Will COVID-19 change the way we work forever?
9 June 2020
In a 2014 survey at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 34 percent of business leaders said more than half of their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. Only 25 percent said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020. Little did they comprehend the enormous global pandemic that is COVID-19 and how it would thrust these changes unwittingly upon us all.
The promise of remote working has been a feature of futurists’ reports for decades now. But pre-COVID-19, the reality never matched up to the promise with remote working still considered an employee benefit for the lucky few that could negotiate it.
If these surveys were reissued today, one can’t help but feel it would bring a much more definitive response from business leaders. Almost overnight, we have all opened to the possibility of more flexible working arrangements. The change in mindset is palpable and promises to have big implications on how we organise our workplaces and use the technology and tools we have at our disposal.
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said in a recent interview, “The coronavirus is going to be a tipping point. We plodded along at about ten percent growth a year [in remote working] for the last ten years, but I foresee that this is going to really accelerate the trend.”
So, as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and businesses transition to a ‘new normal’ - will the way we work ever be the same?
Moving with the times
When Findex sent home 3,000 staff and closed our 110 offices across Australia and New Zealand during COVID-19, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were some sleepless nights. However, it is a testament to the business that the entire transition happened in a matter of just two days and not two years as may have been the case in a pre-COVID-19 world.
How did we do this? Put simply, we were ready. Having embarked on a digital transformation strategy some years ago, Findex was in the fortunate position of having most of the business tools and processes we needed to mobilise our workforce already in place.
Our prior investment in hardware, systems and tools enabled us to facilitate the shift to a distributed working model rapidly and, accordingly, we were able to really focus on what our clients needed during that time when others were scrambling to remain operational. We were also helped by the nature of our work - being an advice and professional services business allows us to deliver outcomes for customers from the safety of our homes.
However, many businesses weren’t as lucky as Findex during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many that deliver services requiring physical shopfronts to be operational have felt the full economic impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on their businesses. Shopify, the internet’s largest e-commerce platform, reported a 47% increase in sales compared to the same quarter a year ago as retailers moved from point of sale to online stores during COVID. As the physical world shut down, the digital economy went into overdrive.
For many of the businesses that made this jump, the next six to 12 months will be laden with difficult decisions. In a post COVID-19 climate, do I reopen my business as it was before? Or do I take this once in a generation opportunity to remodel my business for the future?
John F. Kennedy is famously quoted as saying, “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters - one represents danger and one represents opportunity." This is precisely the tightrope many businesses, both small and large, will be forced to traverse over the coming months.
For Findex, our own example of this comes in the form of a newly discovered distributed workforce model. Flexible working arrangements are quickly becoming a mainstream reality and will continue to exist in a post pandemic world. Now that we have seen what is possible, we are excited to explore what benefits this can bring the business in a post COVID-19 world.
And it looks as if we’re not alone in that thinking. In recent weeks, tech giants Twitter and Facebook both announced they will permanently embrace remote work, with Twitter employees being able to work from home permanently even after COVID-19.
Closer to home, Optus announced it will make remote working a permanent feature of its call centre operations, whilst a recent Gartner CFO Survey revealed 74 percent of CFOs plan to shift some previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-COVID.
COVID-19 has provided business owners the opportunity to reset and finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. With the right infrastructure, a supporting culture, purposeful leadership and high levels of trust, the previous bias associated with remote working can be successfully reimagined.
The lights have been turned on. Management have realised employees are often happier now that they don’t have to endure long and stressful commutes. Employers have noticed that staff are operating efficiently and effectively. CFOs are seeing the enormous potential savings in reduced office space and HR know that talent acquisition unencumbered by the restrictions of geography is within reach.
Reimagining the workplace
At Findex, we’re a still a way from these changes coming into sweeping effect. Ultimately, we’ll need to consider all implications, carefully plan and then stage an approach to creating our reimagined workplace. We are however, actively working on it.
In the meantime, we’re paying close attention to what others are doing. Just last week, Facebook announced plans to build three new “hubs” in Atlanta, Dallas and Denver where remote workers in those areas could occasionally meet. Mark Zuckerberg explained, “These aren’t necessarily offices,” although Facebook would probably create “some kind of physical space” to accompany them.
Over the coming weeks and months, I believe we’ll see many companies including Findex look to adopt a hybrid model - blending remote teams with in-office ones. By harnessing a more flexible model, we hope to get the best of both worlds. Providing communal places where our people can come together to collaborate in person while also providing the flexibility and convenience of a reduced commute and an enhanced work-life balance.
What a reimagined workplace looks like for your organisation will depend on its scale and industry. But rest assured, a reimagination is required no matter what your business type. If you don’t currently have a working group that is coming up with a plan for what your future workforce model could look like, you are going to quickly be left behind in a rapidly evolving market.
We’ve proven it’s possible with COVID-19, now it’s time to invest and provide the long sought-after flexibility employees have been asking for. Remote working is here to stay. As businesses and employees, we are just beginning to understand the possibilities of this new working model and the initial findings are that it’s too compelling to be ignored.
Findex is conducting research into how an increasingly digitised marketplace has changed the landscape for SME business owners.
Take part in our study of Australian SMEsto help us better understand the impact of COVID-19 on technology adoption and how this has influenced business operations, strategies and priorities now and in the future.
The survey will only take two minutes to complete and all participants will receive a copy of our findings report at conclusion of the study.