The global community of people and work was occupied in finding ways to adapt to the disruption brought on by digital all through 2019, and were all excited to embrace 2020 with a lot of curiosity and plans to take their digital journey to the next level. But the universe, let’s say it had another plan. A plan that was determined to take digital from conversation to adoption in the blink of an eye.
COVID-19 sure has caused the biggest remote working experiment, and from what it appears, this experiment is here to stay, becoming work-as-usual, or as they say, the new normal. What does that mean for workflow though? Are leaders and employees ready to tap into the potential of remote working? Are they equipped with the tools and skillset to sustain this working model in the long run?
Helping us find answers to these questions and more, in his keynote session on “Workplace post-COVID-19: Engagement and Effectiveness” at SAP HR Connect 2020 Virtual Conference, Aadesh Goyal, CHRO, TATA Communications discusses about adapting to the virtual workplace, five essential elements constituting the digital strategy for a virtual workplace, and the relevance of trust in the new virtual reality.
Read on for highlights from the session.
Virtual is the new reality
Nearly two or three months into working from home, we have found but not yet accepted the new reality, given we are still chasing the idea of a new normal.
Putting all speculations to rest, in his keynote session, Aadesh emphasizes that virtual is in fact the new reality. This sentiment was echoed by an audience poll during the session where 83% of over 500 attendees admitted that COVID-19 has significantly accelerated digitization.
What does this essentially mean? Simplifying the ongoing disruption, Aadesh highlighted the following evident changes:
- Home is now going to be the new virtual workplace for a while, as well as a virtual educational institution
- Workforce composition: There will be no essential craving for full-time employment. Employees would choose an employer matching their needs, full-time or part-time with staggered and mutually agreed upon working hours. Beyond full-time and part-time roles, individuals will also explore freelancing opportunities. All the above in tandem with their household responsibilities and chores.
- Work-life balance for a better life: Specific to employees in metro cities, and those traveling to cities for work from the outskirts, the commute time will reduce drastically, down to nothing, given the remote working model will continue to ensure safety of employees until a definite eradication or containment of COVID-19 has been achieved. This gives back employees close to 2-3 hours everyday which they can redirect towards personal growth and family time.
- Managers and leaders will need to level up: With digital, rather a virtual workplace here to stay for time unknown, managers and leaders will need to put in greater efforts to connect and engage with their people. There is a need to build trust, but how do you do that in a virtual setup? How do you develop greater flexibility in comparison to the flexibility that exists today? These questions will need to be answered.
“There will be much more digital in the next few months and quarters, than we have had so far,” said Aadesh, leading to his next thought that when the workplace becomes virtual, we need to have a strong digital strategy.
Elements of a digital strategy for a virtual workplace
Digitization is no longer an upgrade. In the virtual workplace, it is in fact a survival instinct. However, with the extensive need for organizations to cut costs, as they struggle to stay afloat amid the economic slump, investment in technology is synonymous with additional cost and while organizations cut down on all non-essential costs, the question arises - is adapting to the virtual reality and creating a digital workplace a cost or an investment?
The answer doesn’t lie in a yes or no, the answer lies in looking at the situation before you with an open mindset and with an intent to keep employees safe and the business going in times of COVID as well as Post-Covid, or at least post-lockdown. There is a need to shift the cost mindset associated with digitization and understand the plethora of benefits and experience technology brings, especially relevant in the backdrop of the unprecedented work environment that we continue to exist in.
So how do you go about deciding what your digital strategy for a virtual workplace needs to constitute? Here are 5 elements to keep in mind as you plan your digital strategy for the new normal, or for the new (virtual) workplace:
- Platform: “Workplaces need to become a platform for employees, individual contributors, managers, leaders, and business heads to do what they need to do with a suite of products providing tools for induction, learning, collaboration, or experimenting something new, available 24*7, all at one place,” insists Aadesh. Much like a physical workplace, having a digital platform in place helps concentrate efforts of the workforce, in addition to directing them to one common place for everything related to work.
- Intelligence: The digital platforms that you onboard must possess dynamic intelligence through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to empower employees with prompts that are hyper-personalized. Most relevant for learning programs, the system should be able to recommend learning suggestions aligned with employees interest areas, as well as suggest possible career paths based on existing skill sets and aspirations, and skill gaps to close to level up in their career.
An advantage Aadesh identifies here is the potential of extending intensive learning programs to all employees through one platform. “HiPo learning programmes can be a pull strategy for everyone having access to virtual learning,” suggests Aadesh.
- Community: Your digital strategy for a virtual workplace must be one that enables building online communities. Such platforms facilitate people to come together, talk and make each other feel stronger. With the rising stress level and burnout that people are experiencing, the challenges they face while working remotely, such communities serve as a great opportunity for employees to connect, relate and build a meaningful support system.
- Employee Experience: With the concept of a workplace having undergone a tremendous shake down on account of COVID-19 and the severe need for social distancing, it is not just leaders who struggle to hold the fort, the life of your employees has been uprooted to a great extent as well - in addition to disrupting and blurring the lines between their personal and profession space - every individual has a varying personality, some need their quiet time to work, while others need that sense of a hustle with their colleagues around. So how do you transition that experience online? With miles in between how do you connect your employees and stabilize their experience to the extent possible? That’s where employee experience, or rather EX comes in. A virtual workplace empowers your employees, and boosts their productivity and engagement levels, better experience = better business results. Does digitization still look like cost?
- Humanize it: Last but not the least, the need to humanize experience. Humanizing begins with valuing your employees and their wellness. Employee wellbeing must be the number one priority of leaders today. One way to do that is by building a stronger bond, building stronger relationships, based on trust. Employees need to know it is alright to be overwhelmed, it is alright to feel vulnerable, but how would they know that that is alright? That’s where establishing trust and connection comes in. Have and encourage honest conversations.
Acknowledge that employees aren’t just working from home, but as the Canadian Federal Government says, “You are at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
With all the discussions surrounding the future of work over the last few years, no one could have imagined the future to be what it is today, no one could have imagined a way of working that is taking place today. While some individuals might still be of the opinion that the future of work will be different, many would agree to Aadesh’s closing line, “The future of work has already arrived.”
The argument around how remote working would never see the light of the day for some companies, where the percentage of remote workers was 0%, such companies, among others today witness a remote workforce constituting somewhere between 90-95% of their total employee base.
The need of the hour is not to contemplate what working model works best, and whether technology is a cost or investment, neither does it warrant hopping on to the bandwagon of having a remote workforce. What the current situation does warrant is a need to reflect on - What does your organization stand for? Do you trust your employees? Can you do something to enable them to keep their jobs and at the same time keep your business operational? Once you find answers to these questions, you will become the answer for your business and for your people.