- Business must prepare for the ‘great reopening’ of recovering economies in vaccinated markets, while aiding the COVID-19 response in those countries still suffering.
- Return to workplace strategies will see future employee experiences likely to be more empowering through more flexible working arrangements and more immersive with reimagined workspaces.
- This isn’t just about the future of work. This is about the next evolution of business culture and of society – helping to build positive change and growth.
Last year I wrote that business needed to learn from the early pandemic disruption and get ready to reimagine operating models and strategies, not only to drive a digitally-led economic recovery but also to help bring us closer to an inclusive, fairer, more sustainable society.
Since then, the pace of new coronavirus outbreaks, upheavals in economic activity and weak consumer confidence has reinforced the need for maximum corporate agility.
As COVID-19 disruption enters its second year, businesses in several of the world’s leading economies are facing a variety of new challenges.
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Business must prepare for and aid the ‘great reopening’ of recovering economies in vaccinated markets. This includes restarting office life in a safe and effective manner that heeds the cultural shifts, which have redefined how people want to work. But business must also allocate its IP, technology and services to aid crisis-management in healthcare, medical equipment and logistics for those countries, like India, which are still in a COVID-19 vortex.
The global work from anywhere
The way we live and work has changed dramatically. At Salesforce, we’re now operating and working more sustainably, and delivering customer and employee success — all from anywhere. In recovering markets beyond the curve of infections, such as the US and UK, we have an opportunity to create a workspace and an employee experience that makes us even more connected, healthy, innovative and productive.
We’ve already opened 26 offices across the globe and throughout the pandemic, we’ve safely had business-critical employees onsite to keep our operations running successfully. We’re using those lessons to inform our return to the workplace strategy.
Since reopening, the pace of recovery in some economies has been quicker than many had predicted. According to the International Monetary Fund, Australia for example, open since last year, has outperformed all major advanced economies over the past year.
In particular we are seeing new working patterns emerge in the country’s commercial capital Sydney where we welcomed back hundreds of employees starting in August 2020. Employees tell us that more flexibility has led to more productivity and balance. The office has become a greater place for human connection and a hub for collaboration. For instance, we’ve seen 64% of collaboration spaces like lounges and conference rooms utilized, in comparison to 24% of desk space.
Where Australia is pioneering, other markets are likely to follow. The millions of people who have adjusted to remote working will not return to their offices with the same regularity. However, we’ve learned that 80% of our employees, hungry for the connection, camaraderie and innovation that comes from gathering in-person, do want to maintain a connection to a physical space.
As companies rethink what agile teams and ways of working look like, future employee experiences will likely be more empowering through more flexible working arrangements and more immersive with reimagined workspaces.
Re-educating employees about office life
Employers will need to persuade their teams that offices and other places of work are not just safe but stimulating and rewarding environments. They will need to re-educate employees about office life, demonstrating that workspaces have been redesigned safely. Desks converted to shared spaces where employees can reconnect with colleagues, touch-free handles and sensors, plexiglass between workstations, temperature screening and testing stations and air purifiers will all become commonplace.
The expected surge in infrastructure and servicing demands that will accompany our ‘great reopening’ will also require organizations to update policies, protocols and safety measures. Having the digital tools and services to co-ordinate this activity will be crucial.
Ultimately, the companies that will emerge stronger from the pandemic are the ones that can embrace change.
And change brings wider benefits beyond employee satisfaction and productivity. Companies that do embrace flexible working and remove the barrier of location can reimagine their recruitment strategies - broadening searches beyond city centres and welcoming talent from new, diverse communities and geographies.
Companies might also consider the future role of hybrid offices as both industrious workplaces and community hubs. Before the pandemic, we installed ‘Ohana’ floors in several of our offices for interacting with employees, partners, customers and stakeholder communities. As we return, we will consider how to make under-utilized office areas available to charities, government initiatives and environmental groups.
This isn’t just about the future of work. This is about the next evolution of business culture and of society – business helping to build a resilient platform for positive change and growth.
The changing role of business
The role business plays in ensuring the safe and successful reopening of workplaces and wider communities should also align with what is one of the world’s largest mass vaccination campaigns in history.
Agile digital partnerships between the private and public sectors will be essential as we overcome the complexities of global vaccine management and distribution. Partnerships can ensure that vaccine manufacture is scaled up quickly enough to control the expected further waves of the virus. They can also ensure greater efficiencies in the supply chain, to avoid disruption and, importantly, drive more equitable distribution.
Hopefully, soon, collaboration between companies, governments and health agencies will lead to the creation of secure, and ethically responsible digital health credentials that usefully highlight key COVID statuses and accelerate office and business reopenings across every part of the planet.
This reopening will be uneven. Each market has unique socio-economic and cultural traits that could impact the pace. Long COVID could prove to be more than a lasting medical malaise. It could become an institutional and economic malaise if not treated carefully.
The lessons of COVID-19 clearly extend from the practicalities of what we are seeing in Australia to the crisis-management efforts underway in Brazil and India.
At each end of this spectrum, digital technologies are playing a vital role in managing the multiple challenges – that range from new flexible working practices to new ways of saving lives.
If business can learn from this crisis and help apply digitization and operational flexibility to mitigate future threats, then the seismic shocks of the early 2020s may yet deliver a better long-term future for us all.