Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation. The pandemic is having a significant impact on how we collaborate, where we work and the employer-employee relationship with respect to remote job performance.
Until recently, it’s been assumed that physical workspaces promoted employee productivity and collaboration. That notion is being tested, but it’s no longer true. With the world’s largest working-from-home (WFH) experiment underway, we’re already seeing how remote team structures are being challenged and forcing companies to become more agile. Moreover, productivity data on remote teams might have exceeded expectations altogether. According to McKinsey, 80% of people enjoy WFH. In addition, 41% feel more productive than before, and 28% are as productive.
WFH saves immense time across various activities both small and large. For example, getting dressed, eating lunch, engaging in watercooler talk, having last-minute meetings and, one of the most notable, commuting. It’s estimated that the average one-way commuter time is 26.1 minutes — that’s roughly five hours a week. And if you live in a large metropolis, that nearly doubles!
The remote working model can help companies move faster, allocate resources more effectively, and leverage collaboration tools and other technologies more efficiently to keep everyone on track in their digital workspaces. This can have negative implications on employees, though. The lines of home and work life have become blurred.
A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed emails and meetings from 3.1 million people across 16 global cities. It reported that the duration of the average workday increased by 8.2%, or 48.5 minutes, with an increase in emails. However, employees may not have worked continuously throughout this period and may have created more flexible schedules to account for daily interruptions.
Companies will need to keep an eye on how these numbers change and find a way to keep employees motivated. Harvard Business School found that at least 16% of American employees will remain remote after Covid-19. This would have major implications for policymakers, companies and employees and could cause a powerful shift in workplace norms.
People quickly figured out how to work from home. When the pandemic subsides, WFH will remain popular with professionals, and that will force companies—even those that were not the biggest proponents of having a virtual workforce—to become more flexible. Now that more people have had a taste of it and proven their productivity, it will be hard for companies to take it away from their talent. A Gallup survey revealed that 54% of U.S. workers would leave their current job for one that allowed them to work remotely.
Flexibility will be the new mantra—where people will be given more freedom to choose WFH. Some professionals actually missed the commute and cherished their in-person connections. So the new normal will be increased flexibility.
Your corporate office will look and operate differently. Like most workplace changes, it’s not a complete replacement, just as the resume didn’t go way when LinkedIn made having a profile a necessary personal branding tool and career asset. Apple CEO Tim Cook said that when workers go back to work, temperature checks and social distancing will likely be implemented. And that will persist for a while.
Conference rooms, meeting spaces and video studios will take up a lot of office space.
The workplace will become a far more social environment, not a “lock myself in the office” scenario. It will be designed to foster and promote interaction and community engagement—taking advantage of the times talent is collocated in one place. Our humanity and connection are what separate us from robots. Nothing will take the place of those serendipitous interactions that often lead to creativity and innovation, and COVID-19 has made us appreciate those interactions more than ever.
Many professionals found WFH a challenge not because of isolation, but because they didn’t have the ideal space or a dedicated home office. They didn’t have a Zoom-ready spot for video meetings. A study by GetApp reports that the majority of survey respondents cited a lack of proper technology for remote work that hindered their success and productivity.
WhistleOut, a company that provides information about mobile phone and internet services, performed research on adults who transitioned to WFH. The revelations? 35% of those surveyed said that weak Internet has prevented them from doing their work at some point during the Coronavirus crisis and 43% said they have had to use their phone as a hotspot during the crisis.
Internet in homes will improve, drastically and quickly. Home offices and even home video studios will become a priority.
We all know that learning is now front and center, and many organizations realize that upskilling and right-skilling are essential for innovation and strategic advantage. Many corporate learning programs involved in-person workshops, trainings and seminars. But post COVID-19, e-learning will become a bigger part of ongoing learning. In-person learning programs won’t go away, but they’ll be reserved for certain functions and certain specialisations within the company. Face-to-face learning will likely be just a small element of a learning curriculum. Ramping up their e-learning platforms, companies moved quickly to ensure that their people were still building important skills and developing professionally.
We got comfortable with getting comfortable. You may have dressed up for work before COVID-19. And even if you got dressed up every day while WFH, it’s unlikely that you put on a suit or heels. Already, some consulting firms and other organizations have “dress for your day” policies where if you’re not meeting with clients, you can leave the suit at home. Besides, people working in tech have been wearing shorts and flip flops to work for decades.
Video is at the heart of many of the changes above. The developers behind Zoom, WebEx, Hangouts, Skype and other video communications tools made the grand WFH experiment possible. Video became fully integrated into the work experience in an astonishing variety of ways.
As supervisors and staffers have gotten used to seeing each other in their natural habitats, the line that separates work life and personal life has faded. Ironically, technology has made this transition possible, but it has also led to a decidedly low-tech reality:
this new corporate world has made us value our organic, non-robotic humanity more than ever before.
With more employees working in remote locations, organizations will need to reevaluate their real estate portfolios. They will likely have a combination of owned office space for in-person collaboration or major team-building events, but with more dispersed workers, on-demand and flexible coworking spaces will be a cost-effective option.
Now that working remotely has become the new norm, and more people enjoy flexible routines that provide a better work-life balance, employees will likely seek organizations that provide the option to work remotely.
With teams distributed across cities and time zones, businesses will need to focus on attracting and retaining talent digitally. The emphasis will be placed on creating culture and enhancing healthy engagement among employees to achieve desired business outcomes. We’re social creatures, and work has to get done. Organizations will need to start measuring culture to help employees thrive in the digital workspace.
Not only are our environments changing with technology at the helm, but we are undergoing what the 21st century was to the Industrial Revolution. We’re in the inception of a technological revolution, rife with AI and automation that will cause job obsolescence.
As organizations look at cost-saving measures or get more comfortable with remote workers, the onus will be put on the employee to evolve with their position; if they don’t, there is a real chance they could become obsolete. The competition for employment will be fiercer with a remote workforce. Candidates will no longer just be competing with people in their city, but from every corner of the globe.
Covid-19 is accelerating a digital transformation at scale and the world over. Leadership will need to be more agile than ever before and offer flexible employee packages to attract the right talent. The traditional role of HQs will change, and on-demand coworking spaces might aid in giving remote workers a reprieve from their home office spaces. Companies will be challenged to find new ways of attracting, retaining and managing talent from afar. Collaboration, flexibility and culture will be top of mind. New tools will enter workflows and demand employees evolve with them.
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