How to adapt to our “new reality”

It’s been nearly a year since Covid-19 upended our lives and changed the way we work. Digital disruption was already underway, and the move to working from home pushed us out of our comfort zone and accelerated the process. It forced us to unlearn old habits and adopt new ones quickly. Overnight, we had a crash course in using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet to service our clients. And we quickly adapted.

Unlearning old habits and adopting new ones

A study on habit formation suggests that the average time for a new habit to form is 66 days, with a minimum of 21 days. The pandemic has lasted long enough to create new habits and incorporate them into our culture permanently. Today, after nearly a year of working from home, the pandemic has normalized the idea of remote work.

We’ve learned we can accomplish most tasks remotely without a significant drop in productivity or quality. We’re working on the same documents, adding notes, links, images and other examples into one document—in real-time. There’s very little emailing, creating versions, or waiting for documents to come back from another team member. It’s like we’re all in the same room together, solving the problem for our client.

How will we work together once this is over?

Looking forward, we’re wondering about the future of work. We’re questioning long-held assumptions about how work should be done and the role of the office. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer is different for every organization and is based on what talent is needed, which roles are most important, how much collaboration is necessary for excellence, and where offices are located today, among other factors. McKinsey recommends organizations take the following steps to reimagine how work gets done and what the future role of the office will be:

1. Reconstruct how work is done

During the lockdowns, organizations have adapted to collaborating and ensuring that the most important processes could be carried on remotely. Most have simply transplanted existing processes to remote work contexts, imitating what they’d done before the pandemic. This worked well for some companies and procedures, but not for others. Organizations should identify the most important processes for each major business, geography, function and reimagine them completely.

Companies should assume that processes will be reconstructed digitally and put the burden of proof on those who insist on returning to purely physical pre-COVID-19 legacy processes. Reimagining and reconstructing processes and practices will serve as a foundation of an improved operating model that leverages the best of both in-person and remote work.

2. Decide whether it’s ‘people to work’ or ‘work to people’

In the past couple of years, the competition for talent has been fiercer than ever. Simultaneously, some groups of talent are less willing to relocate to their employers’ locations than they had been in the past. As we begin to reconstruct how we work and identify what work can be done remotely, we’re reviewing which roles must be carried out in person and to what degree.

  • fully remote
  • hybrid remote
  • hybrid remote by exception
  • on-site

For the roles in the first two categories, upskilling is critical, but talent sourcing may become easier since the pool of available talent could have fewer geographical constraints. In fact, talented people could live in the cities of their choice, which may have a lower cost of living and proximity to people and places they love while they still work for leading organizations. A monthly trip to headquarters or a meeting with colleagues at a shared destination may suffice. This approach could be a winning proposition for both employers and employees, with profound effects on the quality of talent an organization can access and the cost of that talent.

3. Redesign the workplace to support organizational priorities

Although offices have changed in some ways during the past decade, they may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post-COVID-19 world. Companies can create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. Suppose the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example. Should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organizations ask all employees who work in cubicles and rarely have to attend group meetings to work from home? If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?

To maintain productivity, collaboration and learning, and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. In-office videoconferencing can no longer involve a group of people staring at one another around a table while others watch from a screen on the side, without being able to participate effectively. Always-on videoconferencing, seamless in-person and remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards), and asynchronous collaboration and working models will quickly shift from futuristic ideas to standard practice.

4. Creatively resize the office footprint

A transformational approach to reinventing offices will be necessary. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, companies should take a fresh look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience. That kind of approach will also involve questioning where offices are located. Some companies will continue to have them in big cities, which many regard as essential to attract young talent and create a sense of connection and energy. Others may abandon big-city headquarters for suburban campuses. In a post-COVID-19 world, the potential to reduce real-estate costs could be significant. Simply getting market-comparable lease rates and negotiating competitive facilities-management contracts will not be enough. Real-estate groups should collaborate with the business and HR to redo the footprint entirely and develop fit-for-purpose space designs quickly—in some cases, by creating win–win approaches with landlords.

Now is the time

Coming out of Covid, we’re looking at adopting a hybrid-work model, with specific days in the office and others remote. In time, we realize that face-to-face interactions will be required to solve complex challenges, facilitate collaboration, deepen relationships, and generate ideas. We’ll have to find a way to adjust to this new normal, likely a hybrid workforce and distributed workplace.

We will find a way to align employees’ in-office and remote schedules to create equity. Our teams are virtual-ready, and technology is providing multiple modes of working. Data is saved to the cloud; access and security are adjusted for different audiences, and applications allow seamless virtual collaborations. We can now manage, collaborate, evaluate performance, and motivate the team remotely. This new way of working virtual-first will enable our team members to choose to work remotely or face-to-face based on the nature of their work and preferences.

At H2, we’re looking forward to this new, new way of working. We’d like to hear how your company plans to navigate the new world of work.

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