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Working together to define the new normal

Published on : 6/26/20
  • We’ve been through a lot these last few months, together, all of us. As a global community we’ve been shaken, shut down and transformed. Commutes have disappeared, ways of working reinvented and lifelong behaviours changed for the first time. Simply opening the doors is not enough to return to work.

    Additionally, we have all changed as individuals. Our habits, priorities and needs have shifted – the things that mattered six months ago can seem very different to what is important today.

    As we begin to reopen offices and return to work, we all need to adapt how we work to meet the demands of our new normal – not just with hurried adjustments in the short-term, but with a clear view of what the future may hold.

    That’s a process that begins with clarifying and understanding what the new normal really looks like.

    Will workplace changes be long-lasting?

    One of the biggest challenges is understanding whether the new normal is a temporary change or permanent rethinking of what life and work looks like. This is the insight that makes informed, impactful decisions possible – ones that make sense on both a personal and commercial level.

    Based on history and insights from workplace experts, we all need to prepare for a world where this new normal is here to stay. According to BCG, society has always been transformed by crisis-induced shifts. From the Black Death ushering in the Enlightenment to the growth of online retail in China following the 2003 SARS outbreak, crises lead to lasting change.

    “The genie is not going back into the bottle.” - The New York Times

    While, permanent changes may be a near-certainty, it’s impossible to anticipate exactly what they will be.

    Remember, change is a journey

    In our own lives, change rarely comes in a single moment. Over months and years, our lives shift to match our circumstances – and it’s only in retrospect that we can recognise the normality that we’ve arrived at.

    Life with and after COVID-19 is likely to follow the same pattern. Today, we are all making changes to keep our workplaces safe, encourage physical distancing, and meet health and safety guidance. But these tactical adjustments are just the beginning.

    In the coming months, we will see numerous small changes in every area of work and life. These will happen incrementally, taking an unpredictable path as global circumstances change, from specific local outbreaks to developments around vaccination. We must all find a certain comfort with the unknown, and continue to change holistically.  

    Focus on trends, not granular detail

    Given the dangers of attempting to predict future changes, we are focusing our energy on anticipating directions, not details. And these would suggest that the changes ahead are the ones we have all been preparing for already.

    In the short-term, COVID-19 has created an urgent need for more efficient workplaces, more remote working and contactless, digital solutions. However, we have been helping our clients achieve these changes for well over a decade. The reality is that COVID-19 is yet to have shifted the entire direction of the workplace. It has simply accelerated our path along the trend lines that were already in place.

    How to adapt your workplace to the future

    Wx, our team of workplace design and optimization specialists helps companies optimise their workplace experience through ethnography, IoT and data science. 

    By observing and analysing people and their journeys – not just in the workplace but also at home and on the move – the team creates places that encourage, empower and enhance Quality of Life for your workers. Taking a data-driven approach, they’ve identified four key trends that we are likely to see accelerated in the coming months.

    Extended work from home? Streamline support services

    Working from home, also called ‘Distributed working arrangements,’ may be the big winner during the shutdown, and it’s not going anywhere quickly.  With a double benefit of increased family time, and reduced viral exposure and commuting time, major companies like Google have extended work-from-home arrangements until the end of the year, while Twitter and Square have told employees that can continue ‘forever.’  Months of lockdown have demonstrated that it is possible for the workforce to be more distributed in many industries, and remain effective.

    The primary change for employers will be to ensure that the entire workforce has access to the same support and services, regardless of where they are working. Or for those who haven’t the space or the proper conditions to work from home, alternative arrangements, such as local options and working-near-home solutions, may be considered before committing to a commute to the office.

    Create a liquid workplace strategy

    For many organisations, the liquid workforce has already become a new normal. However, the increased need for agility and efficiency as markets become more challenging, along with cost pressure forcing companies to rethink their portfolio needs, is likely to lead to an increase in the blend of employed and self-employed workers.

    As a result, workplaces should expect a workforce that ebbs and flows over time. Some workers may need a permanent, on-site space, while others may only make occasional use of your workplace for meeting and collaborating.  Keeping those connections meaningful and efficient will be key. 

    Use more data

    With the need to design workplaces that closely mirror the way people actually work, organisations will leverage more data to make informed decisions. Insights into employee journeys will become vital tools for workplace design and optimization.

    Crucially, these insights will only be possible through the right combination of technology and expertise. Anonymised sensors and Internet of Things devices will be key additions to the workplace, but human skill will be essential in interpreting new data on a large scale.

    Promote wellbeing at the workplace

    Finally, workers will be more aware of their needs when it comes to safety and wellbeing. Retaining talent and increasing productivity will increasingly mean creating workplaces that truly enhance Quality of Life.

    This may begin with safety, but is likely to encompass a wide range of areas including:

    • Food and catering
    • Services and support
    • Mental wellbeing
    • Positive impact on local communities
    • Energy efficiency and sustainability

    Workplaces designed around people

    Ultimately, all of these trends have one thing in common: they refocus workplaces on the people that use them every day. From physical requirements and baseline safety to emotional needs and wellbeing, navigating our new normal means addressing human needs more closely and attentively.

    As this evolution will be happening over months and years, Wx has prepared a detailed look at the importance of putting people first and get answers to key questions about our collective future in Responding to a Quantum Shift in Work. 

    Get a long-term view on the new normal.  Rise to the challenge, rise with Sodexo. Read the report

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