From recessions to tsunamis, businesses across the globe are used to preparing for interruptions. Whilst many of us contained in our homes - potentially for months - attempt to adapt to the dramatic and unparalleled impact that the pandemic is having on both our professional and personal lives, it's worth considering how some of this influence will evolve into lasting changes.
Of course, no one knows exactly what the future holds but we can try and predict what adaptations are temporary and what aspects will mark a long-term shift in working practices and behaviours as we currently know them.
From every crisis, there will be positives. And Covid-19 is no different. Already we are seeing a fresh respect and increased resources for our health services, bolstered technology, and an abundance of support – a majority complimentary - from businesses and communities coming together to support one another. In some ways, it’s quite humbling.
In the not so distant future, global governments and business leaders will turn to address the phenomenal impact Covid-19 has had, with a common vision of getting things ‘back to normal’ as quickly as possible, but following several months practicing new codes of conduct, will we want everything as it once was?
I suspect in the world of business, the answer will be no. Here are six ways in which I believe our working lives might change for the better, long-term.
1. Video and collaboration tools will become the norm
With a third of the world’s population now in lockdown video conferencing and collaboration tools are fast becoming the normal way to communicate - whether it’s a business meeting, chatting with friends and family or attending education. The thing is, these tools have existed for some time, but businesses have been reluctant to adopt them en mass.
There is nothing like a circumstance forcing you to practice using something new to make it a habit. Over the next few months, we will see a broad range of tools and technologies being experimented with, by those who have perhaps not had the opportunity to do so before. From collaboration and workflow management tools such as Miro, Mural, Jira and Tableau to video conferencing apps such as Zoom, Bluejeans and Skype, many different options will take centre stage as businesses work out how to fulfill the role of forming meeting and collaborative working spaces in a remote digital environment.
All of these tools are great, but it is worth noting that they have not been designed to be used by the volume of businesses we now see using them for co-working purposes. This means providers need to move quickly to strengthen the technological infrastructure.
My recommendation for any businesses now using these tools for the first time is to capture all of the pain points you experience and report this back to the software providers. This feedback can then be used to design better tools suitable for the ‘new norm’.
These may be small considerations, but things like: branded backgrounds, better camera and lighting options, variable speeds, security and managing a large number of participants are all important to get right if we are to adopt these tools more in the future.
2. Gaps in business continuity plans will be exposed
Despite the existence of business continuity plans, the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is exposing gaps for many. Arguably every business across the globe has seen its priorities shift, as impacts from the spread of Covid-19 enter completely unknown territories.
With concerns over the economic fallout, school closures, supply chain and workforce disruptions, exhausted business owners are attempting to put measures in place to maintain daily operations as best they can. Generally, business has hitherto proved resistant to experiment with wholescale remote working or even truly flexible working policies.
Now is the time for businesses to take advantage of this experience and use it as an opportunity to test their business continuity plans to the max and learn. This will allow them to build their learnings into new operating models which will help them to future proof themselves.
3. Employee experience will become a focus
Prior to Covid-19, employees were selecting employers who were able to offer a positive work experience including flexible benefits, modern working spaces and a healthy culture.
Today, businesses are making plans and governments are busy tracking the spread of the virus and its implications, so who is listening to the voice of the employees right now? What impact are they experiencing, even if they are not directly exposed to it?
Now is the time for businesses to take their feedback more seriously than ever - taking into consideration all of their employees’ roles and their unique situations, how they are communicating (and listening) to them, as well as providing best practices for working remotely.
This means not only providing employees with the right tools and technologies to navigate through their job, but also designing remote ways of working in response to their needs; making their experience as an employee richer, more productive and rewarding.
Businesses who are not prioritising employee experience may find themselves struggling to attract top talent going forwards.
4. Distributed working will be the new norm
As all the normal rules for business and social interactions are shredded daily by the ongoing pandemic, working remotely is the lifeline for many businesses.
Vital lessons are being learnt constantly on how to effectively manage and support large numbers of remote workers, across the full range of functions, for some this is happening for the very first time. Time is being applied to think hard about, and understand, workflows, home environments and information security.
For example, while team members are being given new encrypted devices, can a business be sure about the level of risk that data and sensitive information is not being exposed to other members of the household?
In addition, a rapid shift in businesses being forced to change technology solutions without a huge amount of planning time, is likely to expose some cracks as this situation continues. We are already seeing in our client work how large IT project teams are quickly ironing out protocols and processes that support home-working methodologies. However, what will be interesting to see is how the necessity of the current situation will lay the groundwork for future opportunities.
Through surviving in these new and uncharted environments, companies will uncover cost advantages through less office overheads, and even employees may realise that this new way of working is not only possible but may open up longer term flexible working policies that have already been tried and tested and work for both parties.
5. Business travel may be a thing of the past
The temporary ban on our business travel is already leading us to find new ways to connect, operate and decision-make entirely virtually. Even businesses that have been stuck in the past, may now be recognising the benefits and efficiency that saving on travel time makes to their day-to-day, with the added realisation that these new ways of connecting are not compromising on delivery expectations.
Whether businesses will want to go back to supporting face-to-face meetings with the high cost of international and domestic business travel remains to be seen. But I suspect questions will be raised as to whether we should, when coupled with the positive environmental impact that our decreased carbon footprint is having globally.
6. New ways to keep culture thriving
For some, the sudden move of their working life to the home environment has been strange and isolating. However, social media is awash with the new and creative ways that people are finding to connect with colleagues and friends.
As people adapt to their new environment, it’s likely that experiences and services will evolve, offering up more features that recreate experiences you’d share with friends and colleagues, all from a home environment.
From a business standpoint, companies are also finding ways to retain their culture in a remote environment. We are quickly realising that we can still retain “cake Fridays”, celebratory ‘check ins’ and similar social conventions; we just need to think of how they need to evolve and are supported in a digital environment. What is heartening to see is that irrespective of social distancing from colleagues, people are still uniting over common hobbies and are seeking new ways to feel less isolated and more engaged.
Importance of learning now, so we can design things for the better
This shared experience that we are all going through - whether you are an employee or a business owner - presents a totally unique learning opportunity. What we measure and track now, could make the difference about how we understand the opportunities for the future of our workplaces. Those that observe and monitor, will be in possession of valuable experience-led knowledge about how to design better working practices, culture, tools and technologies in the future.
This is a fascinating time for product and service designers to step up and be part of a business evolution that could touch upon so many parts of organisations post Covid-19. From how we organise ourselves, to the way in which the tools and technologies are used and improved to help us operate better, we have an opportunity to learn and innovate new permanent experiences and solutions that benefit both employees and the overall business function.
Never have you had a more sympathetic testing ground to trial new working practices that could save your business, employees and customers time and effort in the future.
By Peter Ballard, Founding-Partner of Foolproof.
Peter Ballard co-founded experience design agency Foolproof, a Zensar company, in 2002. Prior to starting the company, he was marketing director at Virgin Money. Today, with over 15 years' experience within e-commerce and experience design, he works across a range of clients helping design and develop engaging and highly effective multi-channel customer and user experiences, across multiple industry verticals.
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