Will what we learned during COVID ultimately improve the way we work?

We’ve all been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic as people and as business people.  While we can’t ignore the fact some businesses have had – and continue to have – a really hard time, we have to look forward.  Moreover, we have to look forward with optimism because what we’ve learned will improve the way we work.

To borrow a well-worn cliché, during the earliest days of the pandemic necessity really did become the mother of invention.  It was massively impressive to see just how quickly we all adapted to working from home.  We learned new skills, new disciplines and, ultimately, a whole new way of working in only a few weeks.

Now, with almost two years of home and hybrid working under our belts, we can see some very positive changes coming from what we were forced to learn in a relatively short period of time.  We’d like to share some of these observations here:

1.Working from home is here to stay

Even now we’re heading back to the office (albeit for a few days per week or per month), the overriding effect of the pandemic is we definitely can work at home.

Working from home was always something businesses discussed but never quite convinced themselves about.  Now employers have seen it doesn’t affect productivity (in fact, in many cases it’s been quite the reverse) and employees have seen that it gives them a level of flexibility and autonomy they probably had never imagined could exist.

Moving forward, one can only think home working will continue to be a massive part of our working lives.  We know the technology and we know how to make it work around our personal lives.  Without the added pressure of home schooling and attempting to avoid a global health crisis, home working will only get easier.

More importantly, with most companies looking at a 2 days in/3 days out policy, we will also get the face time with our colleagues and clients we all need to avoid feelings of isolation or lack of support.

As an employer the cost benefits have already been widely promoted.  Less floor space and less onsite amenities present savings but there are also warnings to heed.    Employees now expect to work from home; it is no longer considered a perk but a right.  In a recent study conducted by EY nearly half of the 1000 employees interviewed said they’d leave their job if it didn’t offer a hybrid working model.

The toothpaste, as someone said at the beginning of the pandemic, is most certainly out the tube.

It’s also important to note that with more members of staff continuing to work from home, keeping step with competitors means keeping step with technology.

Although we have made huge strides forward during the last two years, technology won’t stand still.  Businesses will need to continue to improve their workflow, collaborative and communication technologies to enable employees to talk with each other and with their clients in the most efficient and immediate ways.

And remember, your clients are also working from home so even simple strides like improving e-signature & power PDF capabilities will make their working lives so much easier.

2. Cutting edge technology is now the norm

When we were told to work from home, we had to get very familiar with the latest technology very quickly.  Video calls immediately became our go to means of communication, we replaced printing with PDFs and learned to collaborate ‘live’ on digital documents.

As a result, we now have a working population that is totally comfortable with the latest technology.  This means we can work effectively (and cost-effectively) from anywhere.

However, our clients have gone through the same crash course in technology.  This means they now expect more from you; they want you to be cutting edge and if you fall behind, it could cost you customers.

You need to be on the lookout for the technology that will make your clients’ lives easier.  Many of the large consumer brands caught on quick.  Estee Lauder embraced ‘virtual try-on’ capabilities so their customers could try out their products safely.  Nike revolutionised their online platform to ensure their sales volumes didn’t drop when non-essential shops shut.  Even Primark finally moved online having relied solely on physical trading up until the beginning of lockdown.

It is doubtful whether so many businesses would have attempted such dramatic deviations from their usual operating models if it weren’t for the pandemic but now possibility has raised expectations, all businesses will have to do everything they can to capitalise on the fact we are all so much more tech savvy.

Over the last two years we have worked closely with clients, making sure they are taking full advantage of a range of new technologies including the latest adaptable, cloud-based options, the latest workflow automation software and work processes technology and hosted telephony systems that enable clients to talk to your representatives at any time, regardless of where they’re based.

3. Offices are going to be very different

Although there has been a widespread belief office space would be reduced, we have not yet seen the reduction that was initially expected.  This could be because leases are too long to tackle without penalties or because businesses are waiting to see exactly how the card fall after the return to the office.

One thing is for sure, no one is getting rid of the office.

However this plays out, the structure of the office will almost certainly be vastly different.  Offices are being repurposed to encourage more flexible hot-desking type use and to provide more collaborative working environments for those who are in.

We are also seeing evidence of offices being made more inviting.  Organisations are turning newly available space into break out rooms, informal work spaces, lounged, kitchens, even staff restaurants and gyms.

In a recent study Global Workplace Analytics were even more bullish.  They said their results suggest the use of office space to flip from 80% personal space/20% shared space to 20% personal space/80% shared space.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a threat to traditional office space.

Unsurprisingly shared working spaces like WeWork are reporting an increase in interest in applications and there is more and more talk about ‘virtual-first companies’, companies that will allow their workers to work primarily from home but with the support of a physical office in the (rare) instances they need it. 

Whether the office ends up as a more inviting, more collaborative space, a hot desk at a shared working space or part of a virtual first model, technology will have an enormous part to play in ensuring efficient working practices and ensuring those working from home have an equal footing with those working in the office.

All office spaces will need to provide the very latest video conferencing options to keep staff connected and talking.  They’ll need to employ efficient desk and workplace management solutions to ensure those making the trip into the office have the room to work and the access and connectivity they need when they arrive.

4. We’ve moved from office culture to supportive culture

One of the most important shifts in working culture we can thank the pandemic for is a shift from the traditional office culture (be in 9 to 5, work at your desk, same hour for lunch) to something more flexible.

This shift has made businesses reassess what’s really important.  It’s helped eradicate archaic and inefficient processes.  It’s forced businesses to work out what they need to do to get the best out of their people by balancing the working day that suits them best with the personal contact we all need with our colleagues, physically and virtually and socially and formally.

Today providing a more supportive culture is even more vital.  The pandemic has caused mental health issues to rise which means companies need to do more than ever before to protect and promote positive mental wellbeing among their employees.

As we enter the next phase of our hybrid working lives, it is absolutely essential organisations continue to employ the same levels of empathy and creativity to maintain their staff’s mental health so none of this fantastic work is undone.

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