This is a contributed article by Evangeline Leong, founder and CEO of Kobe Global Technologies. Any extracts must be attributed to the author. 19 March 2021.
Many employers see COVID-19 as a temporary disruption. Once the virus has been eradicated, restrictions will be lifted and the workplace will go back to being exactly the same as before—or so the prevailing attitude seems to be. However, we should be wary of this mentality.
In fact, it might not be an exaggeration to say that the workplace has been irreversibly changed. Employees have had a radically different work experience over the past year and businesses have embraced previously unthinkable ways of communicating and collaborating. Having undergone this extreme transition, it is unrealistic to think that we will emerge from it unchanged.
In this new age of work, employers can no longer be content to simply wait around for a ‘return to normal’. As a CEO, here are some ways I am ‘future proofing’ my workplace in anticipation of these changes:
Remote Working is Here to Stay
Now that employees have gone through telecommuting and realised that it works, it will be difficult for businesses to revert to old modes of working in a post-pandemic world.
It is true that being in the office can improve the way teams interact and collaborate, as opposed to online conference calls and messaging apps. At the same time, most of us have come to realise that a significant portion of our work can be accomplished effectively through telecommuting.
From an employee’s perspective, then, it might almost seem unreasonable for employers not to offer the option of some work-from-home arrangement when the situation calls for it.
For our agency, we are planning to make telecommuting a permanent option for our employees. Working in the office will still happen when the work calls for it, but otherwise, employees will be free to get their work done from whichever environment is most conducive. These arrangements will also promote better inclusivity and greatly benefit some groups, such as pregnant women, new parents, caretakers of the elderly, or persons with disabilities.
The New Role of the Office
If remote working becomes a permanent feature of the workplace, what role does the office of the future have?
In my view, the way we utilise our physical office spaces will need to change for good. Due to the fact that we have been forced to distance ourselves from each other, employees have started to treasure the time they have in the office. There is more excitement and creativity being generated from in-person collaboration precisely because it has become a luxury. If the future of the workplace involves telecommuting, then the office should be transformed to best facilitate the unique chemistry of collaboration that can only be found by meeting in person.
For us, we redesigned our office to make the space more welcoming and comfortable to achieve this. Rather than have the office feel sterile and static, we tried to create a more comfortable, café-esque space that our employees look forward to coming back to.
While some companies already practiced this in the past, I also foresee hotdesking becoming a regular feature of the workplace (post-pandemic, of course). Any space can become a space for collaboration and employees should not feel confined to certain corners of the office. This way, we break up the monotony of an unchanging work routine and allow for more creativity and passion to be generated.
National Barriers Are No Longer a Problem
The great thing about having to work with restrictions is that they inspire creative solutions. Now that the technology and services for telecommuting and online conferencing have been greatly refined, a wealth of options has opened up for employers.
For instance, national barriers need no longer be a problem. For years, we had intended to expand our business overseas, but it had always proved difficult for us. Since the pandemic, we have been able to successfully do this because remote working is now an extremely viable mode of working. We now have several full-time employees that work completely from their home countries outside of Singapore. Such new ways of thinking about employment must become normal for employers moving forward.
The way we conduct business will, of course, be irreversibly changed as well. With conferencing technology having been tried and tested, overseas business travel can no longer be as necessary as we once thought. Meetings that are to be held at a destination country can now easily be held over the internet, drastically reducing company expenditure. On the flip side, this means that smaller businesses without a large budget for travel can now pursue international clients, partners and stakeholders.
The Importance of Empathy and Employee Wellbeing
The pandemic may have separated us, but it has also opened windows into the lives of our employees. Perhaps for the first time, many of us have seen how our co-workers’ rooms look like or have caught glimpses of their family and loved ones in the background of a Zoom call.
In a similar way, the pandemic has also put employee wellbeing in the spotlight. Many employers have now realised that a crucial part of running a successful business is caring for their employees. Employers of the future will have to be more invested in their employees’ personal lives and journeys (with respectful boundaries drawn where they need to be, of course).
Our company has since begun to hold ‘stay well’ workshops, where we focus on small group sharings that are more intimate in nature. By learning more about each other and growing closer as a team, our employees feel more heard and cared for by the people around them. We now also send out personalised care packages to each other. Some initiatives will have to be led by managers, or even employees themselves, but businesses can help to create a culture where such activities are normal or expected.
Resilience is Key
To end off, I think the whole pandemic situation has really highlighted the importance of being invulnerable to external changes. Something we say a lot within our organisation is that we don’t want to be driven by fear, but to be led by our dreams. To truly be prepared for whatever the future holds, we must learn to be resilient to anything that can be thrown our way. This means not simply anticipating future changes and trying to adequately prepare for them, but also building up a culture of adaptability and flexibility. At the end of the day, employers must not be resistant to change—on the contrary, we must learn to embrace it rather than wait for a ‘return to normal’.