The Digitization of Work

 In Digital Transformation

When 9/11 occurred, there were immediate changes to airport security protocols. Restrictions tightened, more checkpoints were added, and the technology that allowed us to keep air travel safe grew. Years later, those changes are still in effect today and most of us hardly remember a time when you could walk right up to an arrival gate.

That singular event changed our approach to air travel and it’s now simply part of the process. These changes no longer seem excessive – they’re the standard.

We are going to see a similar change with the workplace.

Right now, the feeling of working remotely still feels temporary or finite. Our brains are telling us, “one day it will go back to normal.” But the reality is that the pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in how business is conducted, how employees work, and how customers spend their money.

The “Reopen” Conundrum

If you’re a business owner, you have to consider what reopening means for both your employees and your customers. Brick and mortars certainly feel the pressure to unlock their doors and allow customers to be in their retail space. But for SaaS companies, agencies, and other forms of digital services, you may be wondering what – if any – benefits there are to reopening your office.

Employers have to address the safely and liability component.

As a business, you take on liability by allowing employees to come into an office. Under normal circumstances, it’s your job to make sure that they have a safe, sanitary, and healthy working environment. During a pandemic, there’s an even bigger concern for employee safety.

Now, companies who want to have an office environment need to consider beefing up their benefits packages. For employees, the concern is no longer going to be about premiums and copays – employees are going to be looking for additional benefits like health programs, virtual healthcare, and more.

To undergo a full reopen, employers must:

  • Reassess how they engage with their employees
  • What is important to them in regards to health and safety
  • How they can ensure access to adequate health and safety measures
  • Communicate effectively to their employees, contractors, and business partners

Nobody wants to work for or work with a business who is reckless with employee health.

Getting Ready for the Future

In order to continue growing your business, employers need to ready their office, employees, and technology for the post-COVID world.

If the pandemic has changed anything, it’s that the traditional footprint of an office or workplace is completely in question. What does the workplace of the future look like? Well, in some cases there may not even be one.

We’ve talked with industry experts and businesses who are questioning whether they need a large commercial space to conduct business. Co-working culture has spent years getting people used to the idea of highly-collaborative creative spaces where great ideas are exchanged, friends are made, and companies are started. Now, the idea of sharing a stylish office setting with strangers is probably the last thing people want to do.

Working is difficult if people don’t feel comfortable.

One obvious option for companies is to move their employees completely remote. But there are a mountain of considerations the go into moving a company completely remote:

  • Do my employees have adequate technology to accomplish their work?
  • Do I have proper security tech in place to keep data secured in a remote environment?
  • Will my employee productivity suffer from moving completely remote?
  • What is essential to business operations?
  • How do I ensure my employees have access to necessary training, education, and growth opportunities?

Going remote has its benefits: less travel for employees, less investment in commercial real estate, lower overhead.

Even businesses that swore they could never go fully remote have now been forced to do so, and for the most part, they’ve done so successfully.

Another option that companies are looking at are smaller offices with a smaller square footage footprint. Rotating offices are also being looked at. Some employees just perform better in a traditional office environment, or may not have a space at home to be productive.

A hybrid office model will likely appeal to a lot of businesses with younger employees who enjoy collaboration and learning from others. Veteran employees will likely have an easier transition to fully-remote work.

How Work Will Change

As businesses manage changes to their daily operations, it’s important to consider how work is going to be different going forward. The general consensus is that employees are going to expect some kind of a work from home element on an ongoing basis. Right now, they need it, but in the near future employees will expect it and want it.

Digital Work Technology Will Accelerate

Companies and technology partners are having to make quick adjustments to adapt.

A great example is early in the great “work from home” experiment, two virtual meeting providers, Zoom and Google Meet, were competing for customers. Zoom had a feature that allowed meeting attendees to view all those in attendance in a grid format on their screen. Google Meet didn’t. Users enjoyed the functionality and ultimately more and more meetings were happening on Zoom, even though Google already had a massive stable of users. Google Meet eventually made that functionality available to use in meetings, a feature that likely wouldn’t have been developed so quickly.

Say Goodbye to In-person Meetings – Even Ones that Seem Important

There’s just too much convenience when you can meet face-to-face with anyone at any time from anywhere in the world. Despite having access to virtual meeting technology, a lot of business was still done in person.

An in person meeting conveyed a sense of importance to the client, especially when money is being exchanged. The pandemic has completely shattered that model. Now even the meetings that seemed really important to have in person are happening virtually. And guess what? Those deals still happen.

If you’re a US service provider and you have a UK client, you no longer have to buy a $1500 plane ticket, take an 8+ hour flight, find accommodations and more all for a 2 hour meeting. A virtual meeting provides the same level of communication without the hassle.

Enjoy Random Glimpses of Humanity

Now that we’re all meeting remotely, we’re seeing aspects of our coworkers’ lives that we’re normally not privy to. What you can see in the background of a person’s webcam says a lot. It’s like we’re being invited into their lives in a small meaningful way.

Then there’s also the people and animals in our co-workers’ lives that crash meetings. Who doesn’t love seeing partners, kids, and pets going about their business in the background of a meeting.

These little glimpses of humanity will play an important role as we search for connection in a world of remote work.

Helping Employees Learn How to Disengage

When you work in an office, there’s inherently a ritual of closing your laptop, making your way home, and entering your home. It’s a process that we took for granted that allowed us to decompress from the workday and transition into our private lives.

Now that people are working from home, that small ritual is gone and we’re finding that switching from productive colleague to parent, roommate, or partner isn’t so easy.

Companies are going to need to develop ways to help their employees disengage from the workday in a healthy way. When your work and private life happen in the same space, the lines start to blur mentally.

Bottom line, we are witnessing an unprecedented change to how we as humans work, earn our income, and strive for career goals. The digitization of work is and will continue to change how business is conducted in the 21st century.

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