The roadmap out of lockdown is within our sights and all eyes are on the Chancellor's budget. Businesses are looking at how to fuel recovery post-restrictions and post-pandemic. The impact it has left on our society is set to be nothing short of revolutionary.
Social distancing, remote working and self-isolation are terms firmly embedded in our lexicon. Adaptations to established ways of working have accelerated our collective digital presence as we find ourselves working, connecting and socialising over online meetings. ‘Zoom fatigue’ from endless video calls is presenting new challenges to HR.
Here we examine the aspects of the ‘new normal’ that organisations should start preparing for now.
History in the making
Even before the pandemic, working from home and offering flexible working to accommodate people’s priorities were a growing focus for employers. Employers were committing to treat each employee as an individual. The focus on wellbeing shortly before the first lockdown in March 2020 already promoted a more blended and balanced approach to empower employees and trust them to manage their own hours. The first lockdown necessitated this overnight. Schools shut, video meetings ran around family life and the first large-scale working from home experiment commenced. What businesses had said would take months to achieve under normal circumstances had to be rolled out overnight.
The impact of the pandemic has been nothing short of revolutionary. The World Economic Forum is describing this as a fourth industrial revolution – in terms of the impact it will have on business planning and ways of working. These advances merge the ‘physical, digital and biological worlds’ which is driven by extraordinary technological advances. The psychological impact of isolation and working remotely for such a sustained period is history in the making. The investment in these video conferencing apps will shape human interactions. So even as the roadmap out of Lockdown 3.0 has been sketched out, we examine what the lasting impact of this period will be on HR teams and long-term organisational change.
“Just so everyone knows, we’re all living through a future history class.”
Overnight, organisations were forced to adapt to radically new ways of working. A classic example of a type of role which very few anticipated being remotely based in the UK was call centre operatives – this had to be rolled out instantaneously as restrictions were announced for Covid-19. AXA is an organisation where 38 per cent of employees regularly worked from home prior to the crisis and 90 per cent now wish to increase the practice in the future. In response, they have rolled out a worldwide ‘smart working strategy’ – offering a hybrid way of working. This strategy is also being followed by Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.
Anywhere can be an office if you work for Spotify...
Tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are set to use the high-end real estate spaces they have invested in as collaborative spaces for employees to inspire one another. Post-pandemic, office space will move to be much more of an employee experience, whilst giving staff the discretion to work from anywhere they do their best ‘thinking and creating’ to varying degrees. The autonomy this gives employees is a key behavioural driver of employee engagement according to Dan Pink’s Drive, so will form a huge dimension of their employee value proposition. This control encourages ownership and accountability, increasing employees’ individual investment in the work they do. The long-term shift may in fact lower employee turnover and generate greater engagement.
The value of experience
Whilst remote working has been a litmus test for many when it comes to the company’s values and culture, there are sceptics who question whether these arrangements will stand the test of time in relation to two elements. The first is where the culture depends on people constantly collaborating. Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon has described remote working as an ‘aberration’ and is eager for the return of workers to the office. Mr Solomon said that it does not suit the work culture of the investment bank which is ‘an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship’. The second concern is around how remote working may undermine the mentoring and educating of junior members of staff. Mr Solomon also echoed these concerns, saying there are 3,000 incoming recruits who need ‘direct mentorship’. Facebook have made provisions that the more experienced the employee, the greater discretion they have to choose where they work and with exceptions being made for new recruits.
However, a balance must be struck. To be fully future-proof, every organisation will have to have the ability to deliver everything remotely if needs be. The Covid-19 pandemic took the majority of the world’s population by surprise. But not everyone. Epidemiologists had warned about the likelihood of a global pandemic at some point in the near future. There’s even a now prophetic video from Bill Gates warning about how viruses are the greatest threat to humanity.
Scientists warn that this will not be the last pandemic, citing the “perfect storm” humans have created for similar future diseases. The effect on climate, global travel and overpopulation are among the factors that help circulate animal-borne disease. To ensure that a business will thrive in the future and have longevity, they need to remain agile and ready to adapt.
Harness digital transformation
Embracing artificial intelligence and all things digital is essential. The ability to innovate has been instrumental over the past year given the various levels of restrictions on businesses. Some hotels adapted to offering stand-alone offices with amenities and offered fewer touch points for guests, driving up technology in the hospitality sector as people use less cash and touch less surfaces, transforming the customer experience. Instead of focusing on the threats that technology poses to humans, we must strike a balance with the transformative effect of technology on human interaction.
Fears of robot-induced unemployment should be tempered with being able to identify the opportunities that artificial intelligence presents. Tasks which can be automated can in fact free employees from mundane tasks, increasing business efficiency. Digital technology can create occupations and jobs and businesses can shape remote markets which need greater infrastructure. Fears over working from home having a negative impact have been overcome as productivity levels have been sustained, if not increased. Businesses must ask themselves how they can become ‘future-fit’. By fixing processes before they become legacy systems and generally being receptive to the power of technology, businesses can become leaner and more efficient and help them respond to future threats more readily.
Build for the future
‘Cohesiveness’ is something HR managers are monitoring in terms of the effect on their culture. It is important that the digital workplace supports this vision and the values of the business. Some companies have been supporting video call etiquette through online training for systems that have had to be virtually rolled out across workplaces. Everything needs to be seamlessly delivered from an employee’s perspective at each stage of the journey. Businesses have been examining their interviewing, onboarding and performance management processes from a virtual perspective – asking whether technology is being utilised to the best of its ability and offering the best possible experience.
“The real opportunity is to look beyond technology and find ways to give the greatest number of people the ability to positively impact their families, organisations and communities”
Technology should be seen as an exciting opportunity to future-proof businesses. This period will be transformative of how people approach work. Artificial intelligence and technology give businesses and their people the opportunity to dedicate themselves to creation and innovation. PayReview is one tool that can automate mundane tasks and organise data at the click of a button. This software frees up HR to focus on strategy and the individuals at the heart of their role. Using a bespoke system to organise the business-critical pay review cycle gives HR teams peace of mind as they gear up for the annual review. Using this technology to provide accuracy and bring a valuable framework to pay decisions is a prime example of effectively harnessing the power HR software for the strategic benefit of a business. Having time-consuming tasks like the pay review automated can drive innovation in HR. This frees up HR teams’ time, enabling them to focus on how they can support their people in achieving a new work/life blend – where people shape their own hours, define their best ways of working and play their part in delivering the business’ vision.
Find out about PayReview today
Using software to seamlessly manage data and people analytics is essential to support new ways of working. With careful design and bespoke implementation, our software can enhance people’s lives at work. Now more than ever, companies need to be embracing tools that enable the ‘new normal’ well beyond 2021. Contact us today to arrange your free demonstration of what PayReview can do for you.
Founder of Paydata
Paul has led the reward consulting services at Paydata over 20 years, advising FTSE 100/250, private equity and other UK businesses.