by Luis De Souza, CEO of NFS Technology What a roller coaster we’re all on…business mood has journeyed from real panic and fear through resignation to the current reality. Business leaders are already focused on new business models, including cost reductions, new ways to work productively and restarting stalled projects. With remote working firmly established in our lives, many companies are re-visiting technology infrastructure, with security and user experience a priority. But the pandemic is also having a real impact on people’s wellbeing and stress levels – and current support mechanisms are not yet up to supporting them. Employee support schemes will have a big part to play – we’ve seen heart-warming examples of human kindness and businesses will need to put a high priority on how they look after vulnerable staff members and other groups such as suppliers.
What 5 significant factors will drive your post-pandemic businesses?
by Luis De Souza, CEO of NFS Technology
What a roller coaster we’re all on…business mood has journeyed from real panic and fear through resignation to the current reality.
Business leaders are already focused on new business models, including cost reductions, new ways to work productively and restarting stalled projects.
With remote working firmly established in our lives, many companies are re-visiting technology infrastructure, with security and user experience a priority.
But the pandemic is also having a real impact on people’s wellbeing and stress levels – and current support mechanisms are not yet up to supporting them.
Employee support schemes will have a big part to play – we’ve seen heart-warming examples of human kindness and businesses will need to put a high priority on how they look after vulnerable staff members and other groups such as suppliers.[/newcol]
5 significant factors that will drive post-pandemic businesses:
- Real estate costs
- Home working, the new reality
- Collaboration tools, the options and pitfalls
- Supply chain disruption
- Post-pandemic leadership.
Real estate costs – does a transformation lie ahead?
In an uncertain pandemic world, there’s one certainty – the lockdown home working is forcing businesses to re-visit their real estate portfolio. They are asking:
- How much space do I really need?
- What type?
Even companies with no previous experience of a stay-at-home workforce can now evaluate how it works for them, providing food for thought on technology support and collaboration.
Previously, the business market moved relatively slowly to disrupt the status quo in terms of space requirements. It failed to challenge actual utilisation and alternatives to fixed cost space, such as home working, co-working spaces and flexible desking.
Business is now rethinking space assumptions with 5 key stakeholders driving the future corporate office footprint; finance, corporate real estate, facilities, HR and technology. I believe the functional silos of the past will collapse – and fresh thinking will drive a smaller and more relevant real estate footprint.
Landlords will be forced to offer shorter lease commitments, rent reductions, greater flexibility in premise use – and the growth of flex space, which has driven the growth of co-working space in the last 10 years.
So what is flex space – and why do we need it?
Flex space ranges from a more dynamic change of space use to more creative possibilities, allowing you to convert your fixed office space into facilities that better serve the business and the local community.
Why should an office premises not serve as a food and beverage outlet, a community wellness centre or even training space for companies in the local area?
Home working, the new reality
On March 23, 2020 we all went home to work. So how did it work out for you?
Many workers enjoyed it – although they were not so keen on trying to combine home working with child-care and home schooling.
Did you know:
* 75% told a survey they enjoyed feeling that their employer trusted them to work at home
* 68% said they were sure they were at least as productive, if not more.
But even though nearly eight in ten felt their employer had handled the transition to home working well, less than HALF felt their company would simply revert to old practices once the crisis was over.
Home workers have reported the benefits of doing away with stressful, tiring and expensive commutes; in Japan, for instance, hard-worked ‘salarymen’ used to seeing little of their families are reporting increased wellbeing.
Companies with good access to the technology that supports agile working, such as video conferencing tools and meeting scheduling software, have reported the easiest transition – and for the most advanced, it’s almost been business as usual.
The expected challenges have arisen – providing home workers with suitable technology and bandwidth, for instance, and (a big one) ensuring security of data.
And companies have also had to work hard to overcome that old bugbear of the remote worker – loneliness, with popular solutions including regular team chats, quizzes and games
Pastoral care of worker wellbeing has been just one of the new responsibilities for organisations getting to grips with remote working.
They now have a duty to make sure their staff have a good space to work at home, with suitable equipment, ergonomic furniture, and good patterns of engagement.
But here’s the thing: they’ve done it – and in a very short time, too.
And now mass home working has been achieved, albeit in a patched-up, bits of string and sticking plaster kind of way, companies can begin to assess the benefits.
Employees are doing the same, you can be sure. And squeezing the home working genie back into the bottle might be a tough task for companies who want to a) go back to old practices and b) retain staff…
In the new business normal, flexibility will a necessity, not just a wish!
With experience under their belts, business owners will be opening their minds to some blue sky thinking on future operations, where employees well supported by technology revel in working at home.
Maybe they’re dreaming of:
- Home working hubs where employees who live near each other invite colleagues to co-work with them.
- Offices reimagined as venues, where unbooked space is offered to other organisations to hold meetings or events.
- Workspace as a moveable feast, reconfiguring with easily-positioned screens to accommodate the daily requirements of an agile workforce, who book space via a meeting room and desk scheduling software app. Secrets of the connected workplace.
- Secure borderless workspaces – companies whose entire workforce can work in any location, with the operational infrastructure supported by integrated workplace technology.
- Remote working being offered as a major benefit when recruiting staff, particularly digital-savvy Gen X and Zers.
- Offering an attractively flexible response to elements of people’s life – for instance, three days a week working from home, sabbaticals etc.
Collaboration tools – the options and pitfalls
This brave new world sounds great – but keeping an agile working system in tiptop condition is like keeping plates spinning. It requires support, timely maintenance and good management.
Successful remote collaboration will be the beating heart of post-pandemic business.
Video and audio conferencing have been with us a long time, saving travel costs, carbon output and stress, but the corona crisis has seen everyone truly embracing the technologies.
Effective remote collaboration derives from drawing people and technology together in harmony, even across multiple locations and time zones.
Trying to do this using non-integrated technology can be tricky, as anyone will tell you who has ever had to call five PAs across the world to set up a suitable video conference time.
The businesses who made the most successful transition to mass home working during the crisis are those who support their workforce with integrated workplace technology, combining more remote working with the easy ability to use the office facilities where there is a specific need.
This enables them to set up a meeting, book a desk if they do need to come to the office, and organise their collaboration – all from an app on their mobile phone.
Supply chain disruption
No business is an island – and supply chains have been under strain since the beginning of the crisis. As consulting firm McKinsey points out:
“Businesses must respond on multiple fronts at once: at the same time that they work to protect their workers’ safety, they must also safeguard their operational viability, now increasingly under strain from a historic supply-chain shock.”
The supply chain for some goods will probably evolve to reduce dependence on a single country. Apple, Google and Microsoft are already looking to move hardware production away from China to Vietnam and Thailand.
Industry watchers Bain noted in March that some companies were already moving to build more resilient supply chains as a result of factors such as Brexit and the US-China trade war.
This pandemic will force businesses to focus more on the 5 key steps in building a robust supply chain; risk assessment, supply chain agility, better visibility supplier connections, supplier workforce practices as well as disruption potential.
Many of these things have been assumed rather than rigorously planned in the pre-pandemic world.
In the service sector, it is the widespread flow of information that will be the new critical consideration, with technology such as conferencing apps to the fore.
See how Zoom works with integrated workplace technology
For sectors such as law, a new era is being ushered in by increased remote working and collaboration with clients that in the past would have been considered impossible as a remote task. We could see other disruptions in the services sector, as staff are more empowered and less dependent on office support teams. Are virtual courts the next big thing?
The traditional supply chain assumptions are now one of many business disruptors, the key themes being; more local, better resilience, lower risk and greater transparency.
Across all businesses, leaders will need to develop and evolve their skill set to drive their business in a post-pandemic world.
Courage to confront
Confronting the new reality will challenge many leadership teams who have sold one story to various stakeholders and now need the courage to come to terms with a different reality.
They will need to change business models, growth forecasts, compensation plans, financing needs – and above all, their approach to attracting and retaining top talent.
While the new reality is not clear and will affect industries differently, the way these challenges are addressed will dictate the future shape and growth opportunities for businesses.
With social distancing here to stay for some time, organisations must begin with redefining business models and creating the workplaces that fit them, putting in place the technology that supports remote working, effective productivity as well as staff wellbeing.
There’s clear evidence from the pandemic crisis that businesses who have been open with their workers have secured the best staff commitments.
Leaders will need to learn to engage with a team that may not be office based; the typical command and control structures based on presence and direct approaches to delegation will no longer apply.
These will be replaced by a more structured approach to communication designed to maintain “high touch” remotely, requiring greater trust and flexibility.
Managers will need active plans to support staff in other areas like wellness, paying particular attention to isolation and mental health.
Sadly, this is no small challenge to the previous styles of leadership – and many would say it’s been a long time coming.
So, what could the new normal look like?
‘Normal’ used to be a relatively standardised approach on many leadership fronts, from staff engagement to client and supplier communication.
The new normal will be much more about a personalised approach to management. For example, this will mean developing support plans for home workers that reflect their broader needs, from wellness to technology support tools.
Out of adversity comes opportunity
While this new normal may introduce new levels of complexity, forward thinking businesses can use this opportunity to streamline processes, reduce costs, improve customer service and attract talent.
So, what leadership traits are needed to make this new normal a reality? I can think of three:
- Courage – to confront the new realities head on
- Vision – to extrapolate how the new normal translates into opportunity
- Empathy – to build and grow the right team. The new “followers” will be looking for courage and trust, not the old command and control structures.
So what will be different? Almost everything.
The new business normal is an opportunity to press the reset button – a chance to address so many things that were not right with the old normal.
These range from the drudgery of commuting to work, to business models based on growth and cheap money, rather than sustainability and resiliency that serves all parties sustainably and preserves the environment.
The new normal should also be about actions that serve the global community, not just national or sector interests.
If this pandemic has served to bring the problems of the old normal into focus, we will have moved forward as humanity. That is my real hope – and as the Dalai Lama so perfectly puts it:
“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest opportunity for doing good, both for oneself and others.”