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Looking beyond the Coronavirus pandemic to the new normal

Jordi Ferrer Profile picture for user Jordi Ferrer June 12, 2020
Are we over the peak of the Coronavirus in the UK? The UK government believes so and is looking ahead to a phased approach to relaxing the lockdown.

An image of a Coronavirus world
(Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay )

Are we over the peak of the coronavirus in the UK? The UK government believes so and is looking ahead to a phased approach to relaxing the lockdown.

The COVID-19 recovery strategy, published by the UK government on 11 May and updated 26 May sets out its phased recovery plan and roadmap to lift current restrictions, step-by-step.

Those who can't work from home are being encouraged to go back to the workplace, exercise multiple times a day, and visit outdoor places. Yet it's early days.

As I write this, the debate around a ‘safe return to school' for children continues, the opening of non-essential retail should begin on 15th June (but with a lot of exceptions) and the hospitality sector remains closed. Clearly, we're a long way from ‘getting back to normal', but I'm wondering if we want to go back there?

Cultural, not digital, transformation

The UK entered lockdown over two months ago, practically overnight, and a host of misconceptions on how those of us in traditional ‘desk jobs' should work was exposed: you have to meet people to do a deal; you can't work well with colleagues if you're not in the same place, etc.

Before radical change was forced on us, the business world was really just full of excuses of why we couldn't change the way we work.

Yet the pandemic has become the catalyst for us all to consider what's important, useful and meaningful.

For many, there is little doubt that using digital transformation to accelerate workflows and drive efficiency has a critical role to play in shaping a new way of working.

But, for me, our way ahead lies in putting our focus on people. Positive, lasting change will be driven by cultural transformation, where our employees and customers are at the heart of every decision we make.

What the new normal could should look like

Many of the technologies needed to support cultural change are already available, as they simplify workflows, enable remote teams and make work more meaningful for employees.

While we've been forced to adapt our approach out of necessity, I see real value in many of these trends for the longer term.

We'll see a new era of remote collaboration and creativity, with reduced travel bringing the opportunity to meet (virtually) with so many more people for more fruitful interactions.

Meeting in person will be important, but we'll find a better balance of remote and in-person contact. Through remote working, we'll save time, become more efficient, and reduce our environmental impact. But we'll cherish the face time we get with someone in the same room.

There will be a greater acceptance from business of flexible working, helping to remove obstacles to creating more diverse and inclusive work cultures. Physical access to workplaces for those with disabilities will not be an issue, and talent can be interviewed, onboarded and supported in any location.

We'll see many business leaders commit to enabling a work-life balance that goes beyond lip service initiatives. We've been meeting online and talking to colleagues in a t-shirt - work will be about the outcomes we deliver, not the hours we do or whether we are present in the office.

Our workplaces will change, as businesses rationalise their buildings and desks and focus on smaller workspaces that create the best environments to support productivity, collaboration and company culture.

How we need to get there

Right now, the impact of the coronavirus is far from over and the emphasis continues to be saving lives and protecting the health and wellbeing of citizens.

But we are starting to see the first steps of the path for the way forward for businesses and their employees.

Technology is an enabler in accelerating the digital transformation businesses need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can't lose sight of the human touch.

We need to make sure managers are accessible, help our employees manage the impact of home working on family life, and find ways to re-create those chats in the office and moments of serendipity that happen spontaneously in the office.

Technology needs to work in the service of people.

If we can achieve that, I like to think that as we move through the pandemic, the business world can emerge in a better place. A place where there are more opportunities for everyone - a place where the employee experience sits at heart of our organisations.

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