When businesses graduate from this new normal to the 'next normal'

Our world faces many challenges ahead, but we have the ability to re-frame these into opportunities to help our organisations thrive in the next normal. Here are some macro changes that will impact all businesses

Marcus Ranney
Updated: Jun 3, 2020 09:35:11 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

In the last instalment of this blog, I wrote about how the behaviour shifts that will continue to be experienced because of Covid-19 will spawn a new anthropological group of individuals, which I call Generation C(ovid). The four key characteristics of this new generation are a shared loss of confidence, openness to living in a virtual century, a heightened sense of well-being (and sustainability) and the willingness to form communities.

In this article, we shall explore how these macro level changes shall impact the workplace and alter the sense of 'business as normal' in the years to come.

Death of distance
With near 100 percent of employees working from home, sweeping and widespread global job losses (33 million in the US, 8 million in the UK, 60 million in the EU and c. 130 million in India), negative confidence in employee sentiment (4.4 percent drop in Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor) and a realisation on the potential cost savings through remote work, it is reasonable to expect ‘Work from Home’ (#WFH) to become ‘Work from Anywhere’ (#WFA) in the next normal.

Organisations like Twitter, Google, TCS and Facebook have already made this clear; and those that do not rely on having employees physically present, will follow suit. By staggering their return and allowing employees to choose when to return (many will have to delay this due to health concerns or family responsibilities), team leaders will need to develop new play books for managing part-remote, part on-site teams.

The role of the ‘office’ will come under question as more organisations move their workforce further away and restrict incoming individuals to essential tasks only. Finally, Business Continuity Planning (BCP) will become mainstream as mission-critical business functions become separated from non-essential functions, so that they do not become suspended during any subsequent disruption.

‘Just in time’ becomes ‘Always at hand’
As globalisation saw the Earth flatten and supply chains distribute across continents, companies (and countries) have now realised the value of creating systems that provide for greater control and protection. Resilience frameworks are being applied to leaders, teams and processes so that the chaotic frenzy we recently experienced (in acquiring essential goods and services)—and the economic fragility of the globalised system—will not be repeated again.

Companies such as Best Buy, Wayfair and Nike have already started to build resilience in their businesses by complementing product-focused models with scalable and stable digital alternatives. The traditional linear supply chain model is transforming into digital supply networks (DSNs).

As countries encourage their industry stalwarts to migrate manufacturing capacities closer to home, many organisations including Volkswagan, ŠKODA and Hewlett-Packard have already started to use technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (e.g. 3D printing) to enhance control. Contactless delivery has become an institutional norm but more strikingly, the once normal process of outsourcing delivery to a third-party platform (such as Amazon or Swiggy) is now changing, as organisations develop their own direct to consumer (DTC) delivery systems—enhancing the touchpoints they have with their customers and controlling their end-to-end experiences.

Driving technology transformation at ‘Warp Speed’
A whopping 95 percent of digital leaders within organisations expect their role to expand into day-to-day areas like cybersecurity, privacy, compliance and experiences. In the first quarter of 2020, a total of 285 artificial intelligence (AI)-related companies in the US alone raised $6.9 billion in venture funding. As users look for more personalised digital content, the demand for professionals with solid skills in AI, ML (machine learning), Deep Learning & Neural Networks is expected to rise by 16 percent in 2020.

Human resources leaders will work closer with their IT counterparts as predictive analytics will can help identify employees preparing to quit, thereby allowing the employer to quickly intervene and plan. However, one must be cognisant of privilege and be empathetic to individuals who may not be in a position to thrive whilst WFA. Space constraints, broadband access, communication disabilities and the job function itself may prevent large numbers of employees from being able to work remotely and organisations need to create the correct processes to ensure appropriate integration and satisfaction amongst these contributors.

Managing communities that care
The biggest realisation we have each experienced during this crisis is how important our health is to us, both physically and mentally. Over the past months, the collective stress levels of individuals around the world has risen to rates not seen in decades. My own weekly assessments of corporate employees in India has seen a greater than 50 percent rise in stress scores with close to one-third of all respondents falling in the extreme stress category.

Conversations around mental health have become mainstream and the deployment of employee assistance programs has been catalysed by the coronavirus pandemic. Large proportions of the employee base have used this time to upskill themselves, a trait which will likely continue in the next normal as job insecurities worsen. Leadership communication frequency has increased, as has democratic transparency in its format; behaviours which employee communities will continue to seek in the uncertain future ahead.

Businesses will be keen to promote communities within their workplace to encourage greater collaboration and a sense of belonging, to replace the physical micro-moments enjoyed through physical interactions in the old normal.

Our world faces many challenges ahead, but we have the ability to re-frame these into opportunities to help our organisations thrive in the next normal. The great thing about the future is that it is undecided, it’s for us to write ourselves. So, what direction will you take your business in? What part will you play in the working lives of #GenC?

The writer is General Manager, India - Thrive Global

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The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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