With long-term changes in the workplace underway, here’s what you can do now to prepare employees for the future of work.
In his commencement speech to Wright State University’s 2020 class, actor Tom Hanks referred to the Covid-19 pandemic as “the great reset” and “the great reboot.” The specifics of that reset have yet to be determined, but his message made clear that whatever they turn out to be, they will represent a distinct break from the patterns that preceded it.
Some of those details are now beginning to emerge, particularly those that apply to workplaces and to the workforce itself. For starters, it now seems unlikely that the disease will be eradicated before the need to resume economic activity becomes imperative. But what will it take to make employees feel confident that coming to work is something they can do without feeling unsafe? The prevailing architecture of office space — with open floor plans and cubicles designed to reduce square footage and maximize collaboration between closely spaced co-workers — may no longer provide the personal separation that people feel comfortable with.
As for the workforce itself, the work-from-home model is having a huge and likely lasting impact. A recent survey conducted by Jones Lang LaSalle found that just over 60% of the workers polled plan to return to their office for part of the week but will continue to spend a significant amount of work time at home, while only 34.5% expect to go back to the office full-time. It is a sentiment supported in a survey of corporate finance leaders conducted by Gartner, Inc. at the end of March, which revealed that three-quarters of the executives planned to move “at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions” following the pandemic. An analysis by the University of Chicago confirmed that 34% of U.S. jobs could plausibly be done from home.
This shift will compel businesses to build systems and strategies to meet the demands of the new status quo. Here are the key steps that all businesses can take now to prepare for the future workforce:
1. Ensure training processes are in place to help employees use technologies. Many companies already rely on a variety of technologies to enable their operations, from CRM platforms to task management and lead-gen software. The challenge now will be onboarding new employees and ensuring they get the training needed to use all the tools that are in place. It will be crucial to ensure that employees are using these tools efficiently as they come to administer a greater and greater share of those employees’ output.
In a study conducted by Forrester before the pandemic, organizations attribute the lack of CRM adoption to people-related obstacles, with 49% due to slow user adoption. This is not sustainable, especially in a business environment characterized by remote work and one that is increasingly powered by digital platforms. One way companies could address this is by deploying digital adoption solutions, which can provide personalized in-app guidance throughout the user’s journey.
2. Help your people collaborate remotely. Business leaders must also ensure that teams are collaborating effectively, which can start to become challenging as we forgo face-to-face interaction. This means organizations may need to transition processes to the cloud, perhaps more rapidly than they planned initially, so that remote workers can access the appropriate resources to do their jobs. In this new normal, employees can easily feel overwhelmed with the sheer rapidity of the digital transition. Companies could implement solutions that offer personalized digital guidance to help their people adapt.
3. Set success metrics upfront and be ready to adapt. As these digital tools take on greater importance in connecting newly distributed workforces, it will be essential to ensure employees are using them efficiently and that, in cases where efficiency may be flagging, decision-makers can make the necessary adjustments without disrupting workflows. With the dramatic decrease of face-to-face communications, it’ll be increasingly more difficult for decision-makers to gauge employee sentiment as well as receive and act upon feedback. Therefore, it’s essential to establish metrics upfront so they can quickly identify bottlenecks and other dynamics that can have a profound business impact.
While there’s a myriad of enterprise solutions currently out in the market, it’s common to come across roadblocks that can prevent a successful implementation. Oftentimes, businesses are challenged with selecting the right solution and may also find resistance from their end users when it comes to adopting new technology. This is when specific programs, depending on your goals and the outcome desired, should be devised.
It starts with asking yourself the right questions and why you’re searching for these solutions. Can a new tool seamlessly connect to your existing technology stack? Why are you selecting a specific tool, and how are you going to get your end users to adopt it? Creating a rollout plan — whether it’s in phases or rolling it out all at once, or assigning a project manager to help onboard and train new users — could empower the adoption of these new tools. Providing employees with the digital tools they need also helps to empower them to take their own initiative in training and development without the traditional office resources they’re used to such as asking a fellow colleague to walk them through a task in person.
Businesses today are facing monumental challenges to adapt to a new normal. Taking action now to establish processes and put in place tools to help employees succeed will pay enormous dividends in the months and years ahead, especially once repairs from the current pandemic’s damage are underway.