The world around us has changed drastically with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting almost every aspect of our lives. It has changed the way we shop, dine, party, learn, communicate, exercise, the list is endless. A major paradigm shift has been in the way we work. Cushman & Wakefield have recently come up with a new design concept called “Six Feet Office” which is created keeping in mind the need for social distancing. As per this concept, instead of desks facing each other, we are positioned with our backs facing our colleagues and space of few feet in between. Given the several ways organizations are exploring to deal with this once in a lifetime situation, it would be interesting to see how workplace culture evolves once this pandemic winds down.
“One of the positive changes, this unprecedented situation has brought is the shift in mindset. Today, everyone is more receptive and willing to go beyond established norms.”
It is incredible how people are pushing their mental boundaries and making a segue into unexplored, unimagined capabilities. Before the pandemic hit us unprepared, we were hardwired and confined the age-old established norms we had followed. However, this rare situation has pushed all of us beyond imagination. I strongly believe this change in outlook will drive the culture in workplaces & even in lifestyles in a positive manner.
Some of the other changes that I foresee, with the best of my knowledge, and have already noticed companies starting to adopt are as follows:
Tech-enabled Collaborative Culture
Whether it is a small business enterprise or a large conglomerate, remote working has triggered everyone to become more adept at technology.“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the mantra of most organizations before the coronavirus outbreak as they were comfortable with the existing architecture and not ready to take the technological leap. However, remote working has led companies to deploy highly advanced technology systems in place to aid remote working for its people. Right from product demos to sales pitches and engagement activities to performance appraisals, technology is making us do things in unimaginable ways. This may not mean that workplaces and businesses will become entirely digital, but technology is going to play a significant role in fostering collaboration between teams, and drive desired business outcomes. Although organizations will need to be more vigilant in ensuring that their platform and tools are hack-free and their confidential data is secure, investments in virtual collaboration tools and platforms to maximize efficiency shall be the new norm.
Flexible and Diverse Culture
Given that this lockdown has revolutionized the way we operate and broken old notions, it is expected that organizations will show greater flexibility towards the working styles of their people. The focus has shifted to the outcome orientation than the dynamics of time & attendance monitoring. As I see it, workplace culture will experience a sea change in the way people experience flexibility & accountability in this new environment.
I believe this will also aid in building a more diverse and inclusive culture. For long now, several organizations have been wary of employing people with special abilities owing to special infrastructural requirements that are disability-friendly. However now, with work-from-home being proven as effective as working out of a physical office setup, organizations may well explore this aspect. People with different abilities can open possibilities which we would not have imagined before and this change might become radical for some.
Employee Well-Being Taking Center Stage
Much before the pandemic, employee well-being had already become a key component in the overall employee engagement philosophy for many organizations. Employers had started to pay attention to mental & physical well-being of their people. Post the pandemic, this will become of greater significance. Revisiting their employee benefits package to include more offerings such as counseling sessions, subscription to fitness programs, discounted health checkups with wider coverage etc. will be a good idea.
When the SARS virus hit China in the early 2000s, a small e-commerce company called ‘Alibaba’ came into existence. It is now firmly established as a leading retailer in Asia. The most innovative ideas and solutions sometimes take birth in times of crisis or when we face great constraints. The current pandemic has crippled the way businesses operate and has forced people to think of new ideas and bring fresh perspectives on the table. I believe the coronavirus pandemic will definitely fuel the next wave of innovation as organizations understand the need for greater innovation. I believe we will see workplace cultures where people are encouraged to think, create, and explore.
Real Time Goal Setting
We had already come of age when organizations used to work on Annual Operating Plans (AOP) and most organizations found Quarterly Operating Plans (QOP) more agile & relevant. The drift may now be towards monthly, weekly, or even daily plans. Because of the uncertainty & new dynamics unfolding each day, most businesses today cannot set long-term goals. It makes more business sense to switch to a more frequent & agile goal setting & evaluation process. Hence, I see organizations altering their historical performance management systems to align with the changing world.
High Pressure Work Culture
When working from the office, many of us called it a day post office hours but remote working has spoilt us with getting the work done anytime, anywhere. You could see it as a boon or a bane. Post the coronavirus crisis, people would need to manage the new reality of the workplace and home becoming one. Hence, we may see the rise of a culture where work mode is on 24*7. This is a double-edged sword undoubtedly. While it may be deemed beneficial for organizations but there are chances that people may feel overworked and over-burdened within this new set up. Creating clear boundaries in the mind and one’s environment of work-time and personal-time will be ever more required to maintain our mental poise and strength.
Human Touch Missing
While technology has its benefits, there are chances of excessive dependence on technology that may impact the employee experience at a larger level. Human resource professionals globally are finding innovative ways to engage their people as we work remotely, but the looming question is ‘Can technology ever replace the personal touch associated with various practices and initiatives in the organization?’.Human beings are fundamentally social animals in need of trust, generosity & care, which technology alone (read Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, etc.) in a socially distanced environment may not be able to fulfill. There are no easy answers here, but the fear is real.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected many facets of our life and has come as a rude shock to the global economy. While we may worry about the worst but I feel a positive future is likely and it depends on how organizations are able to modify and capitalize on the underlying changes.