COVID-19 in early 2020, the “Pandemic” with a big “P”, set in motion one of the largest and most disruptive changes to the workplace in recent modern history. Digital communications platforms, like Zoom, helped to provide alternative digital platforms, workplaces changed and in the post-pandemic environment, the future of work morphed into a new landscape.
For a great deal, this meant Working from Home (WFH). This shift to pajama-bottom-board meetings created flexibility but a considerable amount of organizational damage– the “new normal”. “Hybrid working” is radically changing, and has changed, the future provision of work; it outlines the concept of flexible working in which people will work from home and commute to a workplace over limited days.
What Are the Hiccups?
The future of work – or to be more prescient the workplace – has taken up a lot of column inches over the course of the last 18 months.
The pandemic has caused an acceleration of changing trends within the workplace experience. This radical shift has fixated a spotlight on key areas of change and the organizational and/or structural impediments to change. The pre-pandemic argument that radical change would take years, or decades even, has been disproved. Coronavirus has changed everything.
According to the Harvard Business Review, COVID-19 is:
This is echoed by Deloitte who argue the pandemic has acted like “a time machine to the future.” Bain & Co articulates how COVID-19 has allowed businesses the opportunity to “set stage for retooling the business for a different future.”
The bigger structural changes surround the “homeworking revolution” that has allowed employees to work from home. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2020, nearly 50% of employers in the UK reported working from home.
However, these trends highlight issues from confidentiality and governance to more structural issues around unreliable WIFI or internet access. There are other soft issues with this growing trend – for example, employees working more than their contracted hours, inability to “switch off” and unable to get the right work/life balance.
However, there is a paradox in the midst of remote working – in that 71% of UK businesses are driving ahead and ramping up remote working for employees whilst simultaneously research also notes that 82% of managers are “concerned” about employee productivity levels.
Therefore, the greatest challenges business face surround balancing employee trust with the deployment of the right technology along with understanding individual employee situations. Balancing this triumvirate of competing pressures can provide a gateway to remote working success.
How Are Organizations Adapting to Change?
More and more businesses have discovered the many benefits of a so-called “hybrid virtual” workplace model. This organizational structure allows a majority to work from home whilst maintaining a minority who perhaps cannot perform their role at home to work on-site. The benefits are numerous – from lower costs, smaller teams, greater productivity, and individual work-life flexibility along with improved employer/employee collaborative experiences.
In pre-pandemic years, both HP and YAHOO! Suspended remote working trials. YAHOO!, for example, found the experience broke up teams and organizational cultural homogeneity. However, in these trials the downsides of the experience outweighed the positives.
However, it would be fair to say that trials between 2010-2015 occurred in the singular experience of an individual corporation. When countless businesses are mandated by the government and backed up by rapid technological change, this experience may illicit a very different response with different results.
For example, according to the BBC, 43 of the biggest employers in the UK have stated they do not intend to bring the entirety of their staff back to their office sites once restrictions are lifted. Most of these companies plan to “embrace a mix of home and office working with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.”
WPP, the advertising giant, goes further; “we’re never going to go back to working the way we used to work. But the new way of using the office requires careful planning. People are working from home three to four days a week, so we probably need 20% less space, but we’re not going to do that if everyone’s working from home on a Mondays and Fridays.”
Aviva, the insurance giant, similarly outlines a “flexible” approach which is based on 95% of the company’s workforce wanting flexibility and remote working. However, the company also noted that organisations need to be mindful to the individual circumstances of their employees – for example employees who live alone and the mental health issues therein along with those staff members who do not have suitable home working environments. Getting this balance right is why many companies are placing this “new normal” WFH experience on constant review – to help make sure it is what is best for both their company and their employees wellbeing.
Further research has identified a new trend whereby businesses are utilising this growth in remote working to help identify and “re-examine” the way work processes are completed and delivered within organisations. This has been done by “deconstructing jobs into ‘component tasks’”. This has empowered businesses to examine their business processes and to help pinpoint ways of delivering ‘component tasks’ through remote work in a more productive way.
We Need to Solve for X….New Graduates & City Wages
There is a soft and hard reluctance from employers not wanting their staff working WFH due to the mere fact they were hired on a city salary and can contract the same staff for, at times, a good discount. Workers have parked themselves in remote places, disconnected time zones that make it hard to work company policy office hours and employers are putting the smack down or giving in.
New graduates perhaps one of the more eager sub-sets wanting to desperately be in the office to have their “work” office experience, have live feedback, earn and receive soft skills hard to foster over zoom.
“For younger workers, the office is invaluable. Most learning happens informally, through seeing how experienced colleagues operate and asking them questions. Most networks are also formed casually, enhanced by chance conversations, rather than forced, awkward Zoom calls.
Without an office, these opportunities are hugely diminished. At home, often reduced to a cramped bedroom in a flat share, the world of work for the young amounts to little more than a screen. Their opportunity to learn, to progress, to enjoy the world of work is being blunted.“CityAM
A New Social Contract Being Threatened Due to Digital Innovation & New Needed Ways of Working
Deloitte found in their 2018 Global Human Capital Trends Report that the rise of the “social enterprise” created a large shift in corporate structures built upon the the integral tenants social capital has on shaping an organization’s purpose. The study also found that:
“Organizations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics such as financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, organizations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.“Source
Harnessing relationships across external and internal stakeholders is becoming a challenge for the online office as working in silos can prove difficult where impersonal engagement is key needed to assist attracting, retaining, and upskilling critical workers.
The movement of various organizations toward a “network of teams” operating model that seeks to enable greater collaboration and internal agility is now complimented by the growing shift from an internal, enterprise focus to an external, ecosystem one (figure above). Organizations that “get it” are on the cutting edge and encompass what Deloitte termed “social enterprise” known as “an organization that is alert enough to sense, and responsive enough to accommodate, the gamut of stakeholder expectations and demands”.
Post-pandemic trends suggests that purpose “embeds meaning into every aspect of work every day”. Sure, some corporates find the “fluffy” emotive trends too much, but worker/employee engagement, purpose and new models of flexibility are needed to now source the best talent.
The social enterprise really embodies a “new social contract” that calls for a more human-centered approach to relationships between the individual (employee/worker) and an organization and the organization and society.
New technologies and rapid digital transformations took over the themes across boardrooms this year, although:
“COVID-19 has reinforced our conviction that human concerns are not separate from technological advances at all, but integral for organizations looking to capture the full value of the technologies they’ve put in place.“
Zoom is Here to Stay
Adapting to the post-pandemic future of work requires business organizations to understand processes in a way that moves from linear or structural ‘office-based’ delivery of work. This means businesses may require a major investment in digital platforms to help improve communications and create a digital working culture as well as an investment in human capital and the strategy of time around new ways of working. Finally, the future of work looks to offer a “hybrid” experience of remote working and on-site and off-site collaboration. However, employee productivity, the on/off-site daily distribution along with other pressure points could force employers to return to the traditional office-based experience. The Covid-19 shift has indicated that resilience-employee-investment is key – in that, understanding what workers are capable of doing rather than understanding what they are not. Perhaps the worst time for organizations to pull back on workforce development but a time to build out resilience infrastructure and tools (a resilient workforce that is working toward or can be upskilled) to act as a robust army against any future hiccups and navigate the fluidity of the market and future of disruptive models of work.
A lot to digest but totally doable. To the next phase of work.