The global pandemic has changed the way we work forever. Some organizations are embracing this new era and adapting. Others are hankering for the good old days of yesteryear. Whatever your organization’s standpoint might be, the future of work is here. The way that you choose to align, adapt and evolve your model will be tantamount to the success (or demise) of your organization.
There’s the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and to some extent, that might be true. But consider if that is a mindset that truly tries to achieve the very best. A mindset that allows you to grow? Let’s face it, it isn’t. Businesses, for the most part, stuck to their ways because it was what we were used to. Offices, 9-5s, fixed workdays, all of this was the status quo and it was accepted. Mainly because we didn’t know what else was out there, save for a few “New Age-y” corporations, who, frankly, we just thought were showing off.
Covid-19 changed the workplace, but not only that, it changed the mindset of the people within it. Here’s what Gartner found:
- 82% of employees deem it important that they’re seen as a person, not just an employee - people want to be treated as just that, people.
- 96% of human resource leads have shown they care more about the well-being of their employees now than before Covid-19.
- 55% of employees will now make decisions on their career at a workplace based on the flexibility of the position.
- The majority of workers (55%) would be seen to be high-performing employees when given radical flexibility. Only 36% would perform as well given a standard 9-5 in an office.
- Offering flexible work, genuine collaboration opportunities, and a management style that cares about the person has shown an employee performance boost of up to 54%.
Digital Revolutions: The Hybrid Workplace
Join a conversation with anyone across the world and it’s full of anecdotes recollecting what they might have been doing this time last year, the year before that, or before the pandemic. People reminisce about the times they flew out to a conference here, visited offices there, met clients in hotels, and shook hands in restaurants. The world sure feels like a different place. Work from home, over the course of a matter of weeks and months, replaced the traditional office-based model. Not because of a cultural shift, but out of necessity. If businesses didn’t make this change they couldn’t function.
The difference between this type of necessary, almost knee-jerk response and a genuine paradigm shift, is that people don't expect it to last. Memories of when the first lockdowns were announced conjure up thoughts of “Well, once we get through these few weeks we’ll be back to normal,” how naive we were. When the science began to show that Covid wasn’t going anywhere and, in fact, was bringing us new, more virile variants, phrases like “The New Normal” began to appear and people, companies and corporations included, started to realize that this work culture shift was going to around for longer than we had expected.
A hybrid workplace was now a necessity, not just for a week or two, but for the future. It wasn’t an option, it was an obligation. Digital transformation, a switch to a remote work style, was made the primary focus for operations that had already thought about it, and it rapidly became the focus for those that hadn’t even thought about it.
Post Pandemic: There’s No Turning Back
The New Normal is here to stay, and, for the most part, it has had a relatively positive impact on businesses and employees. It doesn’t feel right to suggest that Covid-19 has had a positive impact on society, after all, millions of people have lost their lives and millions more had their lives ruined. But now that we’re, tentatively, on the other side of the worst of it, we can begin to ask how to make the best of it and what does The New Normal look like?
It’d be easy to make decisions within a board room, with “the company's best interests at heart” but this has a considerably weaker outcome versus the incorporation of the employees' sentiments and desires too. Remember, employees want to be seen as people, not just employees. There’s unlikely to be a cookie-cutter, status quo style model anymore. What works for one business is unlikely to work for another. In fact, when you think about it like that doesn’t it sound ludicrous to think that for decades that’s exactly what we did? Instead, businesses need to create their own models based on their needs and the wants of their employees.
Ivanti, an IT asset & service management software solutions company, conducted a survey across swathes of their employees around the world including, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, and Australia, with the aim of understanding remote work. The survey focused on both office workers and IT professionals.
The results were clear-cut. There’s no turning back.
The vast majority (86%) of employees who responded said that going back to the office full-time wasn’t something that they wanted. In fact, 45% didn’t ever want to see the office ever again and another 42% would be happy to accept a hybrid office/working from home model. Employees feel so strongly about this that a huge 71% of those surveyed would, if given the choice, choose to work remotely over a promotion or pay increase. In a separate survey, 74% of younger employees would take a pay cut to work at their ideal job.
This isn’t just a gut reaction either. Employees have taken the time to understand the reasons behind their feelings. 40% want it because it’ll save them money, 48% because it’ll reduce commuting, 43% because they want a more flexible schedule, 43% because it’ll offer a better work-life balance.
The people were asked some simple employee satisfaction questions and the people have shown what they want, now it’s in corporations' hands to adapt to The New Normal, but in a way that suits their processes and purposes too. Balance is key but ignore these facts at your peril.
The Future Of Work Is Here: Pathways to Success
Navigating the brave new world of work isn’t going to be straightforward. There are going to be new adaptations to undertake, new methods to employ, and new expectations to set and meet. What follows are the first steps on a pathway to success in the future of work.
Reimagining The Future of Work
As mentioned above, some of the biggest issues are the physical and logistical sides of work. Questions need to be asked about how workers conduct their work. Does the 9-5 model make sense anymore? Should we use offices or a hybrid model? Chances are that these questions have already been given some sort of answer during the pandemic, but now is the time to consider them over the long haul.
There’s no doubt that flexible working as a model is going to become the standard for the vast majority of workplaces. Employees want it and are found to be more productive because of it. It’s a win-win. But in order to move away from the traditional 9-5, office-based model there are methods that will help implement flexible working:
- Ditch the 40-hour week - This is a serious hangup from the early 1900s when workers wanted and were used to 12-hour plus days. When paid the same rates for different hours worked, employees were seen to be able to complete tasks in a far more focused manner.
- Ensure cohesion across teams - There will be times when meetings are a necessity, so be forward-thinking and make sure that flexible teams are aware when meetings are scheduled and there is some synchronicity in their schedules.
- Let workers work at their peak - People are individual and therefore work in individual ways. By allowing people to work at their peak performance times you’ll receive a greater level of output and achievement. Just always remember that what works for one, won’t necessarily work for another. For every person who can work all their hours in 4 days, there’s someone who needs 5.
Flexibility should become something of a philosophy for your workplace. It might even become a value that becomes a core part of your company. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to become a matter of policy. Rather have flexibility as an option for employees that you are willing to work with.
Define Your Return to Work Strategy
It’s unlikely that your business will embrace a 100% remote model, in fact for many businesses this isn’t an option, therefore it’s necessary to define a return to work strategy. Planning out the specifics on when and how employees return to on-site roles is worth putting effort into as considerations will need to be made.
Vaccinations are a subject that many workplaces have tackled already but should be one that workplaces bear in mind in the future, especially as employees change and new team members join. Will vaccines be mandatory for your workplace? Do workers have an option? Whatever you choose, this should be a policy that you’re willing to have scrutinized and challenged.
Communicating your return to work plan is essential, especially in a hybrid model where there might not be a big “Welcome Back” sort of day (it’s unlikely your employees want this type of day…). Provide different options beyond a blanket email. Allow your employees the opportunity to question it via 1-1 meetings.
Can Hybrid Work Kill Innovation and Collaboration
There are certainly challenges with hybrid work and innovation but there have always been challenges with innovation. This is not a new challenge by any stretch of the imagination. At the very heart of innovation is collaboration, and they say that necessity is the mother of invention, therefore embrace the new tools that have been invented to assist collaboration, thus encouraging innovation.
Teams need to be able to work together within a physical workspace, they need to work together remotely, they need to be able to work together alone, and need to work entirely by themselves. It’s up to the employer to provide the necessary tools and resources for the employees to do so. By providing opportunities for the individuals to embrace their work style to maximize their innovation and collaboration, success will be achieved.
Offering Flexibility When Remote Work Isn’t An Option
There are, of course, workplaces that simply cannot shift to a remote option. These are our frontline workers, those working in manufacturing, or a physical store location, or sectors like farming. So is this New Normal simply not an option for these companies?
Rather than seeing flexibility as attached intrinsically to remote work, instead see flexibility as exactly that, the option to be flexible. This means providing employees the option to pick what shift works best for them, or the ability to pick a break time when suits them, offering small freedoms within their working day rather than strict adherence to a set of prescribed rules.
Besides the when of work, there’s also the flexibility in the how of work. There are myriad technologies that are exploding into the physical location workplaces which allow workers enhanced flexibility in how they conduct their work. It might be a more intelligent stock system or the use of enhanced robotics within manufacturing. These investments allow companies to offer their employees options during their working day, beyond what they might have had access to traditionally.
Facilitating Workforce Transitions
There’s no hiding that everyone, companies both big and small, showed that they were able to adapt to a changing world. They were able to provide flexibility and innovations that were created out of the necessity to survive. The cards have been played, therefore, why not use this same level of flexibility and innovation to empower and enhance the workforce as we move into the future?
A simple step on this path is to consider the tasks on a smaller scale rather than the bigger picture. Does everything that adds up to the greater goal truly need to be carried out in an office, face to face, or could it be done remotely and flexibly? The pandemic proved that the latter is an option at the very least.
These decisions and workplace transitions shouldn’t be burdened solely by company owners and management, but rather by those working in occupational policy at a national level. The pandemic proved that a robust digital infrastructure is required by all and should be an essential utility. People shouldn’t have to rely on the likes of Elon Musk for high-speed internet.
Bravely stepping into The New Normal
Providing the workplace with administrative policies and workplace values that assist flexibility will create a happier, more efficient, more mentally resilient workforce. A workforce with those traits is one that achieves, delivers, and exceeds company goals. And what’s not to love about that?