Fast forward to the future of work - the post-COVID19 “new normal”

Posted on: May 27, 2020 by Marianne Hewlett

The impact of COVID-19 on businesses of all shapes and sizes around the world has caused a seismic shift in how we conduct our work. As we fight to contain the pandemic, we’ve hit the fast forward button on many technologies that were already in place. From remote working to digital events and virtual reality training facilities, these technologies have now become an essential part of our day to day work life and are here to stay. Is this the end of the world of work as we know it, and will the crisis mark the tipping point for a new beginning?

Now, the majority of organizations (88%) currently either encourage or require employees to work from home, according to Gartner research. In fact, we are now experiencing the largest remote working experiment in history! Some industries, e.g. the technology sector, were already familiar with remote working, but the crisis has forced workers in almost every sector to adopt those tools and techniques. It has also shown that companies that are digitally adept are able to adjust faster to crisis situations and therefore increase their chances of survival.

Not only are we witnessing a technology shift, we are also seeing a shift in values as the crisis forces people to re-assess what’s important to them both in their personal and work life. Purposeful work, being able to contribute and having a positive impact on the community and environment will become key factors when deciding which job and career to pursue. For companies this could mark the moment to move beyond shareholder value and embrace a new triple bottom line: people, planet, purpose.

What can we expect going post-COVID19, will we fast forward to the future of work? Here are three ways in which our workplace will be changing:

1. Flexible by design

Remote working will become more permanent. We’ve experienced at breakneck speed that it can be done; the technology is available, and workers quickly learned how to work, meet and collaborate digitally. The current pandemic has demonstrated the need for a flexible organization that can rapidly adapt its way of working to ensure business continuity in case the next crisis or unexpected event unfolds.

Just a few organizations can and will remain in a completely remote state, but the majority will embrace greater flexibility to support different work situations and scenarios for their employees. It will increase the effectiveness of individuals and teams, and it gives organizations the opportunity to allocate office space in smarter, more efficient ways. This in turn will appeal to the younger generations who embrace work-life integration, by making choices on how and when they get their work done.

2. Contactless office

It’s hard to imagine today, but I am sure most of us can recall a time when we went to the office with a cold, without thinking about the risk of infecting others. Those days are gone. With companies now focused on creating a safe and healthy workplace, the need for a contactless work environment increases. In fact the first office that offered a near contactless environment was recently opened in Estonia. No need to touch door handles or buttons as the doors and elevators are accessed via smartphone, and the building does not require physical security staff. The system uses biometric verification accessible through a smartphone.

While companies are rearranging their offices to respect the social distancing guidelines – which are expected to remain in place for a long time to come – more needs to be done to ensure a healthy and safe workplace of the future. Increasingly we will see the implementation of smart building technologies to enhance the employee journey through the office and to reduce the “high touch” areas (where many fingers are touching the same surface), therefore increasing the risk of spreading infections.

3. Re-purposing the workplace

COVID-19 will not only change the way we work; it will also affect the reasons why we go to the office in the first place. The rising trend of the mobile workforce does not equate to the extinction of the office space, but there is a clear need to redefine the purpose of the office in the “new normal”. The office is transitioning from a place to be productive and process work, to a place to be creative and to facilitate spontaneous interaction. The flexible, open office space is no longer fit for purpose. Not only is it difficult and stressful to work and concentrate in an open and noisy environment with continuous distractions, but it also can spread infections more rapidly as staff are often working at different desks during the day or week.

The physical office will – just like technology - become a tool to perform, a place where people would like to go to for specific tasks. With the increase in connected devices, sensors and biometrics, workspaces will be able to recognize an employee and apply personal preferences for adjustable desks, lighting, cooling and music. The data that is generated in these connected environments enables organizations to optimize the workspace both from a cost and functionality point of view. Flexible by design, it will be a vital tool to support and enable a productive, mobile workforce.

It is clear that the current crisis has accelerated an unprecedented change in the way we work, how we communicate and collaborate with each other, and how we learn and develop. Maintaining a sense of belonging, sustaining productivity and enabling innovation in a virtual model demands not only different management styles and skills, but also investment in tools and technologies, training and physical and mental wellbeing. I will be sharing more on this in my next blog and I look forward to hearing your views.

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About Marianne Hewlett
Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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