Some events have an impact so profound on the way we live, work, and play that they don’t just briefly disrupt our lives, but transform the way we live them. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in late 2019 and then came to dominate not just the news cycle, but the lives of people around the world, it quickly became clear that businesses—struggling to preserve business continuity in a world with rapidly changing consumer habits, mandatory social distancing and lockdowns, and supply chain disruptions from all corners—would have to find a way to adapt to the crisis and find their footing in what we now call “The New Normal.”
With the coronavirus pandemic’s total impact still a massive question mark on the world’s economic balance sheet, the world of work is quickly undergoing a massive transformation, incorporating new ideas, discarding now-outdated ones, and finding new ways to use emerging technologies to grow, thrive, and compete. The first step in navigating the new normal at work is understanding how to balance business needs like assured continuity and supply chain resilience with concepts whose importance has grown with the rise of a digital work environment with a remote workforce—including work-life balance, cybersecurity, and leveraging technology to keep your team productive, happy, and engaged.
Defining the New Normal at Work
COVID-19 and the new normal will likely be forever linked in the popular imagination and the annals of history itself. As the coronavirus outbreak expanded to a full-blown pandemic and lockdowns, quarantines, and government mandates to shelter in place became standard operating procedure, business leaders found themselves scrambling to adapt, with mixed success.
Certainly, ideas like expanding the remote workforce, creating centralized, data-driven systems, and incorporating emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and process automation into workflows had been on the “to-do” list of just about every company serious about leveraging digital transformation to compete in an increasingly global, digital, and interconnected economy. But the coronavirus pandemic threw into sharp relief the need for these tools not at some hazy point in the future, but immediately.
With COVID-19 a seemingly permanent guest (particularly in the United States) and their teams scattered across time zones, business leaders began to adjust their priorities. The core of the new normal—remote-friendly, favoring work-life balance, and built around digital tech—quickly took shape:
- According to a 2020 survey conducted by Gartner, an estimated 74% of chief financial officers (CFOs) intend to shift at least some of their staff to permanent remote work.
- In the same survey, 13% of CFOs indicated they were reducing investment in real estate (with another 9% planning to do so in the near future), and 20% opting to cut onsite technology spend (with an additional 12% planning to do so in the near future).
- In California, lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders have changed the ways employees seek reimbursement for necessary expenses, forcing employers to adjust budgets to preserve productivity when teams transition to dispersed home offices in multiple locations.
- Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work found 43% of workers reported working on mixed teams (i.e., some workers in the office, some working remotely). However, a full 30% reported their company’s entire staff worked remotely 100% of the time.
“Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report found remote workers were happiest when they worked remotely more than 76% of the time (provided they were supported by a fully remote team, rather than in a mix of office-based and remote workers).”
How the New Normal Benefits Employers
Some companies may remain wary of abandoning traditional methodologies and brick-and-mortar office spaces to embrace remote workers connecting through Slack or Zoom. But the new reality brings some surprising benefits along with the need for major changes.
- Global Workplace Analytics calculated each employee allowed to telecommute just 50% of the time would save employers an average of $11,000 annually.
- Airtasker’s 2020 survey found remote workers were healthier, more loyal, and more productive, too:
- Remote employees got nearly half an hour more exercise each week than office-based staff.
- Eliminating commutes helps improve retention, an important stat since 1 in 4 employees had left previous jobs due to an excessive commute.
- Remote employees worked an average of 1.4 days longer each month than their office-based counterparts, or approximately 17 extra days each year.
- Remote employees also worked an average of 10 minutes longer each day.
- Airtasker also found 22% of office-based workers struggled with distractions from their boss, while just 15% of remote workers said the same.
Employees Love Remote Working, Too
It’s not just companies who benefit from remote work. Those happy and productive employees also report significant improvements to their employee experience and work-life balance from their home office or local cafe.
- 83% of people would be happier working remotely, according to Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work survey.
- 91% of respondents said working remotely would help them achieve better work-life balance.
- 79% said working remotely improved their productivity and focus.
- 78% said working remotely was less stressful than working in the office.
- 76% reported saving money.
- 74% said having the ability to work remotely would encourage them to stay at their job rather than seek employment elsewhere.
- Nearly a quarter (24%) said they’d take a pay cut of up to 10% to work remotely.
- Global Workplace Analytics found the average telecommuter enjoys serious savings:
- Between $2,500 and $4,000 a year telecommuting just 50% of the time. Full-time remote workers, Airtasker reported, saved more than $4,500 each year in fuel alone.
- 11 days of recovered time that would ordinarily be spent commuting to the office. Airtasker found full-time remote workers saved 17 days.
- Substantial reductions in ecological impact associated with commuting.
- Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report found remote workers were happiest when they worked remotely more than 76% of the time (provided they were supported by a fully remote team, rather than in a mix of office-based and remote workers).
Challenges for Teams Working in the New Normal
As with any major change, the new normal at work comes with challenges as well as benefits.
- Not every job can be handled remotely. Companies need social distancing strategies and reliable, consistent plans for integrating telework teams with on-premises teams.
- Without a proper support structure in place, remote work has its downsides, too. According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report:
- 20% of remote workers struggle with communication issues.
- 20% struggle with loneliness.
- 18% couldn’t manage to “unplug” from work with ease or regularity.
- 12% struggled with distractions at home.
- 7% had issues connecting with team members scattered across time zones.
- Shifting to a remote workforce may also mean making serious technological, operational, and cultural changes that many companies may not be ready to implement as quickly as they’d like.
- Cybersecurity is critical when team members are connecting on multiple devices across platforms, continents, and time zones.
- Without the right digital tools, teams may struggle to connect, communicate, and collaborate, jeopardizing their productivity and hampering their organizations’ ability to compete effectively, manage their supply chains strategically, or make important decisions in a timely and accurate manner.
- Companies still relying on last-gen tech or manual, paper-based workflows may find themselves at a serious disadvantage as they struggle to overhaul both their basic workflows and communication and their overall business process management strategy.
The Future of Work
Companies looking ahead while updating for the present will do well to keep a few core concepts in mind:
1. Work is a Task, Not a Place
Workers want it. Companies need it. And both benefit from it. Remote work is no longer a perk so much as it is a prerequisite for competitive strength and drawing team members with the right skill set. Investing in software and hardware tools, along with other essentials such as home Internet, for your remote teams is an investment in your own success.
2. One Team, Many Schedules
When your team is freed from having to assemble at the same time, in the same room, they’re also freed from the expectation of having to communicate in real time. Managed properly proactively, remote teams can leverage tools like Google Docs, Slack, and good old eMail to communicate across time and maintain productivity even when the members are continents apart.
3. Think Results, Not Sensory Cues
Managers working in the new normal need to set aside the old school hallmarks of “hard work”—rows of cubicles, each containing a hunched figure toiling diligently at their tasks amid a cacophony of faxes and phone calls—and develop new metrics for tracking productivity. Focusing on deliverables, insights, and reporting can give your team the freedom they need to get the job done without shackling them to performative theatre in the name of ticking off boxes.
Digital Tools Can Help You Make the Transition to the New Normal
Remote working may get the lion’s share of attention when the discussion turns to the new normal, but it is the technologies and tools that make remote work effective, satisfying, and productive that companies should prioritize in order to thrive in a post-Covid world. In many ways, the new normal is about digital transformation as much as it is process transformation.
Companies who choose comprehensive cloud business process automation solutions like Planergy can improve their ability to achieve success in the new normal by optimizing their workflows, collaboration, and communication.
Consider these benefits:
- Process automation simplifies and speeds high-volume, repetitive tasks while eliminating human error and the need for direct human intervention.
- Secure, cloud-based, mobile-friendly, centralized data management means all stakeholders have leveled access to crucial data in real time. Collaboration and communication are greatly enhanced regardless of time zone or platform.
- Powerful analysis tools make it easy for your decision makers to generate the forecasts and reports that provide actionable insights. Everything from strategic sourcing to budgeting and business process management is more transparent and driven by clear, complete, and accurate data.
- Supply chain management becomes more strategic, agile, and resilient as you leverage data analysis to develop sourcing strategies and contingencies that protect business continuity in the face of major disruptions.
- Mobile-friendly access and full integration with your existing software environment means team members can perform even complex tasks from home, providing the benefits of remote work without compromising your company’s competitive strength.
Is Your Company Ready for the New Normal?
We live in an uncertain world, where pandemics, political upheaval, and natural disasters can transform how we do business in a heartbeat. But with the right mix of digital tools, strong policies that promote not just productivity and profits but excellent mental health, job satisfaction, and work-life balance for your remote workforce, and a commitment to building data-driven processes for smart, strategic decision-making, you can ensure your company’s ready to meet the challenges, and seize the opportunities, that define the new normal of work.