After a month in lockdown, there aren’t many people who think things will ever go back to exactly how they were before the coronavirus pandemic. How many would like things to do so is another matter. For every non-key worker who has loved working from home and avoiding the commute, for every furloughed worker who’s loving the extra time with the kids, there’s plenty of others who are itching to get back to the office.
It’s probably too early to really gauge what the new normal will look like. But, after talking with clients and colleagues about their recent experiences, I suspect the following changes will be long-term.
- Many of us have discovered that we can work very effectively from home on a long-term basis. It will no longer be a question of taking the odd day away from the office. Working from home will be normalised to the extent that many will drop the commute two or three days a week. This will cause a cascade impact on businesses servicing commuters, from petrol stations to coffee shops. Expect less of both.
- Video calls won’t replace emails as much as they probably could but will hold their own against voice calls. Video call etiquette will settle and, as we’re already seeing, people will get down to business more quickly than they would at a physical meeting. Hopefully, we’ll also realise that just because we can book back-to-back video calls, that’s not always a great idea.
- With businesses operating on a more distributed basis, with video calls and from home, collaboration platforms will come to dominate. This will lead to an overhaul of company systems as it becomes apparent how much time and margin was being lost in poor organisation and inefficient processes are stripped out.
- Monitoring will become our friend and facilitator. Despite privacy and mental well-being concerns, most people will accept that detailed monitoring of their activities is necessarily built into the collaboration platforms they are using. This will be seen as a positive provided the monitoring is carried out by artificially intelligent systems that also learn to spot errors, offer useful suggestions and automatically carry out supporting tasks in real time.
- There will be less middle management. With people working on a distributed basis, assessed automatically on their output rather than their way of working, with company policy built into the collaboration platforms, many of the primary functions of middle managers will become redundant. But no doubt new roles will arise to support and manage the inevitable challenges of the new ways of working.
Perhaps the biggest change of all would be a new found respect for our key workers and the contribution they make to our society and economy. Whatever our personal views, we will certainly see the treatment of key workers become a significant metric by which governments and political parties want us to judge them.
Whether any of these forecasts turns out to be correct, we’ll see in time. One thing is certain: change happens all the time. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but life and business march on. Whatever the new normal ends up looking like, it’s those businesses that are paying attention and readying themselves to respond to it who will do the best out of it.
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