new normal for workplace operations spelt in scrabble letters

Future of Workplace Operations Post COVID-19

If the past year has taught us anything, no one can predict the future. But after the global operations overhaul in response to the pandemic, there are some clear patterns to dig into. Employers and employees have developed new habits and trends that started long before COVID-19 accelerated. Here we look at some of the factors most likely to influence future workplace operations and how you can use lessons learned to adapt in the years to come.

1. Control What You Can

Before 2020, many businesses would have said that trade and new technologies were the highest workplace disruption threats. In the post-Covid world, we have to adjust our thinking to include factors that are closer to home and more within direct organizational control. 

When evaluating workplace operations, employers may now consider physical space, workflow process adjustment, communication tools, and increasing digital interaction points with coworkers and customers as essential variables in organizational planning. 

Organizations that were able to “coast” previously may have been caught standing still when faced with the past year’s realities. Flexibility was a key trait for many businesses that could adapt and respond quickly to the pandemic, so expect organizations to continue this trend rather than snap back to old rigid habits moving forward. 

2. Essential Industries Changed Long Term

Businesses that were deemed essential or had higher physical proximity or interaction with the public were the ones that had the most transformation during the last year. Business models for these organizations and within these industries have changed significantly, and the likelihood of them changing back to pre-covid norms is low.

The acceleration of ecommerce and automation solutions in these industries has caused a massive behavior change both with workers and consumers, which is likely to stay for good. The adoption and expansion of curbside pick-up processes or pre-ordering goods rocketed up during the pandemic. Digital transactions, expanded customer service and ecommerce capabilities are now the expected norm. Even in service-based industries, consumers expect to communicate with an organization instantly outside of typical work hours with fast follow-ups.

Approximately 75% of people using digital channels for the first time over the last year say they will continue once things return to “normal”. This trend will cause increased hiring in delivery, warehousing, customer service roles and new expertise required in online and virtual sales and support.

3. Remote Is Here to Stay

Remote work was on the rise before the pandemic, but now it has become a more significant part of the global workplace operational structure, and even an expectation in some industries. For office-based and administrative sectors it is now proven that the majority of work can be done from home. New studies show that up to 25% of workforces in advanced economies could work remotely 3-5 days per week. This is almost five times more remote work than before the pandemic.

Operations managers may now have to connect more often with those who aren’t in the office, similar to how they work with remote staff in the field or other locations. Communication technology that allows for cloud-based access, real-time updates on workflow and inventory, and instant reporting, will be one of the most valuable tools for forward-thinking operations leaders.

hand stopping falling blocks representing new focus on crisis management in workplace operations

4. Evolved Crisis Management 

Previously, workplace emergency responses and health and safety protocols were based around fire, natural disasters, or on-site accidents. The pandemic broadened what many employers would consider an emergency, and many of the new habits and procedures that now protect us at work could be applied long term. 

Many businesses spent considerable time over the past year investing in:

  • Updated health and safety procedures
  • Employee screening tools
  • Designated COVID-19 response teams
  • Expanded emergency response policies
  • Workplace automation technology
  • Revised workflow and organizational structure

There is a massive opportunity for organizations to continue to invest in employee health and crisis planning. These investments are areas businesses can directly take the lessons learned to grow into more health-conscious organizations ready for anything thrown at them. 

5. Hiring and Reskilling the Leaders of Tomorrow

The huge amount of uncertainty in the labour force in early 2020 altered industry forecasts and workplace operations trends and paused or redirected many workers’ career plans. Over the next year to 18 months, many people will be looking to switch jobs or find new careers, so hiring and recruitment will be a focus for many businesses. 

While we discovered that many tasks can be completed remotely, we also learned that negotiations, brainstorming, employee feedback, and new worker onboarding can be less effective when not in person. Organizational leaders should focus on building robust onboarding and integration processes, especially in remote environments. Also, employers should speak openly about successes and challenges faced during the pandemic. Transparency will go a long way to attracting prospective employees.

A recent study showed that 84% of workers that retained their job during the pandemic show the same or increased loyalty to their employer. Employers should take stock of this rising trend and invest in their employees and increase their professional development. With people staying put in their jobs, employers should consider setting succession plans, spending on training and career development, and returning their loyalty. 

6. Increased Automation and Workplace Operations Refinement

Historically, the main ways businesses have controlled costs and uncertainty during a recession or other work disruptions are adding automation and refining workflow to reduce shared tasks. A July 2020 study showed that 67% of surveyed senior executives said they were increasing investment in automation or AI technology. 

We discussed how this trend has significantly changed essential industries but it will be important for all businesses and organizations to take a deeper look at how they assess workflow and manage operations. Tools that dig into how work is completed, touchpoints in day-to-day operations, bottlenecks, and wasted time, will help leaders create efficiencies for the future. 

Operations management professionals should try to remove past bias when reevaluating workflow and forget about how things have been done in the past. New workflows can focus on critical tasks and how they are completed and supported by the larger team, rather than sticking to existing buckets of work determined just by job description.  

The future of workplace operations will include maintaining flexibility, investing in automation tools, optimizing remote work, expanding health and safety standards, and attracting and retaining top talent. After a year mostly defined by change, embrace the opportunity to use all we have learned and the tools available to more accurately predict the future of your organization.