The year 2020 was tumultuous. The COVID-19 pandemic caused mass disruption across the world, prompting significant job losses and changes in work patterns. Concurrently, it also earmarked numerous opportunities for business transformation-namely through people rather than processes.
As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clear that both remote-first and people-first strategies hold promise. This applies equally to customers and employees, with flexibility taking precedence over physical presence. Companies like Amazon have championed this sentiment, proving that remote-first isn’t just viable, in many cases it’s more productive and preferable.
People-first and remote-first go hand in hand. This combination is breaking down geographical barriers and increasing the diversity of applicant pools. Simply, if any person can do the work, and do it well, their location is a mere afterthought in the present recruiting environment.
The pandemic has proven how talented people across the globe are more within our reach than we thought. Boundaries have been broken, and people themselves take precedence over geographic placement. Going forward, we are likely to see more diverse teams distributed across the globe—achieving great success while replacing the status quo of local recruitment thanks to the widespread adoption of remote collaboration technologies.
Reinventing the workplace
The businesses that have managed to weather the storm of COVID-19 share one thing in common: proactive innovation. These businesses understood that rapid change was imminent, and leveraged technology to adapt to and overcome these unprecedented hurdles. Examples include virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platforms, and more recently, real-time communication tools such as Slack, and video conferencing platforms like Zoom have become mainstays.
Technology companies in particular were well-positioned to withstand this crisis. VDI brought the office computer into the home. Slack and Zoom enabled seamless colleague communications. They already had these remote productivity and collaboration technologies in place, greatly simplifying the switch from office to remote working. Contrarily, many businesses were ill-prepared. The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in low digital maturity, stifling remote collaboration and business agility.
However, what was “the new normal” has now simply become a way of life. We will see this evolve further into a “digital workplace” that is secure, flexible, and enabled for an individual or a team to manage their day-to-day tasks, self-help capability, and collaborate with teams on projects. It will also allow them to track life and wellness goals, understand what’s happening in the world around them and pull in whatever professional knowledge is relevant to be able to do it well. At Trianz, we have initiated this concept of a digital workplace, aptly named PULSE, that enables all of these, while also giving a top-down view to our CXOs of overall employee wellness, engagement, productivity, and output.
Thus, if enterprises wish to adopt a people-first approach, technology should be classed as a prerequisite. In this case, people-first would cater to new requirements around health and safety, and the resulting change in workforce distribution. Those who innovated early, or had a higher digital maturity, have already started reaping the rewards while trailing behind technologically also subsequently trailing in success.
Reinventing expectations around remote working
The pandemic has functioned as a test environment for remote working. Before, employees were used to the status quo of commuting and attending the office each day. This façade of higher productivity in the office was quickly disproven, followed by increased acceptance and expectation of remote working provisions from employees.
Before the pandemic, businesses were skeptical of remote working. Function managers saw this as “letting go of the leash” and losing the ability to monitor their employees. In fact, the opposite happened. This flexibility has given employees a better work-life balance, driving productivity through increased workforce satisfaction. As we exit the pandemic, a hybrid model of remote and office-based work is likely to gain traction—driving the people- and remote-first approach.
Reinventing to face the VUCA world
We keep hearing of change being the only constant in the world we are in, and the rate of change more rampant. It is getting more volatile and uncertain, even as complexity and ambiguity abound. The pandemic simply kicked all these elements into high gear. As a result, stress is now seen, heard, or felt, in some form or other. HR teams have to be there for employees, not just for ‘morale boosting’ activities, but also to ensure there is readiness for true future-proofing.
We in HR have to enable learning that encourages the flexibility to adapt to a new style of working, which drives learning across a cluster of related skills that usher in the new wave. The willingness to learn something new will be the norm, and that is the foundation for innovation. HR can help build the culture of “try small, try fast, fail fast” without fear of persecution, so employees aren’t afraid of trying new things or exploring new avenues. Ultimately, this will lead to reinvented processes, people, and even functions. And what’s more, we will reinvent processes to simplify them. Life is complicated enough as it is, so let automation do the complicated stuff! Do you really need the status report if the output is clearly visible?
Reinventing the value of people
Customer experience (CX) is fast becoming the biggest differentiator between digital companies. It is also poised as the next ''digital battleground'' as we emerge from the pandemic. Customers want to feel a connection to their product or service more than ever, and a good CX creates an emotional attachment that promotes loyalty and repeats purchases. Workforce satisfaction—often referred to as employee experience (EX)—directly correlates with the quality of CX. If employees have to follow inefficient or unintuitive workflows, becoming frustrated in the process, these negative emotions are likely to translate to customer contact. Workforce culture, salaries or benefits in relation to competitors, and work flexibility all have a similar effect. By contrast, passionate and engaged workers will put more care and effort into customer interactions, directly influencing the quality of CX.
Furthermore, EX directly correlates with retention rates. Disgruntled employees are more likely to ''vote with their feet'' and search for alternative work, risking a loss of experience and talent. Employees in training need time to gain experience, and their inexperience while training will translate over to customer interactions. Customers will notice, CX will suffer, and the vicious cycle will continue. Simply put, now is the time to use the employee experience to influence the customer experience, putting people first on all fronts.
Connecting it all together
In summary, the pandemic has severely altered the business landscape. This ‘’tectonic shift’’ in colleague and customer sentiment has exposed a rift in technological capabilities—with only a small percentage of businesses being on the right side of the chasm. This digital divide must be traversed in preparation for yet another ‘new normal,’ as that is the only way enterprises can prioritize people- and remote-first strategies.
HR teams will play a significant role in this transition. They are tasked with understanding the people behind the business and preparing them for the future. This understanding will build the culture of innovation through increased employee learning, engagement, and satisfaction. Ultimately, this will drive improvements in employee experience (EX) and in turn, positively influence customer experience (CX).