The Old Normal – Why we can’t go back

If you haven’t already heard 53,962 times by now, we live in “unprecedented” times. The crisis we find ourselves in is something we haven’t seen before. Simply put, the old world we all have nostalgia for has been transformed forever and will be reshaped in almost all regards: mass consumerism, crisis preparedness, access to healthcare, remote working, protection of employees, and workforce engagement just to name a few.

The work environment around us has evolved significantly in the last few months. In particular, the world of human capital which includes employment, workforce management, and employee engagement has been altered. The post-COVID world will need to revamp how employers engage and manage employees. A greater level of transparency between managers and their teams will be the new norm with a growing remote workforce. Remote workers will also need technologies that synthesize communication and projects across distributed teams. If remote employees are not supported well, organizations are going to lose a key competitive advantage.

Companies will maintain productivity only if working from home is comfortable. Sounds simple enough, but maintaining ergonomics and a productive work environment is difficult when employees are spread across the globe. Many organizations are already giving allowances to employees for ergonomic desks and computers at home. Comfort of remote workplaces will be a new focus of organizations as we see more people electing to work from home in the future. I suspect that the Employee Assistance Plans are set to expand in coming years to provide holistic support for employees, extending beyond clinic visits and medicine.

Office workspaces will need to be redesigned to imitate the comforts of a home workplace that so many people have come to love. We’re already seeing change in the traditional “work from home” paradigm. For example, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) with a global workforce of about 450,000 employees announced the “25/25 plan.” TCS aims to get 75% of their employees to work from home by 2025. I think that companies that adapt the quickest to this change will have a significant competitive advantage when it comes to human capital and polishing their brand as a desirable employer. All in all, working from home may become the new normal.

At a higher level, organizational leadership will play a critical role as organizations pull themselves out of this crisis. The new, work from home culture, will not evolve on its own. Leaders need to be at the front and center of promoting a culture where remote teams are engaged and performing at peak levels. For the new culture to take roots, it will need an elevated communication plan and digital team building activities. Leaders need to learn how to mesh traditional office teams with their “at home” counterparts. As of today, all roles that need an onsite presence have evolved: employers that needed onsite teams have kept operations running with remote teams. In most cases, the need for an onsite team is all but artificial.

Adjusting to this change won’t be easy. New leadership skills will be needed, so I would not be surprised to see a need for Learning and Development coaches for leaders at all levels. Agile processes and teams won’t just be terms used by Project Management groups anymore.

Organizations will inevitably discover their weaknesses around managing their workforce during these times. This won’t be an easy lesson in the short run but it’ll provide an incredible opportunity to fix underlying business models, understand employees, and better serve customer needs in the long run.

While the long term social, health, and economic impacts of the pandemic will be more apparent in coming months, we can certainly say that this crisis is something that we’ve never seen before. So, to come out of this, we’ll have to adapt as we’ve never done before.

The only way forward is to adapt and to adapt fast, especially when it comes to human capital. Not going back to the old normal is a starting point.

Author – Nirad Chaudhari


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