If there’s one certainty amid all the changes 2020 has brought, it’s this:
The way we work has been transformed—significantly, fundamentally and, in many cases, irreversibly.
First, there’s remote work.
Previously viewed as a competitive advantage or “nice to have” perk, remote work has fast become the norm for millions of employees in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns. And for teams that have embraced working from home, the days of relying predominantly on conference rooms and cubicles may be gone for good.
Across industries, companies are rolling out plans to give employees the option to work from home in perpetuity—and it’s changing the future of work. Even as states begin to reopen after months of lockdowns, experts expect remote work to play a much larger role in office life for years to come.
And that’s just for starters.
Even in areas where companies are reopening, staggered returns mean employees will be coming back to the office in waves—with strict social distancing guidelines in place. Add in the fact that 32% of organizations are replacing full-time positions with contingent jobs , the implications for communication and collaboration are even more pronounced.
It all makes for some fundamental changes to the way we work, on a much larger scale than in any time in recent history.
What’s in store for office life after coronavirus?
Organizations everywhere are in the midst of some major transitions—ones that stand to impact not just individuals but entire teams and customers, too.
For example, consider what’s happening at the offices that are planning and preparing for reopening.
New policies and protocols mean many employees will be wearing masks at all times, and teams will be very limited in the amount of face-to-face interactions they can have. As a result, attitudes toward colleagues and coworkers are likely to be shaped by office environments that look drastically different than they did just a few months ago.
Keeping everyone connected in this new climate will require new ways of thinking—and not just when it comes to redesigning the workplace and creating return-to-work checklists. Managers will also need to empathize with employees, particularly when it comes to identifying the tools they need to remain engaged in the midst of challenge.
The same is true of customer and client relationships. At a time when social distancing has minimized or eliminated personal interactions with customers, many businesses will need to come up with creative ways to stay connected.
Some experts suggest taking extra steps to educate customers on how to interact with your company throughout the current crisis, and to focus on innovating new products or services. Others note that maintaining open and consistent lines of communication will remain especially critical.
While the exact approach will vary from one business to another, the motivation remains the same: Setting the stage for strong customer relationships today will help ensure long-term loyalty that carries over into post-coronavirus life.
Yes, it’s a lot to think about. And there’s still a lot of change yet to come. Everything from the products your customers buy to the processes your employees use will likely look different in the months to come.
The question is: How can your company continue to meet the needs of partners, customers and employees?
It all comes down to your technology.
Preparing for productive post-coronavirus remote work processes
If you haven’t fully embraced automation and digitization within your organization, now’s the time to start.
There are the obvious benefits, of course. More automation means fewer paper processes, and less paper means fewer documents will need to change hands.
But working toward a goal of minimizing contact is only part of the equation.
The more manual tasks you put on autopilot, the more time employees will have to focus on meaningful work and understanding customer needs. And that’s when you open the door to productivity and profits.
In fact, research has found that digitization and automation could save businesses as much as $4 million annually. Even before the pandemic, 53% of employees said automation could save them up to two hours a day.
And now, experts say that powering people with automation could be the very action that will move businesses toward a successful post-coronavirus future.
But what does this mean in practice? If the idea of large-scale automation is overwhelming, it helps to start with the basics.
What new tasks and to-dos will need to be tackled in the COVID-19 office? Which formerly in-person processes will need to take place digitally? Start with a list of needs first, and then look for the tools and technology that make it easy to address those needs.
It also helps to think beyond typical day-to-day processes. If employees are required to collect a lot of customer signatures, for example, you’ll need to ensure those signatures can be easily collected electronically. Tracking employee wellness, gathering customer feedback, enabling online ordering, and automating customer receipts or documentation will all need to be hands-free.
The good news is that each of these digital transitions will have lasting benefits for years to come, and will position your business for success in the post-COVID world.