employees expect themselves or are expected by managers to work from home when ill.
  • How the loss of social connectedness with co-workers may affect performance and commitment to organizational goals.
  • The need for human resources to develop new performance management and appraisal systems for those who work remotely.
  • The possibility of new surveillance methods to overcome managers’ perceived lack of control.

Working from home presents unique opportunities and challenges for companies, regardless of the industry. How teams learn to communicate and collaborate remotely will be vital to their success moving forward — that’s why tools like Hive are critical for teams around the world.

Gig Work Is More Available Than Any Of Us Thought

The gig economy was a growing trend before the pandemic. But the combination of laid-off workers needing income and companies needing work to be accomplished at a lower cost has made gig work explode in 2020.

That may sound like a positive trend, but it may not be for the workers themselves.

“The gig economy was booming and crowded with freelancers that wanted different revenue streams before the pandemic, and now it is at risk to become overcrowded,” read a recent report in IBISWorld. “As more companies hire gig workers, competition within the gig economy will increase, which could harm gig workers’ commissions and earnings.”

As the future of work becomes increasingly digital and independent, this will impact the various types of work people are willing to take on to make ends meet. It will also impact how the members of the workforce prioritize compensation and benefits.

Expectations For Compensation and Benefits Packages are Changing 

According to a recent survey by Prudential Financial, workers are placing more value on their employer benefits package than they did before the pandemic. The survey found that:

  • 77 percent of respondents said their benefit programs make up a key part of their compensation, up from 67 percent last year.
  • 73 percent said benefits were a big reason they would stay at a job, up from just 59 percent last year.
  • 75 percent said that due to the pandemic they feel access to employer benefits is more important than ever before.
  • 52 percent said they would be willing to take a chance on a new job if it offered better benefits.
  • 42 percent said their employer benefits helped reduce their financial stress, even during the pandemic.

Due to COVID-19, employers will need to evaluate their current benefits and compensation packages, while employees will be taking another look at benefits they may have skipped in the past. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2020:

  • Paid sick leave was available to 75 percent of private industry workers.
  • Only 7 percent of workers had access to flexible work benefits, and only 1 percent of workers earning in the lowest 25th percent wage category had flexible work benefits.
  • 13 percent of workers could take advantage of flexible work schedules, with 8 percent of the bottom quarter of wage earners having access. 
  • Short-term disability benefits were available to 40 percent of workers. Of those with access, 98 percent took advantage, and 85 percent did not have to pay any cost for the benefit.
  • Long-term disability benefits were available to 35 percent of workers. 94 percent covered by long-term disability plans were not required to make contributions. 

In many cases, needs not met by an employer can be acquired individually. Personal disability insurance coverage is a perfect example. With or without employer coverage, this is something more and more workers may opt to pay a low monthly premium for to ward off financial risks presented by life’s most vulnerable moments.

Make Sure You Plan For The Future

When times are good, it’s hard to imagine the bottom falling out. But the pandemic has shown that nothing is certain, and no job is recession-proof. 

Before the pandemic struck, healthcare workers probably thought they had great job security given the growing demand for care and the shortage of qualified workers. Even if those workers could predict a pandemic, wouldn’t a health care crisis necessitate more medical professionals, not fewer?

They discovered the answer was no. According to BLS, “a record number of nurses and healthcare workers have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals halted revenue-generating elective surgeries and routine procedures. In April alone, 1.4 million healthcare jobs were lost.”

Nobody knows what tomorrow might bring. The best way to avoid that risk is to have an emergency fund. An emergency fund is money you set aside to help you through unexpected events that can hurt you financially. It can protect you from having to use credit cards, take out loans, borrow from your retirement account, or ask loved ones for help. Financial experts suggest your emergency fund holds at least three months of take-home pay. 

Still, that might not be enough when catastrophe strikes. A serious illness, for example, can be financially devastating, even with an adequate emergency fund and health insurance coverage. That’s where critical illness insurance may be worth it. This supplemental policy can provide up to $75,000 to use for out-of-pocket expenses if you experience cancer, heart attack, or another covered illness.

Key Takeaways

In some cases, the unique circumstances of 2020 have accelerated the inevitable, forcing us to grapple with changes to how we work sooner than previously planned. From the viability of remote work and the gig economy, to the evolution of employee benefits and how they intersect with our personal finances, the darkness of the pandemic has brought countless insights about life at work to light:

  • Where we work doesn’t always matter.
  • Some of us are more independent than we thought.
  • How we value compensation and benefits at work is changing. 
  • The worst really can happen — and we need to prepare accordingly.

All things considered, the future of work remains bright.