During the pandemic, many people have found they miss the office environment, whereas others felt immediately comfortable with the ‘work from anywhere’ model.
Recent research conducted by EXL examined the number of positions that could feasibly ‘work from anywhere,’ across finance and accounting, call center and other back office functions. It was estimated between 50-70% of these positions were a good fit for remote work, which, due to the pandemic, may be notedly higher numbers than may have been estimated previously.
It raises several questions. Now that the economy and physical working environments are beginning to open up, where will the world work from? From home, the office, or elsewhere? A very high percentage of work can and is done from anywhere, and this is largely supported by the digital transformation that occurred before the pandemic. However, as COVID-19 saw the workforce leave the office out of necessity, there’s been accelerated evolution surrounding digital to support remote working.
In this sense, perhaps the question is not just where we’ll work, but how we’ll work, and how we’ll collaborate with digital.
Finding balance amid new working models
The way companies approach and implement work from anywhere will not be consistent across geographies, organizations and even internal business units, and there will be different factors that must be considered. Data sensitivity, the process complexity in the level of interaction that is needed with customers, and company culture will all be influencing factors.
On Wall Street for example, many of the banks are beginning to bring nearly all their employees back to the office. Whereas in Silicon Valley, companies like Facebook and Twitter are moving a large portion of their workforce to the work from anywhere model on a permanent basis.
Companies are also looking at employee related challenges. While the productivity demonstrated while working from home has been higher, human beings want social interaction, and as such there have been higher burnout rates and other mental health related challenges.
What is a concern is a lack of balance amongst two potential emerging classes of employees: once class which comes into the office and which gets greater visibility and more opportunity, and another that choose to work entirely from home, but that do not get the visibility and the same kind of opportunity.
The problem with switching to working from home entirely is, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says, a matter of replacing one dogma with another dogma. The happy medium of work from anywhere is most likely to look like a little of both models.
Changes to how we will manage talent across the value chain
The work from anywhere model may also support greater resiliency and flexibility, and there are demonstrable environmental benefits. However, there are also other benefits that are less obvious initially. By far one of the biggest advantages in the model is from a talent availability perspective.
One of the biggest issues with the traditional office model is that it doesn’t support those who have childcare issues, or those who for any reason cannot travel to an office. With this new flexibility of working from anywhere, we can tap into a completely different talent, which will drive higher resilience and flexibility, better diversity and better employee experience and retention. Virtual hiring processes have been a huge help in facilitating this during the lockdown pandemic period.
However, one of the other issues that has emerged as we look at employee engagement is how we nurture collaboration amongst employees in a mixed office and work from anywhere model. To do this, many companies are looking at creating smaller or regional hubs, where people can come together to collaborate.
Alongside this, performance management has to change. Traditionally, it’s been a mix of subjective and objective, but a blended office and work from anywhere model, performance management will need to be a lot more data driven, and more objective in nature. There is work to be done on this to ensure that we are truly tapping into this opportunity and getting better talent.
An exponential adoption of all things digital
Clearly, even prior to COVID-19, digital transformation has been one of the of the things that every company has been focused on, regardless of industry. Everyone has been looking at ways and means to transform processes using a wide array of technologies including cloud analytics, AI and machine learning.
What COVID-19 has done is essentially is that it has accelerated that adoption, and in the future of work, there are several trends being driven by the exponential adoption of all things digital. Firstly, with the trend of better customer engagement and a focus on self service solutions, organizations are focused on reducing friction and are trialling solutions designed to engage their end customers better.
Automation is another key trend aimed at optimizing operations, and it has increased markedly during COVID-19. Humans working together with a digital workforce are bringing greater resilience to organizations, and with the automation of processes minimizing work, companies are seeing marked increase efficiencies. However, what’s new in the approach to automation is that it’s not just about bringing in one-off data and AI powered solutions. It’s about re-imagining processes and outcomes to drive more transformative results.
Finally, employee empowerment is on the rise, which is no surprize given its significance in helping to achieve organizational goals. Employees are critical and during this time of change we need to skill people to make them suited to adapt to the future of work, which is set to continue to evolve rapidly.
The shape of talent is undergoing massive change, but as long as companies examine and change their policies and procedures to support and experience the benefit of that change, they are likely to find the balance they are looking for to take advantage of emerging opportunities.
SVP & Head of Emerging Business, EXL