Creating the Next Normal

BrandPost By Karl Sun
Mar 23, 2021
IT Leadership

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Credit: iStock

Understatement of the year: The pandemic made it critical for companies to adapt in order to keep employees safe yet productive and engaged. Under duress, we created a “new normal” to survive, shifting to remote work and more agile operations.

But with an uncertain future ahead, we need to stop thinking about this shift in the short term. For example, we can now expect workplaces to include remote workers, in-office employees, and a greater shift toward a hybrid workforce—and that’s just one way that work is evolving. Businesses need to determine how they can thrive, how they can continue innovating in a new world.

The challenge then, of course, falls to IT leaders to set up processes and technology that support whatever may come. What proactive actions can they take in order to create what McKinsey has defined as the “next normal” for employees?

What is the Next Normal?

This term describes the era that will emerge post-COVID-19, which will include “a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated.”

Essentially, many of us have been waiting for things to “get back to normal,” but as businesses look to return to office or adapt to local public health guidelines, we can’t expect normal to look the same as it did.

Not only is it impossible to shift back to the way things were given our ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, but results of working from home indicate that we might not even want to. After a period of adjustment—once team members had finally mastered Zoom calls and figured out a dedicated workspace with the right equipment—businesses began recognizing the upsides to this new way of working. In a KPMG survey from August 2020, 77% of large-company CEOs indicated that working remotely has widened their potential talent pool, and 68% marked that communications with employees had improved during the COVID-19 crisis. Plus, the change of setting hasn’t slowed down employees. 94% of 800 employers surveyed by Mercer said that their company productivity was either the same or higher than it was before the pandemic.

So we’re unsure of the long-term repercussions of the pandemic—and we would like to keep the flexibility and other benefits gained from the WFH lifestyle—where does that leave CIOs and IT leaders?

Many companies, especially in the tech space, had been incrementally moving toward digital transformation before coronavirus struck: migrating their systems to the cloud, instituting BYOD policies, building up a tech stack, etc. But now digital transformation isn’t an end goal far out in the future—it’s a critical need in this moment.

What proactive actions can we take?

McKinsey has identified strategic areas that companies must think through to thrive in a post-COVID-19 return to work. CIOs need to focus on these two key priorities: rethinking the organization and accelerating digital adoption. As it turns out, these priorities work hand in hand.

In rethinking the organization, businesses need to decide how to work and how to grow. COVID-19 forced businesses to launch initiatives and make changes that would ordinarily take months or years. Now that companies have proven they can move at an accelerated pace, why wouldn’t this be the standard of work going forward? Businesses can be much more competitive and weather any crisis when they can quickly align around a decision and act.

But switching to more agile operations long-term will require supporting technology—including new forms of communication.

Who would have thought, even just a year ago, how many times a day we would now use the word “Zoom”? The use of this video conferencing software shot from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020. To adapt to the next normal, IT leaders need to continue being receptive to these new technologies. They need to adopt new processes and digital solutions that not only deliver on changing customer expectations but also make it easier for employees to work and communicate with our changing work environments.

Collaboration hasn’t fundamentally changed much for decades, and the pandemic has forced us to rethink it all. Providing ways for employees to not only communicate with each other but collaborate visually together will be a fundamental necessity in order to keep teams aligned and moving forward.

Why visual collaboration is essential to the reimagined org

Visuals support agility and alignment within teams in multiple ways. When you can visualize complex ideas—say you’re mapping out a process or trying to explain the current state of your architecture—it’s easier to get everyone literally on the same page. From there, you can spot inefficiencies or opportunities for improvement and move forward with purpose.

And moving forward into a time where employees can’t necessarily meet in the same room or drop by someone’s desk to get input, having a visual at the center is crucial to prevent misunderstanding.

Visuals can also elicit better engagement from employees. Take strategic planning, for example. Such meetings can be a slog of reviewing spreadsheets, and what’s to stop a team member from tuning out over a Zoom call? But when employees can drop their ideas into a visual workspace, group together similar initiatives, prioritize, vote, and together create consensus around what they should do next, they’ll feel more involved and eager to execute.

Companies had to rethink their business strategies in the last year, and they’ll have to keep doing that again and again and again. In the Next Normal, we need to reconsider our methods of communication to form those strategies as well. Teams can only act as fast and effectively as they communicate.

The pandemic undoubtedly brought a lot of hardship to businesses, but as we move forward, it has also presented us with an opportunity to take what we have learned and change the workspace forever and for the better. Last year wasn’t the first time that businesses will encounter a new normal, but armed with an agile mindset and improved methods of collaboration, we’ll be ready for whatever comes next.

Discover how you can prepare your team for the next normal in this webinar from Lucid.