The next normal: trends impacting the future workplace

This week marks one year exactly since businesses were mandated to close and individuals were instructed to work from home due to the escalating health crises caused by COVID-19. As a direct result of the pandemic, digital transformation has accelerated by seven years according to research by McKinsey & Company.

The global pandemic has forced employers around the world to adopt remote working, and digital transformation has become more important than ever before. It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘how fast’ can we digitally transform.

Business of all sizes and across all sectors have had to make difficult, yet necessary adjustments. Even the most tech-shy organisations have been forced to shift their mindset.

 

The Next Normal

As organisations continue to plan what ‘the next normal’ will like for their organisation one thing is for certain – the new ‘modern workplace’ which allows seamless, hybrid, flexible working is here to stay.

Here are some trends we have noticed that business leaders should keep in mind as they prepare for their next normal, as they are likely to shape the future of work.

 

Agility is king

Agility has emerged as a critical operating principle of the pandemic. Whereas once companies were super focused on scale and growth, many are now more interested in the ability to be able adapt with changing circumstances, and fast.

This was demonstrated loud and clear after the first lockdown was announced on 23rd March 2020. In the two weeks after the government’s mandate for individuals to work from home BCN Group supported 800 organisations and 30,000 users with their modern workplace transition – from supplying kit to migrating them to cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft 365 and VoIP.

One of our clients, The Treatment Network, have used this past year to escalate their modern workplace programme. They needed to increase agility and resilience for their rapidly changing business within an ever-changing environment. They wanted to be able to quickly and easily be able to open new sites and scale their users and computing power. BCN Group has helped them develop a highly agile and scalable environment – by taking advantage of technologies and applications such Microsoft 365, Azure, SharePoint and Ring Central – which has been transformational for their business for the pandemic and beyond.

 

Empowering teams to work in separately but in sync

One of the biggest shifts for organisations was enabling and empowering their teams to manage their time and workload against an ever-shifting backdrop of other commitments such as childcare and home schooling.

Organisations have had to be able to provide their employees with the ability to have a flexible work schedule. Statistics show that on average employees are working over a longer period every day but taking breaks at different times to accommodate their other commitments. For example, many people are working for a few hours before the children wake up and then flexing their day around school runs, mealtimes, home schooling etc, then extending their working day to early evening or over weekends.

Organisations are beginning to re-examine their goals on productivity to align around outputs rather than ‘presenteeism’ and expectations of physical hours spent in the office.

For example, one of our clients, Hexadex, had different systems for communicating internally (such as Skype and Teams) that were used inconsistently to greater or lesser extents across the business. With the announcement of the first lockdown BCN Group helped Hexadex to streamline their systems and establish a new way to work separately but collaboratively. We rapidly rolled Teams out to their 700 users which provided them with easy access to each other, to information and to projects. The result? Hexadex employees are able to work in sync and collaborate seamlessly even if they are not all present at the same times during the day. The business has seen the benefits of this new way of working and further digital transformation is ongoing.

 

Staying connected – to each other and to your culture

Prior to the pandemic, the physical workplace has been central to how businesses operate. Many critical decisions have been based on the premise that their organisation has a premises. For example: desk phone systems rather than VoIP, on-premise infrastructure rather than a cloud or hybrid environment, recruitment from a local talent pool rather than a national or international talent pool, and previously held beliefs that a company is dependant on physical away days, face to face meetings and an office environment to build and sustain a company culture.

Nichols Plc have always prided themselves on providing an inclusive, connected and tight knit culture. They have a UK head office with one manufacturing site and 10 depots across the UK. Pre-pandemic staff used to travel for HQ-centred events. They relied heavily on email as a company-wide communication tool, and they had (and still have) an intranet which they used for communicating information across the business.

Since the announcement of the first lockdown Teams has become their go-to platform for communication. Thousands of hours every month are spent on Teams keeping employees connected, in touch and informed.

Nichols Plc have used Teams to redefine how they maintain and build their culture without a physical environment. HQ had been the location for many company meetings, initiatives, product launches and generally bringing the workforce together. However, since the pandemic Teams has revolutionised how information is shared and how people collaborate. Not only has company culture been maintained during the pandemic it has flourished.

 

A catalyst for change

For many organisations these are trends they were familiar with before the pandemic. What is new is the speed at which we must respond and adapt, not just structurally but culturally as well. For many, the pandemic has catalysed changes that were already underway, for others it has kickstarted a process and shifted mindsets which will set their course for many years to come.

Whatever the ‘next normal’ is, one thing is for certain…the companies that are going to thrive and attract talent will be those that use the experience of the last twelve months as a catalyst for ongoing change and digital transformation.