Getting ready for the workplace of the future: 2020 style

The coronavirus is changing global workplaces and labour markets at a pace we have never seen before
With unemployment set to beat those of the economic recession across the globe, and digital working becoming the new norm, the only guarantee is the normal workplace as we knew it in 2019 will not return.
 
March was a month of major crisis management, that no contingency plan had counted for, when the speed of decision-making and level of agility across organisations was phenomenal.  We hear ongoing stories of how activities in planning for five years were delivered in a weekend. Remote working, lay-offs, technology infrastructure, new products, etc, the list is endless.
 
So while some of us are getting the chance to move out of March’s crisis management, now is the time to take a more considered approach to what is around the corner for us as a people profession. We need to plan forward for 2020, understand the key decisions we will face in the coming months, the decisions that will lay new foundations for our future organisations and ways of working. 
 
It is incumbent on the people profession to start to prepare for the end to the current shutdown, how we will make the transition out of the shutdown, and what sort of future workplaces and skill sets we want to build.  While it is a big question, consider how the current rush of agile and remote working gives us the opportunity to gather evidence and insights into what has worked best.
 
Critical decisions will face our organisations when cash flow runs dry, when restrictions are removed, when offices re-open, when health sector and supply chains are no longer in crises.  We need to act now to gather the data that will give us solid evidence and insights into what worked and what missed the mark in this transition period.
 
When we get to a stage of moving from organisation-wide decisions to decisions on individuals and teams, we will need to have data on which work activities, and for whom remote working has been most effective and productive. Here are some things to consider to set ourselves up for future success, in the hope that we face a short calm before the next storm of change.

Principles

Drawing on Championing better work and working lives, be clear about the principles that will drive your decisions. This is the time to reinforce that its people first, health first, and economics second, and not get gripped by the profit motive. 
 
Do this driven by compassion. People are likely to be scared, so reassurance and creating a sense of trust will be needed, balanced with managing expectations and shared responsibility. Your employees are the ones who will pull you out of a financial slowdown or crisis.  Take time to listen to their voice and collective wisdom.

Evidence

Now is a time to appraise the measures and key performance indicators that you will need in the coming months.  Assess what is already in place and put processes in place to gather live information so that data and insights will be available to support the next raft of decisions in coming weeks and months, as smarter evidence-based decisions will significantly improve operations. Capacity to align to a new business strategy and context will be key.
 
Both cost savings and employees wanting to work remotely will become centre stage.  Consider how you now gather the data to be able to identify what work was delivered more productively from home, and by what teams. Questions like which teams were most productive and why, which work activities and process were most successfully done virtually, where did instances of strong collaboration and innovation surface, what management styles were most effective. Consider what people interventions had most impact, what messaging, and well-being interventions worked best. How will requests for permanent remote working or partly remote be handled?
 
The changing economy and the re-opening of many offices will not be ‘back to normal’. As a profession let’s start now to take a more evidence based approach to shaping what our organisations and ways of working look like after the coronavirus crisis.
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