In hindsight, something that feels especially striking about the end of last year—as we now prepare to enter a third year of the pandemic—is the optimism (and naivete) we all had that 2021 would be better.
To be fair, in some ways, it was (thank you, science, for vaccines). But for the most part, we spent our second pandemic year the same way we spent the first: navigating the upheaval created by Covid.
The bad news: 2022 will be no different. The good news: This time, we’re better prepared. We’ve come to accept that our relationship with work is forever changed. And we can let ourselves be guided by these trends that have emerged, harnessing what we’ve learned from them so far to make it through the year ahead. Buckle up.
Uncertainty is here to stay.
Look no further than your employer’s return-to-office timeline (versions one, two, 12...) to understand just how much remains out of our control. What 2022 will demand of workers is not just the acceptance of uncertainty, but an ability to pivot.
In an interview with a candidate, I recently posed a question to help myself gauge this ability: “What was the most chaotic time in your life or work? How did you get through it?” Other recruiter-recommended phrasings: “Tell me about a time of immense change. How do you show up?” or “How do you lead others through change?”
Even outside of a job-search context, it’s worth asking yourself some form of the question. Use your answer as a guide to help you through what’s to come.
The strength of the global economy depends on vaccine equity.
We Americans are still a very parochial people, and the disastrous implications of more than 40% of the world still awaiting vaccines seem lost on us. You are directly affected, even if the connection isn’t immediately clear—maybe your living-room sectional order is delayed, or your child’s tuition is going up because international students can’t or won’t enroll as they once did.
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, I anticipate businesses will have to reckon with inequities among their global workforces and the limits of videoconferencing and virtual icebreakers to build teams. Travel bans are ineffective to fight a virus that does not respect international borders. Vaccine mandates are ineffective if vaccines themselves are not plentiful and accessible.
We work with bosses, not for them.
It’s nice to say an organization’s hierarchy is flat, but what does that really mean?
One thing leaders and managers were forced to quickly learn during Covid is just how much transparency can keep things feeling steady during times of upheaval. On Monday mornings in my last job, I used to send my boss a list of my priorities for the week. Now, I try (new habits take time to develop) to send this to our entire team in Slack.
I also ask newer colleagues if they want to eavesdrop on calls so they can pick up on tone, demeanor, and other cultural cues. As we move into 2022, we’re going to have to keep finding ways to make our processes not just more transparent, but more inclusive as well.
The Chief Diversity Officer can’t fix everything.
Plenty of companies reacted to the protests of 2020 by hiring someone to fix racism. Openings focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging skyrocketed; according to a report from the job-search site Indeed.com, “after the US economy declined in Spring 2020, the DI&B industry recovered quickly, with job postings rising by an astonishing 123% between May and September.”
But as a wave of chief diversity officers settled into new roles over the past year, an old complaint became newly apparent: Organizations expected the one person or one department to make up for decades of neglect. Chief diversity officers often have remarkably short tenures, driven out by a lack of resources and lackluster support. If this moment is really different, 2022 will be the year that we staff these departments to succeed, with an eye toward cultural change over cosmetic fixes and press releases.
Our communications and meeting cadence cannot continue at this pace.
If you are dreading Sunday nights more than ever before, you’re not alone. A new survey of US knowledge workers found that 42% feel very stressed the night before the workweek begins.
Part of that dread stems from the fact that the pace at which we’ve been working through the pandemic is at odds with the purpose we want to derive from work. This past year has been a period of setting boundaries and parameters between home and work, and hopefully people are realizing what they need to do to stick to those boundaries. In 2022, something’s finally got to give.
Center humanity and embrace the messy parts.
This might seem self-evident, but it’s worth restating: We are on the cusp of such a significant shift in the role work plays in people’s lives. It just doesn’t matter as much as it once did.
That’s really hard for those of us who live, breathe, and see ourselves as the embodiment of the work we do. But it’s also a massive opportunity, as the pandemic has exposed just how urgently businesses must change how they relate to and support their employees. Our boundaries between work and non-work time may be strengthening, but the separation between our work selves and non-work selves is fading. Employers are learning to make space for a worker to also be a person that wants to try being a stand-up comedian for 20% of their week, or writing their own poetry newsletter. What an asset for a company to accept you as you are.