- COVID-19 drove the digital transformation that otherwise would have taken the world years to complete.
- The pandemic has hastened the demise of the "traditional" work experience and office footprint, presenting the world with an opportunity.
- The effect on organizations and workers moving forward is likely to be felt for generations as employers recognize the feasibility of remote working.
- The ultimate measure of success for organizations is how they emerge from the current crisis and whether they keep the momentum moving forward following the pandemic.
Converting a large, global organization from working in central locations to requiring everyone to work remotely necessitated more than telling everyone to take their laptops – assuming they had one – and work from home. The reality is, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed what it means to work and how we interact with everyone in our sphere – whether it's a customer, colleague, boss or spouse.
Conversations about how and when to reopen and whether workers will feel safe returning to the office are ongoing and will likely continue for some time. The pandemic's effect on workers is likely to be felt for generations. Rather than trying to avoid these changes, organizations should lean into them and learn from them to inform their future approach.
COVID-19 has paved the way for different working frameworks by forcing an accelerated digital transformation. It would have been difficult to bring this change to realization in our former world, and at a minimum, it would have taken the world years to complete.
Workers previously went into an office because every aspect – including the networks, security and availability – was predictable. COVID-19 has forced organizations to address the unpredictability of remote access. In doing so, organizations paved the way for a future of working from wherever, whenever and however is most convenient.
It's not just offices that have closed in the wake of the pandemic. Schools and day cares have closed, forcing parents to balance their work obligations and the educational needs of their children.
With little to no notice, parents were thrust into this change. That means they, at times, had to make decisions between their work and family needs. Companies must realign their expectations, show empathy and foster an environment where no one has to feel guilty about making such choices.
Organizations expect their teams to multitask every day at the office, so why can't they do it when working from home? Multitasking from home involves very different relationships than those between co-workers.
An organization's leadership has an opportunity to step up on behalf of their teams. They must listen to their teams to understand what they need. Then, they need to deliver and empower their teams with trust and accountability.
One of the most significant benefits of an office environment is the ability to hold ad hoc brainstorms, conversations and meetings as needs arise. These one-offs are often unscheduled, and these organic interactions feed into a creative spirit for many organizations.
Just because the world is social distancing doesn't mean we should give up on the idea. Teams working in separate locations can come together virtually and exchange ideas in a meaningful way.
With teams working from disparate locations, such encounters no longer just happen. Now they must be planned in advance, which, of course, removes some of the spontaneity. Organizations simply need to be more deliberate about the approach, such as scheduling informal "break room" time for different teams or creative brainstorm, to make it as powerful as it would be in the office.
Rethink schedules and be flexible.
The 9-to-5 routine was on life support before the outbreak of COVID-19, even if many organizations did not fully believe it. The pandemic has hastened its demise, and this has presented the world with an opportunity.
PGi’s Digital Communications Early Adopter Study, released before the pandemic, found people already wanted the freedom to work remotely.
While people are quarantined in their homes, they no longer focus on their work tasks only during "traditional work hours." The best work isn't only completed during set hours; it can be tackled whenever inspiration strikes.
We live in a connected era where the farthest reaches of the globe are closer than ever before, thanks to technology. As such, people can work from just about anywhere, and they can tackle deliverables in such a way that allows them to work around their personal obligations.
Schedule face time.
One of the most significant challenges many workers new to remote working face is a feeling of isolation. Since many organizations suffered from working in silos before the pandemic, sending everyone to their homes likely did little to lessen the condition.
The antidote is to schedule time to see colleagues' faces. When we communicate solely via email or phone, we sometimes forget we're talking with another human, and we lose the ability to gauge reactions to the topics we're discussing.
But don't just limit face time to conducting business or work-related matters. Schedule virtual gatherings for brainstorms, coffee, happy hours and other social activities so that colleagues who once worked alongside one another still have an opportunity to bond.
Change is good; embrace it.
One of the biggest questions facing companies at the moment is how to return to "normal," or how to prepare for the "next normal." Even as the world starts to emerge from the COVID-19 slowdown, organizations need to stop trying to return to "normal."
The world and work experience have forever changed. Companies should instead embrace this change and focus on how they can thrive in the next environment that is beginning to emerge.
Organizations are grappling with questions about where teams will work. How will the office of the future look? Will we return to open offices, or do we need to redesign spaces to accommodate social distancing requirements? Can organizations bring entire teams to a location to work alongside one another ever again?
These are the wrong questions. The world of today is a virtual one; the only option is to embrace it. Otherwise, organizations risk becoming irrelevant.
There should no longer be any concerns about what teams can accomplish while working outside of the office. Professors at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concluded more than 1 in 3 jobs (34%) in the United States can be completed at home. This was before we were all forced to do so due to COVID-19, and that number is almost certain to rise even as the pandemic subsides.
Even industries that previously did not work remotely are optimistic about the future of remote work, including finance, healthcare and manufacturing.
A new LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index found 55% of respondents say their industry can be effective when working remotely, and more than 75% agree remote work and effective operations are not mutually exclusive.
The ultimate measure of success for organizations is how they emerge from the current crisis. The world has mobilized to survive COVID-19, now that it looks like there is some light at the end of the tunnel, they should focus on how to keep the momentum moving forward.
Does it require bringing everyone back to the office to be successful, or can an organization be successful with a mostly remote workforce? Do we have to revert to the traditional 9-to-5 regime, or can we work with team members’ schedules so they can tend to both business and personal obligations?
Many organizations have learned they can conduct business – whether it's a sales meeting, a new business pitch or ongoing operations – and find success while working from quarantine. Even as states and jurisdictions work to reopen, these organizations are coming to the realization they don't need to return to the office anytime soon.
The question instead should be how we can come together to improve the work experience moving forward? It doesn't have to include everyone working from a single location; it just needs to include the solutions that enable teams to connect and collaborate.