Three months back, when millions of workers in China and Hong Kong worked from home instead of commuting to offices, Bloomberg termed it the ‘world’s largest work-from-home experiment.’ Today, we know what started out as an experiment is now a global reality.
And it’s a long-term reality.
Employers and employees across industry, sectors, and geographies are increasingly realizing that when lockdown ends, we will not return to the pre-COVID world we knew. Moody’s Investors Services recently assessed that even without longer-duration lockdowns, a self-perpetuating dynamic could take hold, resulting in destruction and shifts in entire sectors, human capital, consumption, and investment.
What does that imply?
For one, we are in the thick of aggressive behavioral change that demands a new way of work life centered on agility. Businesses will have to take a relook at their workforce. The new normal may be a bit more permanent than realized.
A March 2020 Gartner survey caught the pulse of CXO shifts since lockdown. 74% of CFOs expect to move a number of previously on-site employees to remote working situations permanently. TCS has announced a clean break from its 20-year-old operating model. It is set to ask 75% of its employees globally (including 3.5 lakh in India) to work from home permanently by 2025. Automakers are reporting a shift in focus from pure production performance to making manufacturing agile to survive unpredictable changes. It’s obvious that organizations will have to recalibrate their existing workforce towards building an agile one.
In a way, the stage work was in progress well before COVID forced us to shut ourselves in our homes. A 2019 study by IWG said that 75% of respondents around the world considered flexible work to be the new normal. LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends Report presented that since 2016 there was a 78% increase in job posts that mentioned workplace flexibility. In 2019, more than 2/3rds of global employees were already working remotely every week, and more than half did so for at least 50% of the week. The global trend is moving towards greater use of virtual offices. FlySpaces is serving mobile professionals. India was likely to see a 5-fold jump in its demand for flexi-workspaces even in a pre-COVID world.
All this is because we already live in a global economy with cross border transactions. Projects cut across time zones. Locations are fluid. Technological advancements allow real-time virtual conversations. 75% of the participants in the 2019 WIRED-Baker McKenzie survey said that tech-based frictionless internal communications has helped them work with agility. The modern workforce is always wired in. Even sociology of the workforce has changed with millennials and Gen Z preferring to work in agile set-ups. Hence, conventionally organized businesses have to break their mental barrier against remote working. Whether a female employee worked from her desk at home or a male employee worked from office, both brought their skills and talent to the organization from different locations. And now in quarantined times, building an agile workforce is no longer a choice.
While traditional work styles have long excluded an entire workforce of untapped talent sitting in homes, there couldn’t be a better time to tap into that rich resource of people who’ve always been willing to be a part of the workforce. Today, the environment is much more streamlined for agile working. Everyone is in the same boat. Now is the time to widen your reach, and in turn, save costs on office space and other real estate overheads. Now is the time to improve your D&I quotient as women in the workforce will not be forced to compartmentalize their responsibilities due to rigid mindset against remote working.
However, at the foundation of such willingness to build a robust, diverse, and agile work force is a critical need – an agile work policy.
After all, agility is not just about moving employees out from the office and giving them access to the laptop in the house to connect. It is about taking the entire element of your organization’s existing operating model and deploying that into your employees’ extended environment.
To do that, a random continuity plan will not make the cut. Nor will mere tweaks or half-baked arrangements to somehow continue with pre-existing processes. Instead, creating agile work policies means defining well-thought out rules and guidelines that are fresh approach, and tailored to meet your sector’s and your organization’s unique characteristics. It means taking into account a range of metrics including your offering, organizational culture, barriers and fears, age profiles, extent of managerial oversight, level of autonomy, and geographic spread.
Just like you have well thought out HR policies essential to running an effective and motivated organization, it is now as essential to lay down an agile work policy that meets your business goals while aligning with the dramatic consequences of the black swan event we’re in the middle of.
Organizations that will ride the changes and not try to get back to things as they were will do well. However mammoth the first effort, the rewards will be significant. Those who continue to hope to ask their workforce to return to pre-COVID status quo ways of working may make short-term gains, but will compromise their organization’s future in the long-term.
This article was published at Vahura.