Two years have swung by, and employees are still waiting for ‘the normalcy of returning to offices to return. But, as the new year dawns, the hope of a pre-pandemic work pattern’s return is diminishing. Experts fear it might never come back.

How Did the Pandemic Change the Work?

When the first lockdowns were commenced in 2020, employees were expected to return to the offices after a small halt. Two years down the line yet, the waiting remains. At the time of the first outbreak, and when its scope was not fully known, a widespread return to the workforce seemed likely.

Most employees and employers expected a hard return date: a return to a pre-pandemic normal – the majority of employees back in the office for at least a few days. Consequently, many previous aspects of work would likely be restored, including the traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

Work in 2022

We have entered the third year of the pandemic, bringing various unprecedented changes to work. So, marching forth, with the speculations of pandemics’ end in 2022, how will work be like in 2022?

The Great Resignation: Wake-Up Call

In spite of the “voluntary quits” trending back to average, the reasons why people quit in unheard-of numbers will not change. In the world of remote work, employees learned to improvise and innovate, thereby losing their fear of change.

People have questioned their lifelong habit of putting work first as a major driver of resignations. While hiring is booming at the moment, new hires are just checking out the company culture and not the loyalty. Recruiters are still calling long-term employees regularly (yet they are not immune from the impact of the Great Resignation).

In the wake of the pandemic, the Work-from-Home model is being adopted by companies around the globe, providing employees to work for companies across borders. This has opened up the gate to a plethora of working opportunities for employees, liberating them from the fear of losing a job (at least to some extent).

Shorter Workweeks

The 9-to-5, 40-hours workweek was introduced during the Industrial Revolution. But now, the calls for more condensed workout hours have been gaining traction, especially as governments and companies across the globe are exploring more efficient alternatives.

Employers are looking to mitigate the over-burden on their employees while retaining and increasing their productivity, and shorter workweeks seem like the way to go. Abigail Marks, Newcastle University Business School’s professor of the future of work, believes that the four-day workweek will gain more steam in 2022

Data backing the four-day working week proves that condensed working weeks help employees find a healthy work-life balance and improve their mental health. However, experts are predicting difficulty bridging the gap between employees who can take advantage of the flexibility and those who cannot in 2022, especially with calls for more flexibility and shorter hours gaining traction.

Return of Women to the Workforce: A Big Challenge

Data indicate that women lost employment disproportionately in 2020; they are still overburdened with caregiving responsibilities and report experiencing pandemic burnout at higher rates than men. Several companies have even dropped their family coverage over the past year. Moreover, school and childcare closures are slowing down, preventing many women from returning to full-time employment.

This skewing ratio between male and female employees will have long-term detrimental effects on women, families, and companies. Leaving the workforce makes career advancement amongst women less likely. Recovering from a dent in the family income is challenging. Fewer women in leadership positions mean slower DE&I progress and less resilience during the next crisis.

For employers to succeed, women will need to be recruited with flexible schedules and career paths. In terms of promotion and high-profile projects, they must provide tangible support for women returning home, for example, not penalizing people in flexible arrangements.

Partnering with childcare organizations (which were severely understaffed during the pandemic) is a practical option; advocating for working mothers and fathers will help build engagement and trust in the organization as a whole.

No Back to Normal

All kinds of businesses across multiple sectors set return-to-office dates in 2020. But as time went on, companies rescheduled plans. It was partly due to ongoing health concerns and the fact that workers became comfortable – and remained productive – in remote settings, some of whom even pushed back against these dates.

Despite the current pandemic waning, there is still uncertainty about when it will end, whether Covid will become endemic or if another variant will emerge, and when these events are likely to happen. In addition, there will continue to be different types of risk tolerance among employees; for example, a single, healthy individual will be more willing to return to work than an immunocompromised individual or a parent with young children who cannot be vaccinated.

It seems a fantasy to set a sweeping, all-employee return-to-work date the way companies have been trying – and workers have been anticipating – since 2020: a relic of the past that doesn’t reflect our changing world.

Work in 2022: Looking Forward

Despite all the best predictions from the top experts, we don’t know what we don’t. As vaccines rolled out, many analysts predicted return-to-office in 2021 summer, meetings remained on Zoom.

“We know life will be messy and crazy.”

Kanina Blanchard, Western University in Ontario, Canada. 

It is hard to say if the Omicron wave will end the pandemic and if the workforce will be able to return to their office (and if they will be provided with the option). Nevertheless, public health interest will continue to dominate the agenda even in 2022, says Blanchard.