The pandemic blew our individual social frameworks to pieces. Whatever technology we had to hand helped us pick up the pieces to keep families and friends connected, creating a comforting, supportive togetherness built on a common goal to get through tough times.
Life at work has, in many ways, been no different. In the past six months, an all-new strand of professional togetherness has been established drawing cities, countries and continents of work colleagues together at the click of an online meeting button. But, more locally, tens of millions of us have, without warning, taken on board the realisation and subsequent reality that we are now “living at work” for the foreseeable future.
This has delivered substantial benefits for some – the daily commute down from motorway gridlock to a mere flight of stairs and the additional personal time given back to us as a result. But for others the scales have tipped in the opposite direction, monotonous daily working routines for the worse, the absence of in-person interaction, the physical office environment and its surrounding city-centre post-work social draws.
Should a viable vaccine emerge six months from now, many aspects of work may slip back to pre-COVID conditions. But should this be the case? Is it really our national duty to “get back to work”? Or would we be better served to accept the fact that we have over-indexed economically on a status quo that needed to evolve quite some time ago?
Just as consumers display ever-increasing traits of self-centrism, given the empowerment afforded to them by connective digital technologies, these very same people wearing their employee hats at home may well decide that they do not want to accept and accommodate an outdated business model.
There is a unique opportunity to truly put technology at the heart of business and understand what it can do to boost agility and commercial opportunity.
Businesses are under extreme pressure to transform, full stop. Digital transformation will act as a key enabler for this, but it is simplicity, agility and high-speed performance that should be the high-level benchmarks that boards set themselves for the months ahead. Post-pandemic-pandemic-planning should now be locked into operational handbooks for whenever the next similar disruption is thrown at us. Reimagining the balance between remote and in-office activity alongside culture-rich internal communications programmes with such a diffuse workforce are the new necessities.
The businesses that embrace new levels of employee understanding and digital empowerment will reap the rewards from a new working model reality. They’ll hit home with a workforce that is fully aware of what can be achieved each day, week and month without adhering to the old 9-to-5 model rooted in the traditional machinations of the manufacturing industry.
Consider how much broader access to diversity and representation in your business could be. An ambitious and highly capable talent pool that previously would have seen a career opportunity at your business as a non-starter due to, say, the cost of moving at the start of their career or the importance of social and familial geographical ties inextricably linked to positive mental health and wellbeing and/or the fundamentals of their culture.
Why invest time and money in reverting to the way things were? Isn’t it better to think more broadly about what technology can unlock for your business in the future?
This is not a play to be seen to be empathetic, considerate and responsive to the human challenges we are all facing. This transformation strategy should be rooted in commercial impact – a bigger talent pool to fish in, increased staff retention rates and the sheer cost of losing talent in terms of recruitment and knowledge capital transfer speaks for itself.
As mentioned earlier, self-centrism is a disruptive driver already entrenched in the consumer space - if you can’t find what you want from one brand or supplier, you’ll simply go and find somewhere you can, more than likely online. This will increasingly apply to employees’ professional considerations, with an increasing number of non-negotiable areas of their lives that employers must be mindful of.
True transformation here represents a root and branch assessment of digital capabilities, culture, people and property. A successful coalescence of principles can deliver the frictionless, flexible, agile solutions that feel an age apart from working life as we knew it at the start of 2020 and aligned with so many digital touchpoints we have elsewhere in our lives.