With the most challenging times behind us, it’s time to shift our gaze forward toward the future of work in the post-pandemic world. It’s generally believed that many of the changes brought on by COVID-19 are here to stay, with flexibility and automation among the top future of work trends in consideration.
So what can your company do to prepare for success in this emerging reality? The answer lies in adapting to an ever-changing digital workplace, with clear strategies outlined for every step of the journey towards reopening.
Then and now: how COVID-19 has created organizational change
As we reflect on the years following the initial coronavirus outbreak, there are universal trends that appeared across industries and continents. Exploring these trends helps us understand the organizational needs that must be met by the new digital workplace.
The decline of the physical office
In the years leading up to coronavirus, there was already a massive global shift towards remote working. But the pandemic has rapidly accelerated the process, marking what some have called “the beginning of the end of offices”. Those who weren’t used to working remotely have had to learn new behaviors and skills in order to thrive outside the office. For the most part, they’ve succeeded – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Major companies like Facebook and Microsoft have seen the benefits and announced that they intend to keep remote working as a long-term option.
A focus on relationships
Ironically, working with physical distance has emphasized the need for better communication within companies. From centralized crisis communication to team collaboration, interpersonal relationships are what has held companies together during the pandemic. This “virtual closeness” has been made possible by tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaboration-enabled digital workplaces.
New work habits and patterns
Gone are the days when you arrived at work at 9:00, took a lunch break at 12:00, and went home at 5:00. Remote working has opened the door for flexibility in the work day, empowering employees to choose the hours during which they’re most productive. Meetings have also been replaced, not only by video conferencing but with more efficient tools like instant messaging that can reduce the need for meetings, saving time and improving efficiency.
How to shape your digital workplace post-pandemic
As we adjust to the new normal of a post-pandemic world, it’s time to start thinking about how your digital workplace will shape the future of your organization. Digital tools are more important than ever and may be a determining factor in which companies thrive after COVID-19 and which lag behind. The key is to not simply use them but to use them effectively.
Perform a digital workplace checkup
Companies didn’t have much time to prepare for remote work before they had to send employees home. This led to rushed implementation of new tools and a struggle for employees to adapt to them – not to mention the accompanying systemic issues like insufficient infrastructure and security threats. For example, companies that flocked to video calling software Zoom to hold virtual meetings found themselves immersed in security issues as hackers invaded calls and released malware.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to evaluate which digital initiatives worked and which didn’t. This isn’t black and white; it’s entirely possible that specific features are useful while others miss the mark, or that the usage and governance of certain tools needs to be adjusted.
Take a collaborative approach
As you define the future of digital workplace strategy in your organization, make sure you’re involving employees in each step of the process, from analysis to decision-making. This human-centric approach will ensure a positive digital employee experience going forward, which may have slipped in the rush towards digital adaptation. You’ll also find that including employee feedback will help you better understand the changes that need to be made at a micro level, especially in terms of client relations.
To better keep up with continuous change, Gartner recommends abandoning role-based collaboration in favor of a skills-based approach. This allows employees to shift their contributions based on need instead of pigeonholing them within their job titles. Skills-based collaboration is best achieved in partnership with HR to develop skills within the organization and make sure that the right skills are being prioritized in the talent acquisition process.
Merge virtual with physical
Returning to the office won’t be like simply flipping a light switch back on. As each country enters different reopening phases, we’ll likely see a very gradual transition with offices allowing small numbers of employees back in at a time and meetings kept small or avoided entirely. What’s unlikely is a complete return to normal. Data from Gartner predicts that 48% of employees will continue to work remotely in some capacity after restrictions are lifted, up from 30% pre-pandemic.
The emerging trend is that employees will likely spend some time in a physical office and some time working from home, both in the interim and for the long-term future. This makes it imperative that your digital workplace blends seamlessly with the in-office experience. A lack of harmony will give your employees whiplash, killing productivity as everyone adjusts to two different sets of procedures and workflows. Since it’s impossible to bring the physical office space home, this will probably involve more thoroughly blending elements of the digital workplace into the office environment.
Prioritize health and safety
Until enough of the population is vaccinated, it’s unlikely that a full return to normal will be safe in most countries. This means that in the meantime, as offices slowly reopen, it’s essential to make health and safety the top priority. Make sure you have a task force in place that can stay abreast of current government guidelines, write and update company health policies, and communicate how the digital workplace will be used to empower social distancing.
It is the responsibility of company leadership to provide adequate safety measures and to model company health policies through their own behavior. Employees should never feel pressured or encouraged to risk their health in order to do their job. Instead, everyone should work together to form solutions using the digital tools that are available.
Let the digital workplace do the heavy lifting
Moving forward, digital tools will be your company’s greatest asset in maintaining a balance of efficiency, collaboration, and safety. It’s time to put IT in the spotlight and fully embrace the digital workplace as the future of work.