Coronavirus has been one of the most significant and traumatic experiences in recent times. Already, it has had huge impacts on us as individuals, society and nations. The pandemic has changed how we get work done. While most companies already have continuity plans in place in case of catastrophic events like floods, fires, and other disasters, few – if any – were quite prepared for the level of disruption caused by COVID-19.
It is not known when the current crisis will end for things to go back to normal. Well, some aspects of our lives may go back to the way things were but certainly, for others, it will be the ‘new normal’. One thing is sure, the workplace will never be the same again. The term “workplace” now seems obsolete. Instead, work has now encroached into our bedrooms, sitting rooms and outdoor areas, eating into the family space and time.
The Covid-19 crisis has created an opportunity for people to see the consequence of swift and meaningful change, and to witness the negative impacts of trying to ignore this deviance from everyday life. Within organizations, the virus has been driving significant change in how employees relate to each other, as well as with clients, customers and vendors. Now that companies are shifting past their immediate response to the crisis, we have entered into a temporary “new normal”.
One aspect of jobs that has changed is that people are more comfortable in their space than interacting with clients and colleagues. As a result office meetings have been replaced with virtual engagement. A more virtual workplace will mean a change in operations. Even if the majority of workers are still in the office, some methods, meetings and events could shift to virtual – resulting in a combination of advantages and challenges.
Whereas a virtual approach can create efficiency, it does present obstacles as well –not only in terms of the capacity of our hardware and infrastructure to sustain the digital load but also in areas like employee engagement and culture. Many companies already have high numbers of remote- or home-based workers and experience the challenge of creating connectedness between employees and the company.
The idea of working remotely and having teleconference meetings is nothing new. But after COVID-19, it is likely to become more mainstream than ever. The argument can be made that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the workforce further down that road. From remote learning for public schools, telemedicine, e-newspapers, every industry has accelerated its own digital transformation. As a result, the demand for highly skilled remote workers will continue to increase.
Organizations should be prepared to recruit and integrate these key individuals into the organization quickly and seamlessly, so that they can capitalize on the cost savings and broader access to talent.
Employers have also woken up to the reality that working “8-5” is unsuited to the demands of a modern workforce. If leaders can place greater emphasis on flexibility for people to achieve their best output, when and how it meets their personal needs, they can reinforce the cultural shift of measuring staff based on performance, which can result in exponential benefits for the organization.
It is, without a doubt, that COVID-19 is driving change in our behaviors at the workplace. Leaders must take-up what’s working today and integrate it quickly into the daily operations. Rather than waiting for re-entry and being reactive, leaders need to prepare and set expectations for the ways of working that will benefit the organization down the road, so that employees can focus on the strategic business priorities of the future. The reality is that the future of work is here.
Executive Director & CEO Federation of Kenya Employers