Letting go of ‘the old normal’ - an integrated approach to modern working
Remember how we used to talk about ‘flexible working’? It usually meant that you could log into work from home or, wherever else you happened to be, and it meant that you were always available. It also included open plan offices, hotdesking and shared work spaces. All of that seems a bit old hat today - because in the space of less than six months, our idea of the modern workplace has moved on dramatically. We might have been talking about flexible working at the start of this year, but today ‘the new normal’ is where it’s at. So maybe it’s time to really rethink the way we work. Rather than just taking ‘the old normal’ and adding a few bells and whistles.
Anyone who works knows that there are plenty of improvements we could make to the way we work. Workers are judged on the basis of how many hours they work and their productivity, for example. And for decades we have expected those same workers to spend hours in their car every week, and in some cases every day. Driving into the office – because that’s just the way we do it. So isn’t it time to fundamentally rethink the way we work? Isn’t it time to do more than just enabling people to work from home on the odd occasion? Time to reflect properly on how we would design a workplace for today’s world if we were starting from scratch – along with all the associated details such as employment contracts and IT facilities.
Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic has helped many organizations see that we really can do things differently. That entire teams can actually work together remotely. That people can be just as productive working at home. That we don’t have to be in the same room all the time to work together properly. That clients are just as satisfied, and that many employees positively thrive on this different way of working.
A lot of people already knew this even before coronavirus came along, but we have seen a major acceleration in the shift towards a new paradigm. My colleague Dirk van Sichem wrote a blog post about this back in March: How transition projects are being completed in no time …and successfully too! Suddenly there was a sense of urgency. This was a top priority. And yes, a bit of pressure really does help get things moving… Over the past six months, we have seen a transformation that might otherwise have taken a decade.
Regardless of what happens with coronavirus – and who would dare to make any predictions about that – we are entering a new era in the world of work. A ‘new normal’ is indeed taking shape. But to my surprise, this new normal is often based far too much on ‘the old normal’. This is a pitfall that we have to avoid! Because now more than ever it’s time to go the extra mile and truly let go of the past.
Many companies have been managing as best they can in recent months. Getting Microsoft Teams up and running ‘as quickly as possible’ (see this interview with Marcel Besteman for more insight into this). Some organizations already had the basic building blocks in place, but I also know of companies that had to build everything from scratch. But precious few companies that have simply taken the last few months in their stride. No wonder, then, that even if some of the new systems are now up and running, they are often held together with sticky tape and pieces of string!
Looking to the future
It’s important to take action now and make plans that will stand you and your organization in good stead regardless of what the future brings. And I think this is also exactly the right moment to be rethinking the way we work. ‘That’s the way it’s always been done’ is no longer good enough. We need to be asking ourselves tougher questions. Five days a week at the office? Fine. Every day from 9 to 5? Yes, of course. A company car for every employee? Well how else would they get to the office?
Many of these old routines simply no longer apply. Research by Capterra shows that two-thirds of Dutch workers would prefer to work from home either all the time or regularly – pandemic or no pandemic. This figure was less than 40% before coronavirus came along, according to figures from Statistics Netherlands. Research by the Knowledge Institute for Mobility Policy (KiM) shows that 45% of those currently working from home would like to continue doing so. And in the youngest demographic, people aged 35 and under, many workers would simply no longer see themselves working for an organization that requires them to be in the office full-time. That’s a thing of the past.
Reports published by the likes of PWC (‘From crisis to a new way of working’), and TwynstraGudde (‘The lasting effect of the coronavirus on the working environment’) arrive at very similar conclusions. A recent article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw provided a good description of how the employers’ association AWVN and certain academics view this question: ‘Working from home seems to be here to stay, even after the pandemic’. Even though these articles are written in Dutch and you might not be able to read it properly, it really comes down to this: if you want to keep pace and continue to recruit good staff over the next few years, the working environment that you provide is going to have to change.
A new role for the office
I’m sure that offices aren’t going to disappear entirely, but they are going to play a different role. No longer the place where the bulk of the work is done, but meeting places, a kind of headquarters where you can see your colleagues face to face and hold meetings when necessary. Places where people come to work when they consciously choose to do so.
Offices will take on a much more social role, even though this can also be done online. And that social function continues to be vital, because socializing and chatting by the coffee machine plays a key role in every organization. If it’s no longer possible for workers to meet face to face in the office, some form of replacement will need to be found. Maybe a digital meeting place, online team building, remote chat programs – things like that. Online functions will also play an important role in managing remote teams.
An integrated approach: include the entire organization
To handle these changes properly and build a solid foundation for the future, you’ll need an integrated plan that includes every part of the organization. It doesn’t matter too much what you call it – ‘working from home’, ‘flexible working’ or ‘the new normal’. What all those names have in common is that it is not just an IT project. The new opportunities that technology is bringing also require changes in areas such as HR, Legal, Finance – and vice versa.
Let’s start with the obvious: Human Resources. Policies on remote working will need to be thoroughly reviewed. And mobility policies, too. It seems likely that some employees would rather have a nice home office to work in than a first-class rail pass.
And on the subject of home offices, Facility Managers will also have their work cut out. What are you going to do with your existing office space? Will you need less space because more people will be working from home? Will you still need so much open-plan office space? Maybe more flexible workplaces and meeting rooms instead? What about parking spaces and the canteen? And how will your workers be able to reserve a desk in the office, a meeting room, a parking space or lunch in the canteen? For some organizations all this will be a piece of cake, but other companies are now facing these challenges for the very first time. It can be a lot to cope with.
Challenges are also emerging in the field of Technology and Security. In the office, we can always see exactly what is going on in the network, but this is a lot more complicated when a thousand employees are all working at home on their own networks. There can be issues around data protection, authentication, accessibility. Not to mention technical support. These are radical steps towards digitization. The Legal consequences can also be significant. Data will need to be stored in new places. Will you still be GDPR-compliant? Perhaps you also want to minimize your flows of physical documentation (snail mail, documents, etc.), but then how will you approach digital signatures…?
Flexible change, one step at a time
At Transition Experts we have developed an organic approach that involves looking at which elements need to be tackled and what dependencies are involved, one step at a time. Because of course, every organization is different. The steps that need to be taken in a manufacturing company will be completely different to an organization that only has knowledge workers.
And some companies may already have a strong HR team and not need any support in that particular area, but they do want to focus on Security or Legal issues instead. That’s why we offer a flexible, customized approach, not a standardized process. We look at what the needs of your organization and take things step by step. And then we will look for the right partners to get you where you want to be, with Transition Experts acting as your primary point of contact. So that you can take the right steps quickly and efficiently.
It’s never just IT
You may be surprised that Transition Experts, with our background in IT, has come up with a service like this. But actually Transition Experts is more than just IT. Change and change management are at the heart of all our projects. Transitions, transformations… True, the focus is usually on IT, but it’s very rarely only on IT. Our role in a project always involves change, overseeing the change process and supporting every part of the organization that will be affected by that change. So we are used to working across many different disciplines.
The impact of an IT transition always goes beyond IT alone, and our focus is on people, processes and the business as a whole. The same applies to this particular transformation, involving how you organize your working environment and the way you enable your workers to do their work. The focus always needs to be on the people affected, other on-going projects and the continuity of the organization.
As change managers, change is a constant for us. We’ll be more than happy to help you plan and manage your transformation, to identify suitable partners and coordinate their work, and then to think about where your organization might need to go next. We have many years of experience in negotiating contracts, making changes, controlling costs and representing your interests.
I’d be very interested to hear where your organization currently stands in relation to the current transformation. Which challenges are you encountering, what plans do you have and how far have you got in developing those plans? And I very much hope that you are looking beyond a few ad hoc changes to ‘the old normal’. If you would like to exchange ideas about this, without any obligation, please feel free to get in touch with me.
Gert Veldhuis, firstname.lastname@example.org, +31 (0)85 – 487 29 01
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