If there’s one consensus belief about the long-term effect of the pandemic on enterprises and their workspaces, it’s that employers will have to place a high value on flexibility in creating and delivering the workplace of the future. Someday, hopefully soon, COVID-19 will be behind us, but the threat of future pandemics will haunt all planning that enterprises engage in from now on. Furthermore, COVID-19’s ripple effects — chiefly the embrace of remote working by large segments of the workforce and management that previously resisted it — will make employee experience a force of nature in its own right, apart from any outside factors like pandemic or natural disaster that may compel changes.
So, here’s a couple of notes on workplace flexibility from recent news and analysis:
- Business Insider cited an interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai to describe what workplace flexibility may look like at that bellwether employer. Saying, “We don't think the future is just 100% remote,” Pichai nevertheless emphasized that Google was paying close attention to how future work arrangements affect employees’ work-life balance, especially when it comes to the long commutes that many of its Bay Area employees endured before the pandemic put them into WFH mode.
Pichai had a useful phrase for how Google might think about office-based work in the future: “on-sites.” In other words, working arrangements might flip the legacy-world script: Instead of laboring away in the office most days and then retreating to a company-sponsored “off-site” to engage more deeply and collaboratively, employees might do their day-to-day work at home, and intersperse this time with periodic office “on-sites” meant for collaboration and rejuvenation.
- This article from Wired (sponsored by Accenture) describes a deeper way in which this concept of pandemic-driven flexibility can drive digital transformation. The author cites the success of telemedicine and remote financial consultations during the pandemic, and suggests that these digital-driven successes will push enterprises to disrupt their own businesses. The article quotes the CEO of a future-focused think tank: “Digital destroys and eliminates all of the individual barriers between individual industries.”
We’ve seen isolated examples of this in the past few years. Last year, McDonald’s acquired an AI company to better automate its drive-thrus, effectively making the restaurant giant also a tech company. The Wired article even cites the example of Cisco, a maker of high-tech hardware and software, deciding to undertake its own production of 3-D printed face shields.
So, from a business perspective as well as an employee-facing sense, COVID-19 is driving digital deeper into the enterprise, and that dynamic is itself likely to change the way enterprises do business. And those with a more flexible approach to all facets of the enterprise will likely gain ground on their competition.