Many companies shifted to fully remote workforces in a matter of weeks or days in the wake of stay-at-home orders when the pandemic hit, and many workers are in no rush to return to the workplace. Many CEOs, however, aren’t ready to say goodbye to the office forever.
That said, the offices of the future are likely hybrid models that allow for more flexible work, as employees alternate between physically reporting to work and telecommuting, depending on current business needs, personal preference, and office safety requirements.
As COVID-19 eventually subsides with the advent of vaccines and companies begin to adjust to the “new normal,” several of the organizational design changes that the pandemic wrought will likely remain. Here’s a look at a few of them:
An elevation of tech
Forward-thinking companies had already begun their digital transformation before the pandemic, but the trend rapidly accelerated amid the coronavirus crisis. In adjusting tools and processes to enable workers to perform their jobs remotely, and to deliver services to customers virtually, they necessarily increased their reliance on technology to make it happen. Workers and customers who’ve grown accustomed to using such technology, in many cases, will not be willing to abandon them.
Internally, that’s elevated the role of company information technology departments, allocating more funds to their budgets and giving greater weight to the counsel of IT leaders. In addition to simply making sure that equipment is running smoothly, IT also now has an outsized role in risk management, product design, and payment processing.
Companies may also put a greater emphasis on making sure that all employees have the tech skills necessary to do business digitally.
“There will be more active learning and an increased expectation that the employees are going to be asked to learn how to use these tools at a higher level than ever before,” says Joseph Truncale, founder and principal at the advisory firm Alexander Joseph & Associates.
Flexibility and resilience
Businesses need to be able to ensure continuity of services and minimize the disruption that comes with a rapidly changing business environment. The pandemic proved how quickly business models can shift — and gave a huge competitive advantage to those companies that could quickly pivot to meet changing demands.
While long-term planning remains critical, there’s a new emphasis on short-term planning, including scenario planning for multiple outcomes.
“Quarterly is the new annual,” Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, founder and CEO of Excel Leadership Solutions and author of “The Power Paradox: Harness the Energy of Competing Ideas to Uncover Radically Innovative Solutions” says. “Strategically, we’ve been looking out two to three months, rather than a year or five years.”
An emphasis on independence and productivity
Having literally seen people working in their homes and managing children, pets, and other household challenges, even corporate executives previously lukewarm on scheduling flexibility and remote work now recognize the need for a more malleable workday.
It’s hard to micromanage a geographically dispersed team, and the pandemic forced many companies to spend less time focused on the hours employees worked or their methods of completing the job, and instead empower employees for more independent work, evaluating them based solely on their output, rather than time visibly spent working on a specific project.
A holistic focus on wellness
The coronavirus pandemic has re-enforced to companies the business imperative of policies and procedures meant to ensure holistic employee wellness — physically, mentally, and financially. Companies that have in place support structures meant to bolster employee wellness have a workforce that’s more engaged, more reliable, and more productive.
This emphasis will become even more important as companies begin bringing employees back to the office, as there will likely be lingering mental and financial ramifications from the crisis and ongoing concerns about health in the workplace.
Getting closer to the client
Companies with rigid, top-down organizational structures may move too slowly in the business environment in the future. Success in turbulent times requires smaller business units with independent managers that have the authority to make real-time decisions in the best interest of their team. Minimizing layers of bureaucracy allows organizations to adapt to challenges more quickly, and to meet the specific demands of a specific sector.
While in some companies that may mean a flatter, less hierarchical structure, it could also simply mean more communications up-and-down the command chain about what changes need to happen.
“Leaders need to be connecting often enough and closely enough with the people that are on the ground looking at the leading indicators for the business,” says Jarrod Shappell, a partner with the organizational and leadership consultancy Navalent.
Companies underwent significant organizational design changes over the past year, and it appears certain that many of those changes will remain in place through 2021 and beyond. Even with continued uncertainty, organizations that can embrace these changes are set to thrive in the months and years ahead.