Telework: adapting and improving the workplace in times of crisis
Let’s imagine a crisis that forces organizations and their employees to change the way they work, practically overnight. Despite the uncertainty and initial fears, time has provided a clear answer to the question of whether this new way of working can be a long-term model.
To paraphrase Marvel's most famous villain, is teleworking… inevitable? Speaking with leaders of many of our clients, we see a clear trend for this to be the case, but we discover new fears and barriers for which organizations have to be prepared. As one executive we spoke to observes, “our senior team meets twice a week for 30 minutes. It is incredibly productive, we have the data and the necessary information, we make the decisions and then we go.”
These types of comments, much more common than we could imagine, contain a subtext that may be an acknowledgment of a previous dissatisfaction. In an offline model, organizations are more bureaucratic, too slow, inflexible, and often more focused on profits than on people.
The pandemic and the resulting economic impact have damaged the business fabric in such a way that organizations are forced to change their inertia at this time, mobilizing to address the immediate threat by assuming abstract challenges for them, such as digital technology, automation of tasks and artificial intelligence. New mentalities and ways of working are on the table of all those responsible, taking priority.
Will the new mindsets become behaviours that are sustained over time? We do not know. Is a pandemic necessary for organizations to focus on change that was truly inevitable? Too early to know. Still, as another leader we spoke to puts it, "we have been productive with this new working model, we cannot back down now."
Face-to-face work, virtual work or mixed model
The organizational rules that sustain the culture and way of working of companies, as well as the patterns of behaviour and interaction that help to generate social cohesion, are factors to consider during a significant transition towards virtual work. Companies should be alert and prepared not to erode in the long term the trust and commitment of employees, which helps to ensure that the workplace is not where, but how.
Many companies are considering a combination of remote and on-site. A hybrid virtual model. This new model promises higher productivity, lower costs, more individual flexibility, and better employee experiences. While these potential benefits are substantial, mixing teleworking and physical can be much more difficult than it looks like, despite its "success" in the pandemic. If the right tools are not chosen since, in practice, it is difficult to achieve one of these benefits fully without considering its effect on the others.
To face all the challenges that the pandemic puts in the way, companies must design a strategy that develops both the digital capabilities and the social skills of employees, evaluating their adaptability and resilience in the transition to the new workplace model, which results in a learning curve.
The learning scenario has changed in a way that encourages the teaching of new skills to employees wherever they are, focusing them on a totally virtual job. This transformation will allow greater flexibility, and will result in greater work efficiency.