Adaptability has always been integral to business success.
But throughout the pandemic we’ve witnessed a faster pace of change than ever before. Recent research from the Capita Institute’s great opportunity? report shows that 82% of business leaders felt that changes had happened more quickly than they anticipated, while a further 78% expected their industries to look different in a year’s time.
These rapid developments have thrown a curveball into the mix for many companies, with 70% of respondents reporting that the fallout from the pandemic has had a negative impact on their teams. Yet as we emerge from the firefighting stage of the crisis into a new world of work, there are also opportunities on the horizon.
Positive from the pandemic
One positive to emerge from this difficult period has been the advancement in the use of technology. More than 80% of business leaders told Capita that their organisation had been successful in introducing and using new technologies throughout the past 12 months. While this proves that businesses are capable of more than they realise when under pressure, it also indicates that technology will remain a powerhouse for the future of work – even as we return to office spaces.
During the Covid-19 emergency, businesses have been forced to cut through bureaucracy to deliver change with speed, particularly when it comes to establishing home office environments. As we begin recovery, companies will need to decide what the future looks like, potentially reinventing their internal operations in line with changes. While working from home has been popular with older generations, it’s been more challenging for people who still need to learn their trade and socialise with other employees, as well as those who don’t have a suitable working space at home. For others, being in an office improves mental health and helps them to work more productively.
Many companies are moving towards a hybrid approach to working life, with people visiting the office a few times a week. We may also see the development of multi-business office spaces, which give young people the chance to work in a space with others from different organisations as well as their own. For both long-term home working and multi-company spaces, there will need to be an increased focus on cyber security to ensure data safety. Once companies have this in hand, the possibilities for flexible working options are endless. As well as supporting better work/life balance for existing employees, remote working will also expand the talent pool to those living outside big cities.
At the same time, businesses will need to think carefully about their management structures, to determine exactly how a hybrid office can work in practice, particularly if people are working in a wide range of spaces. Budgets will need to be revised, to determine if cost savings have been made in the past year or whether they’ve increased as a result of kitting out home offices for employees. Many companies will find themselves short of cash for some time during the recovery phase, meaning innovation will be crucial as we build back a hybrid system.
Discipline and momentum can also be harder to maintain outside a traditional office environment, so it will be important for managers to work collaboratively with employees to find solutions that work for both the people and the long-term business goals. This may involve evaluating performance review structures or finding new ways to help employees manage their goals and time, as well as assessing their output.
After such a fast-paced year, companies can use this time to reflect on the successes and failures of home working to devise a series of pilot schemes that could work for them. They will also need to ensure that any skills gaps can be met, especially if we’re seeing long-term remote working. Many of the older generation have honed their craft in a hands-on office-based environment, gaining networks and contacts. Companies will need to ensure that junior employees get the same support to avoid future talent shortages.
Technology has simplified many processes and helped people to work more efficiently. While this has huge advantages, companies have to work out their next steps when some of the more basic roles are replaced by automated systems. Businesses will need to innovate quickly to recruit or retrain staff for the more specialist roles that may be needed to plug the gaps. In addition, leaders will have to establish how technology is supporting customer journeys, and where it needs to improve. For example, some companies are finding that automated systems block access to communication with a real person, which can be frustrating. More work needs to be done to fine tune these responses so that the customer can receive a service that’s tailored to their individual needs.
Whether new technology and innovation is being used to support employees or customers, all organisations will have to take on responsibility for change management. Companies have coped well with the rapid adaptations so far, but it may not be sustainable in the long-term. Mental health has suffered during the pandemic and if the pace of change remains so unrelenting, people are at risk of burnout. Implementation needs to be managed across the entire organisation, with specialists deployed to help employees adapt.
For the best results, new technology must be aligned with strategic goals and ambitions, while individuals must be properly trained on how to use updated systems. It’s vital that the overall business perspective keeps up with the changes, with robust processes in place to evaluate how technology is being used and the benefits it’s bringing for staff and clients.
Although it’s clear the future won’t be without hurdles, we’ve learnt the value of trial and error during the pandemic. Now is the time for companies to experiment, using this transition period to build an innovative future that works for their brand, as well as the employees and clients.