October 18, 2021

Workplaces are at an impasse: slide back to normal or proactively design new enduring work models


Hombre con notebook y celular con paisaje de bosque
Pre-pandemic, digitalisation was already beginning to spark some shifts in how we work. The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis accelerated this beyond anything we could have imagined, catalysing a global ‘working from home experiment’.

In the play out of this radical shift to remote working, numerous benefits have been reported. For example, a recent BCG’s “Workplace of the Future” survey cites 15-40% increases in productivity, 40% reductions in absenteeism, 10-15% reductions in staff turnover, 20% potential cost reductions in real estate and resource usage.

As we emerge from the pandemic and as society and workplaces return to normal, there is a window of opportunity to secure a competitive advantage by actually preventing a slide into a ‘return to normal’. Never before have we been at the threshold of such a golden moment to shape a work model that strikes a triple win for flexibility, productivity, and environmental sustainability; and this triple win all combined delivers resilience. Resilience is not just about getting through this crisis; it’s about being ready for whatever crisis might be around the corner. It’s about being built for minimizing the impacts of disruption, adapting quickly to change, and having the agility to pivot as needed. It’s about ‘prepared-by-design’.

To win in the new reality, business leaders need to be proactive and dedicate effort towards the process of designing their Future of Work strategy.

This could involve establishing the overall strategic position of the company in relation to the post-pandemic work model to be followed. Businesses should reflect on what they learned during the pandemic and integrate those lessons into their operating models and ways of working. There may be a valid decision for a full return to on-site operating models. A business may decide to officially continue with remote working. Or a business may opt for a hybrid working model.  According to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies in the post-pandemic future of work, 9 out of 10 organizations will be combining remote and on-site working. Such a hybrid approach could be the winning formula for competitive and agile companies going forward. Whatever the strategic position, it should be formulated. In the event that full remote or hybrid models are to be adopted, these should then be further defined in the specific organizational context of the company. Managers throughout the organization need to be engaged. A gap analysis needs to be performed in terms of management approaches, technology adoption and business processes to ensure that there is an operational readiness to thrive in the new model. Steps to bridge these gaps need to be planned. Finally, there needs to be a robust communication plan to the employees. Ideally, where feasible for the business, employees could even be brought in earlier in the process to cocreate or codesign the new work model.

The take home is that companies need to dedicate time and effort to reflect on their Future of Work Strategy. The opportunity cost of passively ‘returning to normal’ is too high.