How COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the workplace, what companies are doing going forward

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We've all lived through dramatic changes in the past year. Looking back, we know how the workplace had to change because of COVID-19. People worked from home. They held seemingly endless meetings over Zoom.

Remote learning meant parents had additional child care duties. Stress and anxiety increased. All of this is expected to have a lasting impact on the workplace.

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Going forward, companies will find themselves managing employees' lives.

They recognized that dealing with upheaval affected mental health. So many companies began to offer mental health counseling.

As women elected to work from home, they lost visibility at the office, so business consultants are warning that the gender wage gap will worsen.

"What we're likely to see if we don't do anything about it is managers giving raises to their male in-office employees at the expense of their female at-home employees," said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, who has been analyzing lasting work trends as we emerge from the pandemic.

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A year into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to create major challenges for families. But, there have been some silver linings.

Employees have broken the mold of working 9 to 5, five days a week, at the office. That's going to be difficult to reign in. By demonstrating that remote work hasn't hurt productivity, workers now determine where and what time they work.

"There are morning people, there are night owls," noted Kropp. "Let people work when it makes the most sense for them, and you're actually rewarded as an employer by having a more productive workforce, and those employees are happier as well."

The social justice movement and a call for greater diversity and inclusion have become workplace values. That means companies will need to stand for something to reflect the values of their employees and executive leadership.

"They put their reputation on the line to support one cause or another cause," said Kropp. "They actually get really good results because the employees that care passionately about that issue are more engaged from it."

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With some workers expected to split the work week between home and the office, companies may downsize. Too many desks sit vacantly.

The research and advisory company Gartner estimates in the Bay Area it costs companies an additional 45% over salary for an office, parking and other perks.

"The idea of the volleyball courts, the bicycles to go back and forth from building to building, really lavish cafeterias are probably a thing of the past," Kropp believes. Still, construction of new office space continues, which could accommodate more hiring. Or, it could sit vacantly.

One thing is certain. Service and retail workers who lost their jobs learned how to survive a pandemic, taking on gig jobs to get by. This shows they can reinvent themselves during economic turmoil.

"We have this amazing human resource. We have people who are incredibly resilient, who are eager to do things, and just given an opportunity, they can do amazing things," said Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future.

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