Have you already started thinking about what the workplace is going to be like in the post-pandemic world? If not, you need to start thinking now!
We’ve all spent the last few years talking about the future of work and how automation, globalisation, gig economies and boundary-free work will shape the workplace but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more immediate change to many businesses. For some companies that change has already happened with the need to re-pivot their business to survive in the hope they can re-establish their core business after the pandemic has subsided. (Think about Brew Dog changing their production line away from beer to hand sanitizer or Barbour who are now producing surgical gowns).
There are businesses that have spent millions on business plans to assess the competitive environment and the factors that affect their markets. Did anyone think of a pandemic regardless of how small the threat? Those plans have been thrust aside as leaders juggle with a changing business plan that may represent more than a re-pivot, but a permanent change of direction. For the companies who will come out of this better off than before, they may have entered a market where they could not have imagined gaining access before the pandemic. Indeed, this could now become a permanent market for them leading to further diversification. (Think about your local restaurant that has never offered take-away before but now has road-side collection or delivery.)
But on a more practical level, what are the top issues that nearly every business should consider in the future?
Personal finance advisors will tell their clients that having a contingency fund of around 3 months to allow for surprises is a good financial footing. How many businesses have the ability to retain 3 months of salaries for surprises? Yet some big names have announced they will weather the pandemic without the need for redundancies (BT, Morgan Stanley, CitiGroup and Bank of America.) Although it will take some time for businesses to re-establish their pre-January 2020 financial status, there should be a focus on what provision they are going to have in place for future challenges.
The corporate landscape is not the only money-related impact as consumers will also see a big change in the way they use money in the future. Even before the lockdown in the UK, many shops and businesses had asked people not to pay in cash. Some venues had simply stopped accepting cash and only card payments were possible. Here’s a starting point for a major change across all sectors. Cash will be used less as businesses realise the effort involved in accepting and processing cash payments. This is a clear opportunity for food & beverage and retail to change their operations.
Business Continuity Plans
I wonder how many people opened their Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in March 2020 and realised it was worthless? BCPs have often been seen as a necessary evil to satisfy the checklist of an auditor. Even if ‘tested’ this was a desktop exercise which was over in an hour or so. Like many BCPs, they often focussed on the closure of a building or loss of data through a server room but very few looked at the loss of key people for weeks. As BCPs were often seen as a bureaucratic requirement, they were often handed down to the most junior person to review and own.
Is now the time to make BCPs more meaningful and a higher priority than before? This will be a growth area for businesses and consultants to provide a service that builds on the impacts that Covid19 has caused. Moreover, shareholders may have a greater interest at the next general meeting to understand what plans the business has in place for the next pandemic or similar challenge.
The next post-pandemic rise will be in the need for increased automation across all aspects of business. How many leaders are wishing they had spent more effort on automating a process before March 2020? As people are unavailable due to sickness, furlough or lockdown, basic processes across all industries will be under closer inspection to see how many can be automated out to leave humans as the designers and planners.
There is little excuse for a leadership team that has not pushed the boundaries of automation within their business. This includes stripping out wasteful processes across the business, including HR ones. Chatbots are readily available and we should be pushing the mundane and administrative tasks to be dealt with through automation. Do you have an HR bot to answer the questions you get asked repeatedly? Can your people self-serve to update their emergency contacts or contact numbers? Can you easily distribute messages and information to all your people regardless of their location?
The single biggest impact on businesses across the world has been the lockdown and isolation of their workforce. Even if they had the raw materials, supply chain and customer demand, the majority of businesses have suffered because of lockdown.
Those that can work from home have seen little difference in their working day. Teams that have previously claimed their work could not be done remotely have had to make the situation work – although the necessary dawn of realisation that this was possible may still take some months for a leadership team to accept. Over recent weeks there have been many articles and posts about the money that people save by not commuting. This is a limited view. Consider how much wider your recruitment pool could be if a job was advertised with 3 days of remote working every week. Remote working has benefits for the employee, employer, customer and environment. This is a key area for change over the coming months and something to plan for before people are released from lockdown.
To support remote working, businesses have realised how poorly prepared they were for dispersed teams to communicate and remain productive. The ‘water cooler’ chat is a great way of meeting people but also a waste of time if those people have had to travel for 2 hours each to bump into each other. Communication and collaboration platforms such as People First Connect are in great demand as businesses seek to support open communications throughout their business.
Not only is a communications platform about hosting a meeting but also about sharing news and recognising colleagues. Community groups showing ‘my new desk at home’ have flourished as colleagues show how they’re adapting to working from home. More than ever before, people want to consume information on the pandemic from the company which is also seen as a trusted source of information. Giving clear updates and issuing new policies is a driver for people to access and consume the information centrally, rather than a shotgun email for people to easily miss.
As always, these items require careful consideration and then a proper approach to change management. Now might be the perfect time to consider what you need to do to benefit from the pandemic rather than let your business be a victim of it. Where people are working from home (not furloughed staff!), take the opportunity to involve them in the re-design which will gain greater acceptance and ease the changing burden. Alternatively, ignore the opportunities that your competitors are already looking at and see how difficult it will be in the post-pandemic world.
I choose change.