By Nai Kanell
Chief Marketing Officer
As I look back at the wild roller coaster ride that was 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be easy to reflect on the negative things that have happened. Countless lives lost. A politically and socially divided nation. The ongoing battle for equal rights. Despite the bad, I believe there are silver linings that without the pandemic we may have never seen.
Digital transformation in manufacturing, sales, governmental agencies, and other industries is changing how we do business. COVID forced companies to embrace remote work and find ways to engage customers in new, innovative ways. One of many examples: Restaurants shifted to online and phone orders with curbside pickup.
This digital way of thinking did not stop there. Let’s look at a few more positive digital changes:
In the United States, some companies paused day-to-day manufacturing and retooled facilities to build desperately needed ventilators. Doing so likely saved lives and proved that we can adapt in a crisis if we put our minds to it.
Last March as COVID began its rampage across the U.S., Ford Motor Company shut down 30 auto plants. Five days after conferring with federal officials, Ford partnered with GE Healthcare to manufacture ventilators. Several other old-school manufacturers followed, including General Motors and Xerox. They retrofitted existing technologies from building engines to filling a critical medical need.
This willingness to forgo profits for better national health was the largest combined effort outside of wartime to accomplish in weeks what typically takes months to years. That is agility at its finest.
Prior to COVID, it was nearly impossible to obtain property records without physically visiting a county recorder’s office. That may not sound hard but imagine owning land in another state. Now, county clerks pull the records and titles for you (thank you, social distancing). There is hope local and federal governments will finally agree to digitize information and lessen the exorbitant title fees property buyers must pay.
Girl Scout Cookies – I absolutely love them! But I often found myself without a cookie seller in my neighborhood. COVID stopped door-to-door sales in its tracks. And it was not easy to know if any Girl Scouts lived in my neighborhood.
Now, I can order directly from the Girl Scouts of America website or online from a Girl Scout I know. No more written order forms and running to the ATM for cash to pay for my Thin Mints. Last year, I paid via Venmo; this year I can use a credit card. Cashless payments are not only much easier for both sellers and buyers, but also lessen the spread of germs and viruses.
Pre-COVID, telecommuting and remote work were viewed as perks by many companies and a new trend for others. That changed in the blink of an eye as COVID forced businesses to close office doors and send employees home to work.
We were already moving toward agile workstyles. The laptop unchained us from standard desks and Wi-Fi cut the cords completely. This freedom allows us to work from anywhere – a requirement during COVID. But what happens now that offices, stores, factories, and other workplaces are reopening? Will remote work continue at its current levels or drop off as pressure mounts to return to a physical office?
Some business owners may argue that productivity suffers when employees work remotely. A Mercer study says otherwise. Of 800 employers surveyed, 94% said productivity was the same or higher than before the pandemic. Great Place to Work canvassed 800,000 employees at Fortune 500 companies and found that 87% were productive in a May 2020 measurement, compared to 74% in 2019.
In an article published last year, I mentioned employees want to be able to do their best from environments that enable them to thrive. And that is relative based on each person’s unique circumstances. Some home offices may lack essential elements like giant monitors, plenty of plugs for personal devices, fast internet, and supplies. Remote work can be distracting, with children jumping into view during Zoom meetings or the siren call of trashy afternoon TV.
The workplace will evolve into areas or pods of places where people can create their best work given the task they have on hand. My workday ebbs and flows between needing focus time and collaboration with colleagues. Businesses that offer collaboration and private spaces – and allow employees to move freely between them – will see enhanced productivity.
COVID made socializing hard, and I believe most employees are ready to get back to a physical workplace. This is especially true with new employees. I onboarded several new SpaceIQ employees during the pandemic and have not met many of them face to face. It would be great to meet my new colleagues in person to see how tall they are, what their natural voices sound like, and take advantage of collaboration time.
When COVID forced people into remote work, it was not meant to be permanent and was not an excuse to say, “Let’s never meet in person.” There is a fine balance we all must make in navigating the future hybrid workplace. It will no longer be “I have to work in the office” or “I can only work from home”. Workplaces will evolve into places where serious collaboration and creativity happens.
A New Normal
The onus of finding the “new normal” for future offices falls on workplace professionals who must think hard about how to reimagine their workplaces and create productive places employees want to work. The challenge will be finding ways to attract and keep top talent by building spaces with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in mind. Manifest a workplace that gives employees all they need to do their best work in caring, supportive environments and they will come. It is a dream that is quickly becoming reality.
Keep reading: What Is An Alternative Workplace? The New Norm