How COVID Has Changed the Business Landscape

Over the last year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on the global population. It ushered in a wave of new remote workplace standards, and this paradigm shift means a lot for businesses both now and in the future.
7 min read
06/22/21
All articles
By Daniel Piekarz
Sr. Vice President, Healthcare & Life Sciences, USA
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How COVID Has Changed the Business Landscape

Both personally and professionally, our daily routines, experiences, and comforts have been subject to abrupt and, in many cases, jarring disruption as our respective communities worked tirelessly to get ahead of the pandemic, control the spread, and procure vaccinations. Family gatherings transitioned to family Zoom calls; happy hour get-togethers went digital, groceries were ordered online, trips abroad were canceled, and work came home with us for most of the population. Working remote – once a novel and sought-after luxury – became mainstream seemingly overnight.

COVID-19 it would seem had single-handedly accelerated the development of digital, communication, and collaboration tools to satisfy work and life needs. It became a catalyst forcing changes in workplace technology and a huge explosion of innovation.

This new reality meant that businesses had a limited window to prepare and perfect their work-from-home policies and procedures. From employee productivity concerns to remote security, there were plenty of considerations involved in this new, more agile framework. For many businesses, this was entirely new territory. Before COVID-19, only one in five employees telecommuted or worked remotely, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, 71% work from home all or most of the time.

Organizations are now being challenged to rethink their workplace strategies. With the impending skills gap and labor shortage, leaders are building on the lessons learned during the crisis to evolve and see opportunity in what lies ahead.

The New (Working) Normal

Many businesses, especially those rooted in traditional corporate ideologies, have come to rely on their offices as a bustling hub of employee activity and collaboration. On this central meeting ground, work happens, innovations are suggested, and decisions are made. So, what happens when the lights are turned off, and the office doors are locked — not just for a week or two, but for over a year? Where does the collaboration happen? How are meetings conducted? How is productivity maintained?

Fortunately, after a year of trial and error, organizations around the world have established best practices that effectively transformed their remote-work model to maintain all the benefits of an office via digital mediums. In engineering teams and technology vendors, employee connection is integral to continued innovation and organizational performance. Leveraging professional tools like Slack, Trello, and Zoom, leaders within these organizations can maintain a seamless online relationship with colleagues and direct reports. However, digital access presents as a double-edged sword.

Across a professional landscape that lacks the traditional boundaries between work and home, employees require clear communication and expectations from their teams. With this in mind, internal communications should be frequent and consistent, involving regular check-ins, virtual team meetings, and brainstorm sessions while remaining vigilant regarding working hours and employee personal time. Team members should also frequently update their availability via public calendars and use settings like “Available” or “Busy” to keep availability visible across all levels of the organization.

While working from home, managers are encouraged to remember that their employees are often not working within ideal environments and may be grappling with various external distractions and demands. Rather than sending an influx of emails at any given time, organizations are also encouraged to utilize project management tools that offer insight into the status of tasks and projects without overwhelming employees’ inboxes.

To this effect, communication touch-points, whether delivered via email, messenger, phone call, or virtual meeting, should be intentional, thoughtful, and structured. Managers should ensure their teams are provided with the appropriate stack of technology and resources required to perform their work from home while also providing a budget dedicated to helping employees establish a suitable, at-home workspace.

Moreover, it is increasingly important for managers to recognize employee performance across digital mediums, where in-person recognition is no longer possible. This includes celebrating milestones of the organization and employees by dedicating time during each quarter to acknowledge and validate employee contributions and successes. Finally, managers should seek opportunities to provide individualized support that offers every employee the chance to speak up and address any personal or professional challenges they face. Maintaining an approachable and empathetic working environment that keeps employees feeling engaged and supported should be a priority for every organization, both now and in the future.

How Organizations Can Benefit from the New Normal

Shifting to a remote work model provides notable benefits for employees and companies alike. Organizations can expect significant cost reductions from a cost perspective spanning from overhead expenses, employee business travel, and employee absences (which costs U.S. companies up to $300 billion/year).

Often, freeing up organizational budgets traditionally dedicated to corporate real-estate allows for enhanced spending in other areas that may have a meaningful impact on employee experience. Company recruiters also benefit from this new environment, as it no longer adheres to strict geographical boundaries. Finally, organizations open themselves up to a diverse pool of prospective talent around the globe. On the other hand, employees remove the commute commonly associated with traditional work and benefit from an influx of freedom and flexibility in how (and where) they work and how they structure their tasks and hit their performance goals.

As for the future of remote work, a new study conducted by Quartz and Qualtrics revealed that 54% of people enjoy working from home, and 68% are interested in working remotely some or all of the time going forward. Moreover, research reveals that full-time remote workers report being happy in their job 22% more than people who never work remotely, and 81% of workers agree that being able to work remotely would make them more likely to recommend their company to a friend. For technology professionals, specifically, 37% reveal they would take a pay cut of 10% if they could work from home. Whether in a full-time or part-time capacity, the writing is on the wall –  remote work is here to stay.

In that same breath, however, 47% of people report that they have felt burned out since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. To this effect, investing in employee support and leading with empathy is an increasingly important managerial tool for the work-from-home model. Happy employees are productive employees, and organizations are encouraged to look at their company culture under a critical lens to identify any areas for improvement.

Best Practices for Remote Virtual Teams

As technology teams look to structure and empower their team in remote environments, there are a number of core best practices to keep in mind:

  • Keep policies, regulations, and documentation up to date to streamline the knowledge-sharing process.
  • Create opportunities for virtual open table discussions and feedback sessions to brainstorm and identify any production bottlenecks.
  • Ensure leaders follow a routine and attend weekly demos and QA.
  • Schedule and conduct regular 1-on-1 support sessions.
  • Ensure professional platforms utilized by team members (Slack, Zoom, etc.). have appropriate functionality, including recordings, collaboration, and presentation tools.
  • Establish a clear set of shared objectives across all levels of the organization.

When considering the relationship between an IT team and vendors, it’s essential for organizations to selectively partner with vendors that prioritize a people-oriented culture and the unique demands associated with remote work.

Beyond pricing, look to the perceived quality of a product or service, the vendor’s work ethics and integrity, references, and employee turnover rate. Vendors that actively prioritize the experience of their employees are more likely to prioritize the experience of their clients, which will lay the foundation for an effective, long-term partnership.

Effectively shifting the paradigm from a traditional work environment to a remote-work model has not been without its challenges. Still, the potential benefits of this new environment should not be overlooked. After all, as industries change and innovate at a rapid pace, technology teams are expected to not only follow suit but remain ahead of the curve. In the post-pandemic business landscape, an increasingly agile and support-driven workplace is positioned as a catalyst to employee satisfaction and company-wide success.

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