In March 2020, the largest “work-from-home” experiment in history began.
The moment entire companies moved their workforces remote, business owners and employees alike both started to realize new realities about their jobs. For years, people had been told, “It’s essential for you to be in the office,” only to suddenly realize that being in the office wasn’t so essential after all. Zoom calls easily replaced dozens of weekly in-person meetings. Manual tasks such as filling out paperwork suddenly couldn’t be performed the same way, forcing companies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts. Processes that seemed to work fine in a physical office space suddenly showed how dated and inefficient they were. And every executive or manager’s fears of remote employees doing nothing but watching Netflix and playing Xbox all day at home instead of working were eased.
Companies all over the world have realized that working from home is not only more efficient but more suitable for the wants and needs of today’s workers. According to one company interviewed by Forbes, as well as research by Harvard Business Review, working from home boosts company-wide productivity—it doesn’t squander it.
Life after COVID-19 for businesses will never be the same.
Here are the two big changes we can expect to see moving forward.
Businesses will embrace flexibility
Thirty years ago, 10 years ago, even 5 years ago, it wasn’t exactly “professional” for you to take a call with a client or customer if you weren’t “in the office.”
In the past few years though, and especially the past few months, it has now become culturally acceptable to be more honest and transparent about your personal life as an employee or company leader—so long as it doesn’t interfere with the quality of your servicing the company and/or its clients.
For example, during the pandemic and needing to work from home, it has become increasingly common for a dog to bark or to hear a screaming kid for a second or two on a conference call. But that doesn’t mean the client or customer is immediately going to say, “This is so unprofessional. I want to cancel my account.” If anything, they’re going to say something like, “My dog was barking like crazy this morning. I know the feeling.”
We are moving more and more into a world where taking calls at home, in the car, while dropping the kids off at daycare, etc., is becoming increasingly common. It’s no longer taboo to acknowledge that we have lives outside of work (which hasn’t always been the case), or that we have appointments or other commitments throughout the workday. Furthermore, employees value not needing to “hide” or try to get around company policies just to live their lives. They don’t want to have to request time off just to run to the doctor in the middle of the afternoon. They want the company to trust them to manage their own schedule and get their work done before and after their appointment.
Work-life balance is a term that has long been used, but it focuses on the separation of work and life.
Today and moving forward, it’s all about work-life integration.
Automation will increasingly be essential
Productivity going up by working from home is one thing. But automation across entire organizations is entirely another.
Many businesses didn’t realize how inefficient they were being until the pandemic hit. The unfortunate consequence, of course, is that a lot of people have lost, and may continue to lose, their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic. With fewer people, manual tasks must be replaced by automation. Help desks will continue to make up for lost personnel with self-service through portals, virtual agents, and other innovations. Combine automation with working from home, and you have employees getting more done in less time (meaning your workforce is more efficient, and you need fewer employees to perform the same number of tasks), and overhead is eliminated (or reduced).
In business automation, there’s this concept called “work management”—it’s the process of breaking down what the final objective is, what needs to be produced, and then managing all the tasks that go along with producing that end result. For example, we go through this process with our enterprise clients at Cherwell, helping them reduce inefficiencies in their businesses by automating certain processes and get to that end result faster and more effectively. Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is precisely what company leaders are examining on a daily basis. They are being forced to examine all their different internal processes and deeply question how they can produce the same results as before, but faster, more efficiently, and with a lower headcount.
And as these businesses see improvements from automating one process, they will want to continue automating more and more in the future.
Matt Klassen is vice president of product marketing at Cherwell.
This article originally appeared in Minutes and is reprinted with permission.