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The way businesses pivoted and adjusted in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the trajectory of what 2021 will look like. The year ahead will be one where flexibility and agility are paramount to remaining viable. Business leaders will likely need to address new priorities to maintain profitability, while being creative and resourceful to help keep their employees and customers safe.

How work gets done, when and by whom, has forever been affected after the year that was. More people are working from home, business models have been innovated, there’s been an exodus of parents (mainly women1) from the workforce due to childcare responsibilities, and demand for flexibility is no longer considered a benefit but rather a necessity to get work done. 

Below is a summary of what we learned from our survey.


Many applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans

Forty-eight percent of respondents said that their company applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Small to mid-sized businesses were most likely to apply for PPP loans. Sixty-two percent of business leaders anticipating fast growth in the year ahead applied for the PPP, compared to 41 per-cent expecting no growth.

As Greg P., an Oasis client from the Financial Services Industry, said, “Great news! I just heard from my local bank and they have approved my SBA PPP loan. I just wanted to thank you for all your help. I know you went out of your way to help me. So thank you very, very much.” 

Stress is on the rise

Sixty-one percent of business leaders said their general stress level is higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, with 21 percent feeling “much more stressed.” The leaders also reported that they believe their employees are experiencing similar levels of stress, with responses at 60 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Women were more likely to report feeling higher levels of stress (66 percent) than men (59 percent), and those aged between 40 to 55 reported feeling the most stressed (68 percent) when compared to other age groups. Fifty-four percent of leaders said, “I am now more aware of my em-ployees’ stress levels than I had been before COVID-19.”

As Mike M., an Oasis client from a Counseling Services Organization said, “If I didn’t have Oasis, I’d be losing valuable time that would take away from my practice. If I were trying to navigate all of this on my own, I would constantly be wondering if I was getting it right. Having Oasis’ support reduces my anxiety.”   

Productivity and engagement are higher priorities

Forty-seven percent of respondents said that keeping employees engaged and productive is a higher priority now than it was at the start of 2020, with 16 percent reporting it is a “much higher priority now.” Engagement and productivity were a higher priority for those leaders operating for fewer than 10 years (54 percent) versus those who had been in business for 10 or more years (45 percent). 

One of the most effective ways to improve productivity and engagement with employees is to help them understand what is expected of them each day and how their efforts align with the priorities for the business. This requires ongoing feedback, as well as effective use of performance management tools and position-specific training and development opportunities.  

Employee benefits gain heightened attention

Business leaders reported intentions to focus more on employee benefits in the year ahead, with 36 percent reporting that “improving our employee benefits is now a higher priority” than it was before the pandemic. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents said they would:

  • Make employee benefits easier to access (36 percent);
  • Offer more affordable employee benefits (36 percent);
  • Improve our employee benefits (34 percent).  

Employees are on the move

Sixteen percent of business leaders said that at least one of their employees moved due to the pandemic, with 3 percent moving out of state. Further, 13 percent of business leaders said they had moved due to the pandemic. The mass experiment of working from home has worked for many businesses. You may have seen this in the area where you live, where people are choosing to move from more urban and highly populated areas to less dense and more open space. Or because their work has proven to be effective by working remote, they can now work anywhere they want. 

Leaders rely on a variety of communication methods

Leaders are deploying all methods available to them with slightly more emphasis on emails and phone calls. Younger respondents (aged 18 to 39) were much more likely to use chat or instant messaging (15 percent) and videoconferencing (20 percent) than respondents aged 56 years or more (6 percent and 12 percent, respectively). 

Percent of time spent in a day on different communication methods

  Total 18 to 39  years of age 40 to 55  years of age 56+  years of age
Email 26% 19% 28% 29%
Phone Calls 23% 20% 22% 26%
Videoconferencing 15% 20% 14% 12%
Text messaging 13% 15% 13% 12%
In-person meetings 13% 12% 11% 15%
Chat or instant messaging  10% 15% 11% 6%

Sixty-six percent of business leaders said they use videoconferencing more now than prior to the pandemic, and 39 percent believe they will continue to use it with their customers and employees after the pandemic. Only 13 percent of respondents said they are participating in more in-person meetings compared to pre-pandemic. 

Tips to improve communication

For remote teams in particular, communication is both a challenge and a priority — and it will remain so, long after the pandemic has ended. In this podcast by Paychex®, Oasis’ parent company, researchers present the idea that remote communication is most effective when teams coordinate to communicate in rapid-fire bursts. A few observations they cover include:

  • It can be more productive to use short bursts of communication over shorter periods, followed by silence, to allow time for the work to get done.
  • Teams that are self-organized in a way that allows them to be more “bursty” are more productive, such as communicating during specific times to collaborate and align on the right tasks so others can perform better, rather than stalling that task until feedback is received, and then re-engaging to complete the task at a later time.
  • Try to minimize interruptions when deep, thoughtful work needs to get done and create a “bursty” communication pattern that allows for this, such as exchanging emails late in morning to share ideas and input, but block the early morning to complete deep work.
  • Shorter emails focused on one topic perform better than longer emails focused on multiple topics.
  • The use of videoconferencing has increased with the amount of people working remotely due to the pandemic. However, video can be detrimental in some cases, such as when it makes it harder to hear one another, like when hosting a large group meeting. In this instance, it was proven to be more effective to only use audio.
  • Technologies that provide status indicators can aid productivity, such as showing when people are available or when they are working on a piece of content, so that workers can more easily and efficiently collaborate.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for business leaders across all industries. And these challenges will continue in the year ahead. You don’t have to go it alone. A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) like Oasis can help you to manage many of the much needed HR administrative tasks such as processing payroll, offering employee benefits that rival Fortune 500 firms, and managing employee performance and development. 

Is it time to outsource your HR administration tasks, such as payroll, benefits, and risk management, to a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) like Oasis? Access the complete findings on our study “2021 Priorities for Business Leaders.”  View more resources to support your business through the pandemic by visiting our COVID-19 Resource Center.

1 “How are working women doing during COVID-19? Our Women in the Workplace study explores”, September 2020, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, Copyright (c) 2020 McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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