When the Corona led lockdowns started in the middle of March, not only in India but across various parts of the world, the business world was stunned. Most believed the world would not be able to function and work will come to a standstill. 6 weeks later, the on-ground experience has been very different. While many sectors directly affected, such as travel, hospitality, consumer-facing services like salons, malls, etc have completely come to a standstill, various other areas of work like IT Services, FMCG, Banking, etc continue to function smoothly (given the circumstance, smoothly is probably the best word).
Many people, who are part of the functioning world, claim they are actually working far more than they were in the pre-Covid world. Some say, efficiency levels have actually gone up. A strong data infrastructure, data on the cloud, video conferencing, digital payments, and a host of digital applications have made this a reality. It would be fair to say, the lock-down would have caused far more disruption if it had happened a few years back when such infrastructure was not available.
Given the rapid spread of Covid, the importance of flattening the curve, and no real cure in sight, it is quite likely the world will never return to the old ways of working. Many offices will have to (or choose to) be prepared for ‘social distancing’ as a norm, but at a reduced level of severity than what we have seen so far.
Companies that adapt to the new world will survive and thrive in the post-Covid world. Companies that resist change will struggle a lot. We believe the following trends are firmly in place.
- Work-From-Home :
Firms will look to mix employees into 3 buckets (WFO: Work full time from the office. WPT: Work part-time from office. WFH: Work from home full time). All work roles could be bucketed into one of these categories. This will bring down overall administrative costs for firms. The cost savings can be directly transferred to customers leading to significant competitive advantage in the market place. Some firms may need to create distributed work environments, so that some employees who don’t have an option to work from their homes, can use these work environments close to their homes. Over time, one can reasonably expect the WPT and WFH employees to move away from the large cities to smaller towns, where lifestyle will be much better and with options to work effectively from home.
- Data and communication infrastructure :
With efficient video conferencing, VPN, digital work processes, etc, the post-COVID world will see a far more efficient set of work processes. One does not have to wait for a week to get a senior management meeting. More meetings can be scheduled and completed in a week, a far more efficient process than in the physical world. Firms need to invest in Data infrastructure, Data Security, Measuring productivity.
- Dismantle well-entrenched processes :
What surprised many people, over the past 6 weeks, is that many processes which historically needed a physical employee presence, would be managed remotely as people figured ways to find workarounds. Firms that focus on dismantling these processes and reducing the need for physical presence should be able to work far more effectively in the new world. The lawyers, accountants, etc will have to find way around in the new world. Imagine a day when the courts, doctors, etc can work digitally.
- 9-5 working :
The idea of the 8 hour a day work culture, which is nearly 135 years old, is based on employees coming into office. Once you take this requirement out of the equation and define work packets for the flexible work environment, it allows companies to hire people for the work required. It will also allow many part-timers to come into the mainstream workforce – women who need to balance time between work & home, retired folks who have specialized skills, other part-timers, etc. It will land up unleashing a massive amount of talent leading to huge productivity improvements.
- Business Travel :
Many businesses have figured a way to work without having to travel during this lockdown. Conferences have been happening in the digital world quite seamlessly – with the same level of effectiveness, but far more efficiently. With travel and hotels facing some uncertain times, many business travelers will get used to the new world doing of business with their clients without having to travel. Once this culture is firmly entrenched, it will be difficult to change. Next time when you ask a client for a meeting, chances are the client would prefer a video-call.
- Digital Culture :
Finally, every organization has a culture and it is easier to create a common culture in the physical world. Employee level engagement is possible and the coffee machine conversations really make the firm. In the new world, many of these need to shift to the digital world. I already see several firms taking huge strides in this direction. Keep an eye open in this direction and you will see a plethora of options available for you to create a common culture.
All the best in your endeavor to re-engineer your firm in the new world. Stay safe. The world on the other side will most likely be a far more beautiful world.