The Pandemic Will End; What Then?

Source: Terry Cowles | Article | March 2021

What’s Happening Right Now

As the pandemic begins to lose its grip on our businesses and our lives, there are lots of thoughts being proffered about the future of work.

A Gartner, Inc. survey of 127 company leaders, representing HR, Legal and Compliance, Finance and Real Estate, revealed 82% of respondents intend to permit remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace. Source: Gartner Survey Reveals 82% of Company Leaders Plan to Allow Employees to Work Remotely Some of the Time

“COVID has forced many of us to work from home under the worst circumstance. But working from home post- COVID should be what we look forward to. Of the dozens of firms I have talked to, the typical plan is that employees will work from home between one and three days a week and come into the office the rest of the time.” Nicholas Bloom, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

Nationwide said it plans to permanently transition to a hybrid operating model that comprises primarily working- from-office in four main corporate campuses and working-from-home in most other locations. The company said it will exit most buildings outside of four main campuses by November 1, 2020, and move associates in these locations to permanent remote-working status. “Our associates and our technology team have proven to us that we can serve our members and partners with extraordinary care with a large portion of our team working from home” …he continues “Our goal is to ensure that when a recovery comes, we’re prepared to win business with competitively priced solutions while enhancing our resiliency and operational efficiency,” (Nationwide CEO Kirt Walker) Source: Nationwide’s Left the Building. Insurer Makes Remote Work Permanent in 5 States. (

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a huge experiment in widespread remote working,” said Elisabeth Joyce, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice. “As business leaders plan and execute reopening of their workplaces, they are evaluating more permanent remote working arrangements as a way to meet employee expectations and to build more resilient business operations.” Source: Gartner Survey Reveals 82% of Company Leaders Plan to Allow Employees to Work Remotely Some of the Time

The common theme in all of these is to define “what coming back” might mean. Can there be business as usual or close to what we knew? How many employees will resist returning to the workspace? Is remote work now inherent in all business operations? Do we need as much physical space any longer?

And perhaps most importantly, how do we re-establish a culture of collegiality in operations that helps ensure that our employees and customers are cared for?

How prepared are you to “come back”?

Reacting to the Pandemic

When the pandemic impacted our business operations about a year ago, few were prepared for the extent of disruption and the uncertainty of its duration. The workplace had to adapt quickly to distancing the workforce from each other.

Amazingly, this result was implemented rapidly because of the crisis management of business leadership and the enabling technologies available.

The conversion of the workforce to remote work was immediate. Work from home became the rule, not the exception. Most every position had to adapt. Technology provided the primary employee connections to the business and its customers.

Operations kept adjusting as needed. There wasn’t much time to focus on maintaining the effectiveness and efficiency of operations.

The overarching goal was to keep everyone safe, as it should be.

The Experience

For many, the workday is now a constant stream of web-based conferences/dialogs. Meetings are most all held virtually. Technology is enabling many interactions with customers. Everyone is literally doing most aspects of operations in the “cloud”.

Some aspects of this experience have been beneficial to the employee and to the business. Remote work can respond to employee short and long term needs and provide for more productivity Employees can be more responsive to operational and business customer needs. The cost of facilities can be reduced.

However, most are getting increasingly frustrated with operating so completely in this manner. And perhaps some unintended damage may be occurring. Has the workday been extended to 24/7 for everyone? Has work management become totally focused on task completion? Are employees continuing to develop without the personal interaction and mentoring of colleagues? How do you effectively stay connected with each other and your customers with a “cloud” organization?

Considerations for Coming Back

In the coming months, you have the opportunity to comprehensively plan for what the future of work is for your business. Unlike reacting to the pandemic, you can anticipate what your business needs now and into future while learning from the past experiences. This time you can focus on what is needed to make operations efficient and effective.

Some suggestions for your planning:

  • Develop a strategy for how your business can be advantaged by the future of How can you better serve customers through understanding and responding to their business needs with improved communications and interaction? What new products and services will they require now and into the future? How have their expectations for your products and services changed? How do they want to be served?
  • Embrace remote work for employees if it makes business Continuing remote work for employees should be based on the requirements of their position. Some positions are just not suitable for working remotely and most require a good balance of remote work with a physical presence in the organization.
  • Establish a formal measurement system for The system should be based on outcomes from their work production that can be measured. Such a system will help ensure that employees understand what is expected of them regardless of where and when the work is performed. Also, it can bring definition to the parameters for the workday required for reasonable productivity.
  • With the continuing requirements for remote work, reevaluate the future needs for facilities. Is there a need for less personal workspace and more collaboration areas? How will the continuing dependency on web-based conferences/dialog need to be accommodated? What about records and data storage shifts in forms of media? How can the facilities be better leveraged to work with your operations, adapt to future needs and reduce costs?
  • Focus on reconnecting the organization to the Leadership should be overly attentive to their role in developing and mentoring employees. Reestablish some of the employee training and staff meetings as “in person”. Increase opportunities for teaming in the delivery of your products and services.

The workplace of just a year ago has been forever changed. However, it does not have to be what most are experiencing in reacting to the pandemic. The opportunity to “come back” with a workplace that is more effective and efficient can be pursued that will enhance your operations to the benefit of customers and employees alike.

Terry Cowles is a Founding Principal at Baskin Strategies and has over has over 38 years of consulting expertise in assisting clients in their business strategy and operational needs. He has led the determination of Leading Work Solutions for Baskin Strategies that has resulted in flexible work models used to improve employee effectiveness and provide benefits while saving office space. |