The first wave is almost over.
After weeks in lockdown, Boris Johnson’s latest announcement has begun to pave the way for how the country will begin to emerge from the lockdown – albeit in a tentative manner and with a number of caveats. The government is loosening its grip a little and encouraging us to simply behave like responsible adults, observe the ever present risks and continue to do what we can to keep this virus at bay. There are still many grey areas, but what is very clear is that social distancing in some form will remain part of everyday life for the foreseeable future.
So what’s next?
Businesses up and down the country have been through a firefighting exercise, mobilising their workforce to work remotely and doing everything possible to keep the lights on. Some are still wrestling with the technology decisions they made as a necessary but potentially knee jerk reaction to the unexpected events. Would those same decisions have been made under less stressful circumstances?
Charterhouse is no different. Initially we acted quickly in terms of deploying our workforce remotely. We tested our ability to see how we would cope with forced closure - and the very next day instructed staff to stay home, even before the official lockdown was announced. Since then, we’ve been practising what we preach when it comes to using technology to keep the business functioning - running meetings via video conferencing solutions and even getting the team together for company-wide (virtual) social fun & games a few times a week.
But now that some of us have been told we are allowed to return to work in a staggered and managed way, how many of us will actually do so? And if we do, what will the workplace look like?
There are a number of reasons why it may not mean the floodgates for commuting to the office open again: employee anxiety about the risks of social distancing both within the commute and at work itself, and the fact that working from home has proven to be just as effective, if not more so in some cases. Employers will also be mindful of getting health & safety right to avoid any risk of liability should cases occur in the workplace. But there’s also the obvious fact that having a physical office costs money, so at a time when the future may be uncertain for many, the opportunity for cost reduction is an attractive one.
So what have we learned? Remote working... works! But, will it replace the workplace?
The proof is in the pudding
Where in the past business owners weren’t prepared to take a calculated risk on trusting staff to work unsupervised, within days they no longer had a choice. The fact that a significant proportion of the working world has remained operational thanks to the technology that enables remote working is testament to its success. It may indeed mean that many roles don’t become fully office based again post-pandemic. A Gartner survey of CFOs in March revealed that most believe at least 5% of those who began working from home would continue to do so post-Covid19 - I’d suggest that the number is likely to be far higher.
Even the most stalwart supporter of being present in the office has been forced to change - and with it has come the acceptance that not being in an office doesn’t mean you’re not working. My takeaway from this article isn’t necessarily the fact that many home workers are feeling more anxious during lockdown (although mental wellbeing throughout this crisis is clearly a huge concern). It’s the second point in the headline: Britons are working 28 hours of overtime per month while at home. That suggests that rather than people working less when they’re at home, the opposite is true - productivity increases. It’s compelling evidence for employers to accept that they can trust people to do their job when they’re at home - and the added benefits of reduced time spent on a commute and a better work/life balance are tangible ones.
Future proof the future office - even if it’s at home
Even though not everyone will continue to work from home, a number of businesses will now support it where they possibly didn’t before. How should your business take it forward long term? You’ll need to consider some important factors...
If you didn’t already have a business continuity plan in place for your business, now is the time to make one. If you did have a plan, now is the time to review how well it worked when it faced a crisis, take forward the elements that were successful and learn from those that weren’t.
Connectivity is key, whatever the setting - and having an agile platform that’s able to adapt where needed is what will help get your business through challenges in the future. While cloud technology has enabled business continuity and proven its worth, it’s collaboration tools such as video conferencing and messaging that have enabled teams to still feel like a team, albeit a virtual one. And underpinning it all is the need to operate within a robust, secure environment from any device or endpoint. The benefits of what technology has to offer have been far-reaching and across most industry sectors – from call centres rapidly mobilising their workforce, a doctor running remote patient consultations, banks continuing to compliantly record calls or a school staying connected to vulnerable children - these unified communications platforms are more than earning their place to become an integral part of the fabric of business as we now know it.
Charterhouse will continue to adapt to the changing world and practice what we preach in terms of technology. Get in touch if you’d like us to help you do the same for your business.