We’ve always known that technology would drive change in the workplace in the 21st century. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have merely accelerated that process, with organizations of all types finding themselves at a crossroads going forward. And while tech is certainly a major factor in what happens next, the real battleground is in a seemingly more abstract realm: organizational culture.
A viral pandemic like what we’ve been experiencing cannot help but reinforce the truth that an organization is made of people. We need to keep our people safe and care for those who fall ill. This in turn transforms nearly every aspect of how the day-to-day expression of an organization plays out in the real world. It’s the overall framework for those changes that will make or break successful corporations, schools and universities, sport teams, theatres, car services and just about every other type of collective human endeavor.
Many of the external metrics that define success will remain the same. It’s inside the organization where the most changes will occur, even while on the surface more and more participation will be conducted at a remove using digital technologies.
It might be time to start re-examining the answers to questions like “what is an office?” or “what is a school?”. Is physical infrastructure necessarily part of those definitions? How can an organization maintain identity, continuity and pursue its goals when there’s no “there” there?
Norms and procedures that are no longer optimal in the new reality should be repurposed or even eliminated entirely. The pandemic, terrible as it is, presents an opportunity for housekeeping and fine-tuning what organizations are at their heart.
This mainly comes from reimagining the social contract between the c-suite and managerial level, managers and employees, teachers and students. For changes to be embraced and adopted, they should include all stakeholders in the enterprise, regardless of where they sit in an org chart.
Everyone wants to feel like they are one of the “good guys”, and things like integrity have become very important to millennials a Gen Zers. This means that the organization engages in ethical behavior and is scrupulously honest. The leaders have to embody the values of the organization in the way they conduct themselves. Regulations are happily complied with, and everyone is treated equally and fairly.
There’s a new concept in business called DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This movement aims to align intention with perception to improve the workforce, foster better business practices and help make a better, fairer world. At its heart is the idea of open and honest communication in every area that affects the organization.
Companies that refuse to adopt these ideas will soon be seen as outdated, old-fashioned dinosaurs that are out of sync with the times. They will become less competitive and unable to attract the best and brightest new talent in the market.
The COVID-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise, and there’s no guarantee another wide-reaching outbreak or crisis won’t happen in the future. This creates a feeling of unease and insecurity, especially for employees worried about employment and economic impacts.
But organizations that can demonstrate they are adaptive in real time will have the advantage over those that take too long to adjust to challenges. This means always being ready to discuss and implement new methods to achieve goals and an openness to new ideas. Processes need to be become more flexible and able to withstand the storm.
Leaders and employees need to be hired, retained, promoted and rewarded when they clearly demonstrate their resilience and adaptability. Those that cannot, who are stuck in the moribund past, may no longer fit within a new, leaner organization.
When conflicts arise within the organization, they need to be resolved quickly, amicable and fairly. And conflicts are almost inevitable, to some extent at least, while people become accustomed to the new way of doing things.
Good communication and engagement will be even more essential, and people are going to need total transparency in the future. Strategies need to be outlined in a clear, concise way, and there should be a feedback system in place for people to ask for help, and suggest revisions or new ideas.
Each organization needs to supply all the tools and resources their stakeholders need to succeed, and those tools will need to evolve rapidly. Communication channels need to be improved and new digital techniques adopted, and workflows and internal systems should be streamlined and optimized.
One of the main issues with remote working and learning is that people start to feel isolated over time; they miss that sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Adapting your communication methods to help foster a sense of community will be key to keeping people engaged. Don’t limit communications and collaboration to work or learning activities. Build in social activities and time for people to connect, both on a personal level and with the organization.
Expanding Remote Access
It’s clear that much of the future of working and learning involves people at home remotely accessing the teams and tools they need to achieve their objectives, and organizations need to fully embrace and support this. Don’t just buy a Zoom license – offer tutorials, guidelines and advice so your audience is comfortable and motivated to use the system.
Fostering good work/study from home habits and environments will let people know the organization is invested in their success, has already done some of the heavy lifting by offering remote systems that are easy to access and navigate. This could even extend to supplying the equipment needed to work affectively from a remote location. This includes both hardware, like computers and monitors, and software, like collaborative online systems, LMS training and learning systems, and the like.
It’s also time to re-evaluate just how you want workers or students to interact with the organization and their peers. Will you go fully remote, or maintain a hybrid style with some on-site access and some not? If you decide to remain exclusively on-site, be prepared to explain why that’s the best way. If you do have at least some on-site facilities still operating, you might think about reconfiguring them so they can use the space and resources more optimally.
Health & Safety
It needs to be very clear to people that their safety is of primary concern to the organization. If people feel unsafe, they will be unengaged and unproductive. They may even start looking for somewhere else to lend their talents to if they don’t feel secure.
This entails much more than just putting health tips on an intranet or digital signage system; it’s a shift in the entire attitude the organization presents. People need to feel that they matter, and not just for what they give the organization. They matter because they are people, and we’re all in this thing together. We have each other’s backs.
COIVD-19 has highlighted just how interconnected seemingly disparate systems really are. Health and safety will need to be wrapped into every facet of an organization – from physical plant decisions about public access to IT purchases of software systems, customer support channels to employee retention, crisis communication plans to benefits packages.
No one dislikes money, but many studies have shown that it’s not really a great motivator. Many organizations are reacting to the pandemic by changing the way they offer and deliver benefits. Instead of annual reviews, some companies have already transitioned to a review every six months, with promotions, salary increases and bonuses likewise more frequent.
Expanded health coverage is another benefit that truly gets the idea across that people matter. This should also include mental health support since new stresses and pressures will no doubt lead to previously unknown difficulties for remote workers.
One of the greatest barriers to work/study from home is childcare. So, if the organization doesn’t already have some sort of childcare support, it should start. Some businesses offer reimbursements for cost outlays, while other are going even further by providing special virtual field trips for kids stuck at home, or online storytimes and even assistance with local school curricula.
That’s not to say that everything needs to change. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But an honest reassessment is required, and things that are still relevant and effective can be strengthened and reinforced.
In order to succeed and thrive in the coming years, organizations must build new structures that support the new normal. It’s time for a clear break from the past. Better to implement many changes at once than to introduce elements incrementally. If things need to be adjusted later, then that’s fine. But a dramatic shift is needed in order to transition the people who make up the organization into a new mindset. After all, a crisis like COVID-19 happens fast, so the response has to be just as swift.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.