Retaining Employees in the New COVID-Age

The year 2020 saw the workplace as we know it tossed upside down and sideways. With many employees resorting to remote working practices, the once buzzing offices now lie cold and deserted. Communication and engagement have taken a new twist, with employees embracing a sudden seclusion hidden behind a digital screen.

All this has now turned into a new norm for businesses. And its impacts are felt in every area of the organization, especially when it comes to managing talent. The economic hardships drew many companies to cut down their workforce. And managing and retaining the remaining employees in the new COVID-age have posed an unfamiliar set of challenges for business leaders.

Undoubtedly, this demands a fresh perspective and a new approach in a backdrop where health and safety have become priorities and telecommuting has taken center stage.

A dramatic shift

For years, big corporations have often invested in fancy offices, buffet lunches, free snacks, game rooms, gyms, company cars, and the likes to outpace their competitors and attract and retain the best talent. Some have even treaded further when the competition was stiff — remember Google’s decompression capsules and free massages and Facebook’s on-site barbershops and valet parking?

But these perks hardly mean anything to employees who are now working from home. Their work arrangements have dramatically changed and so have their needs and expectations.

So how would the employee of the future talk about a great place to work? This demands reimagining the future of the workplace, quite literally.

How can you retain top employees in a new COVID-age?

Replacing top talent is a costly affair, even when supply outpaces demand. And losing your best people to a competitor could severely disrupt operations and compromise your competitive position. That’s the last thing you want on top of all the COVID-led struggles. 

This is why retaining talent should be a priority for any company planning its recovery. But times have changed and so should your talent strategy. It’s time to ask the inevitable—what would matter most to employees in the new COVID-age?

Some things will remain unchanged and might become even more important. A competitive salary, for example, will continue to play a pivotal role in securing your employees’ financial wellbeing.

But what else would make a difference when it comes to retaining your workforce? Here are some important factors to consider when planning your business’s employee retention strategy in 2021.


No doubt, work from home (WFH) arrangements will continue into the future as both employees and businesses seek to enjoy its many benefits. However, most companies will opt for a hybrid arrangement as a permanent and more practical approach.

And employees wouldn’t mind this either as they seek the occasional break from the WFH isolation. According to a BCG study, 57% of employees are looking forward to returning to the office. And this sentiment is even more prevalent among those with children at home. So, a combination of telecommuting and office-based work would be important for employees looking for greater flexibility from their pre-COVID work arrangements.

Technological capabilities

When the pandemic lockdowns and isolation regulations were enforced, many companies were unprepared to initiate remote working practices. This led to a variety of challenges — from miscommunications to compromised data security. And this affected employees’ safety and security and overall work productivity and efficiency.

So, the technological capabilities of your business will now matter more than ever before to your employees. The latest and coolest technologies to collaborate and communicate could help you gain their favor. And not only that, but building the necessary security infrastructure will also be important for them to feel safe and secure working for your business.

Health and wellbeing

When employees return to their offices, they will pay extra attention to your safety and hygiene efforts. And this concern will continue into the future. So, creating a safe workplace will take priority over building fancy, ultra-modern offices. These efforts can include strict cleaning and hygiene policies, medical support, new workstation arrangements, and health screening facilities.

Another challenge to note is isolation, one of the biggest concerns among the telecommuting workforce. And over time, it can even spiral into depression and anxiety for some. So, the emotional wellbeing of your employees should also be an important consideration.

Communication and engagement

Studies continuously confirm that highly engaged employees are less likely to leave an organization. And it has become even more important in the COVID-times.

But an Igloo report shows that 70% of telecommuting employees are feeling left out. It’s easy to feel disengaged and lose the sense of community and culture when working from home. Even those working in an office could experience this when a hybrid work model with staggered shifts is implemented.

So, business and HR leaders would need to find creative ways to improve communication and engagement within the new pandemic-led work arrangement. Some companies are already making tremendous progress in this area, rolling out virtually organized game nights, online hangouts, and new recognition programs. Company-wide communications and increased one-on-one check-ins will also be important to maintain seamless engagement.

WFH allowances

Google came under fire when it banned employees from expensing meals while working from home. But for those accustomed to free buffet lunches and an abundance of snacks, this could be disheartening and even demotivating.

For employees, there are increased expenses attached to telecommuting. Ergonomically designed home office furniture, for example, is essential for their long-term health, comfort, and productivity. There are also electricity and Wi-Fi expenses, among other things that they will need to bear. This is why many companies such as Shopify and Twitter are already providing WFH allowances.

It’s time for a new way of thinking

The importance of a workforce as a source of competitive advantage is felt even more by businesses with the pandemic-led disruptions. So, having strategies in place to retain your best employees has never been more important.

But with the ensuing economic, social, and financial calamities, much has changed—from work arrangements to employee needs and aspirations. So, it’s time to explore new ways of thinking and transcend beyond the pre-COVID norms, not just to survive, but also to thrive in the new pandemic-age.