We have all just been put through the biggest work-life experiment in decades, which has affected governments, organisations and families alike. However, there is no sharp end to this ‘experiment’ when we will all suddenly return to ‘Business As Usual’ as we once knew it. The world has changed whether your business processes, policies and people have caught up with it or not. Nevertheless, this has opened up a world of opportunities to completely rethink your business that is not just bound to survive the pandemic but is designed for the future.
According to Mckinsey, successful companies favour all-in, enterprise-wide transformation, rather than transforming individual business units or functions. This is the time to GO BIG and BROAD, as by the time a tested and verified COVID-19 vaccine reaches us:
it will be mid-year next year as a minimum;
the vaccine won’t reach and won’t be accessible to us all at the same time;
we would have had worked from home for about 18 months by then. This means new sets of habits, routines and upon reflection on our values, it is unlikely that we will be running back to the offices or companies that do not offer a flexible working environment.
With all this in mind, organisations cannot treat this time as an ‘experiment’ or pause period anymore and wait for things to go back to ‘normal’. If you still are in such mindset, let me kindly give you a wake-up call and welcome you to the ‘new normal’! Now it is time to stop living in denial and start planning for the future!
Below I am offering three lenses – office, growth and people – for you to look at your business through and begin your thinking.
It is the time for a workspace design revolution! Why do I need to come into the office to sit at the same desk as I can at home? This will (and should) be a question that employees get more vocal on.
As I already wrote months ago in my blog on the Future of Workplace, offices need to shift from a space with rows of desks to an ecosystem of locations and experiences, where employees can collaborate, socialise, share ideas and innovate. It is important to offer different types of space to work, rather than filling spaces with desks. Desks is not where you come up with ideas. Therefore, companies increasingly need to see workplace for what it does rather than just an empty shell of an office space that needs filling.
Another important ‘future office’ distinction is the lack of 9-to-5 boundaries. Employees are connected at all times and therefore have made themselves available “on and off the clock”. As sociologist Arne L. Kalleberg points out, though employers “do not expect” employees to be switched on at all times, this ‘permission granted’ exists less and less, as employees fight for more job security, more pay, perhaps even more leisure. In short – a better job. ‘An office’ as a physical space plays very little role in this more and more obvious mindset.
Speed, agility and a new understanding of customer values are the keys to navigating the future. That element of speed and agility in particular is crucial because this is once-in-a-generation challenge and opportunity that will impact who is left standing when the ‘future’ is at full speed. The first movers are already reaping significant rewards.
Technology is an enabler for a lot of this through easy data and knowledge access, work digitalisation, automation, integrated operations etc., but not the answer. Company CEOs need to clearly articulate what ‘growth’ means to them: does that mean ‘selling more TVs’ or ‘growing the company through better representation of the community they serve through Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives.’ Either way, the future requires to be increasingly open-minded, lead with purpose and embrace innovation in all its shapes and forms.
Furthermore, there have to be more systematic accountability measures in place. One important way to speed up decision making is to give teams highly focused tasks and clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and reduce the ‘waiting for approvals’ bureaucracy.
For organisations to return and thrive in the future, means prioritising the health of their workforce. Pandemic has been a huge learning curve for employees from adjusting to new “workplaces” and technologies to new processes and ways of working. Overlooking or underestimating this comes at a high cost of lack of employee engagement, productivity losses and burnout.
During the ‘survival phase’ companies focussed on business operations and getting everyone up and running. However, now we should be waist-deep in executing the recreated and reimagines employee experience. What we often see, however, is lack of strategic thinking, which leads to all business’ brainpower focussing on putting out ‘panic’ fires and waiting for the moment everyone can go back to the ‘old normal’. Never mind the ‘old normal’, which clearly is a ghost from the past, but this ‘waiting game’ is likely to be even more deadly to people’s mental wellbeing and economies than COVID-19 ever was.
As in recent Virgin StartUp webinar, that I was fortunate enough to be part of, Simon Sinek in a conversation with Richard Branson revealed that the biggest thing leaders should be focusing on now is employing empathy, active listening skills and being brave about having open and bold conversations.
The pandemic might also be a catalyst for more positive D&I change by creating more inclusive working environments. Organisations must rethink their talent acquisition processes and practices, as there is a huge window of opportunity to push and embrace social mobility, and that way access yet untapped talent pools. As Tea Colaianni, Founder of WiHTL has put it “It is not just a question of moral justice, it is a matter of competitive advantage in the face of huge adversity and uncertainty.” According to MIT, firms rated in the top 25% in terms of employee experience, have also higher customer satisfaction rates, are faster and more agile and are more profitable. This is a moment for organisations to look at themselves and ask a question “Does my workforce (and more importantly the BOARD!) represent the communities we serve?”
These 7 months of pandemic have given us an unthinkable window of opportunity to look at ourselves and reflect on the operations of our businesses (and governments and families alike), and ask ourselves some key questions: “What have we learned from the pandemic thus far?” and “How does business gets done around here now?” Be curious about yourself. A curious and open-minded observation of your company will become hugely important in the year ahead.
Resources and further read