Time to Look Ahead – 2020 and the Future of Work

Written By: Claire Agutter
Content Copyright © 2020 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Bloor blogs

Time to Look Ahead – 2020 and the Future of Work banner

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”

An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde

Do you remember that lovely business plan that you started 2020 with? Where is it now? If it’s anything like mine, it lasted until the end of quarter one before getting ripped up and cast aside. 2020 has created change at a speed and scale that we’ve never seen before, affecting individuals, organizations and societies. In this blog, I’m going to talk about some of the changes that we’ve all experienced, and why it’s more important to look ahead than behind us. If we are to take 2020 as an opportunity as well as a challenge, there are five key focus areas that businesses need to think about.

Writing this, I don’t forget that 2020 has had a massive negative impact on all of our lives, and some of the ripples haven’t stopped. The only thing we can control is how we react to it. This year has changed where we work, when we work and how we work, as well as who we work with and why we work. My focus here is mainly on the organizations that have moved to a home working model, although I recognize of course that there are some jobs where this isn’t possible. I’ll be addressing organizational change and how we manage this in future content.

Focus Area 1: People

People are at the heart of every organization and we must think about the physical and mental health of our teams. The rapid changes we’ve all made this year have meant that some people have had to do jobs they didn’t expect to do, and the large amounts of firefighting taking place in some organizations have created a real risk of burnout. Working from home creates challenges for people as they try to manage their work/life balance, and leaders and managers have been put under pressure like never before.

An IT Architecture Manager working in a high-pressure role was furloughed and spent four weeks home schooling his children. He realized what he was missing out on due to his long commutes and stress levels. After being made redundant, he found a new role that would allow him to spend more time with his family.

What can we focus on here?

For many managers, the biggest change has been the shift from face-to-face to virtual teams. There are some important actions that managers can take to support the people they work with and who look to them for guidance.

Firstly, trust the team. If your organization is a fairly traditional command and control (even micro-managing) environment, this is a big step. You’ll need to support your team by clearly defining outcomes, so that they understand exactly what needs to be done and how their productivity is measured. Accept that productivity might be lower than you are used to; your team are going through big changes as well and they need time to adapt.

I heard from one person whose manager expected them to log onto the team chat at 8.30am and 5pm every day, to ‘prove’ that they had been working.

You can read more about the importance of a two-way Trust culture in this earlier post, The Future of Work lies in a two-way Trust Culture 25 August 2020.

Let the team choose tools to work with to help them collaborate, and remember that communication is more important than ever. If you’re used to in-person conversations, the shift to virtual comms can be trying. You’ll need to ‘over-communicate’ to get your message across, so don’t be afraid to send it via email, add it to team chat and mention it in the team call.

Video on, or video off? Some organizations are adopting a ‘video on’ policy for all calls, and others are recognizing that their staff find this unwelcome and intrusive. Don’t force things onto your team. This also applies for ‘organized fun’ – if you weren’t a sociable team before lockdown, Friday 5pm virtual drinks might not be what your team needs.

There are some things that individuals can do as well. Think about knowledge management within the team – it’s tempting to have video calls for everything, but how will information shared in a call be retrieved? You might need to use more written communication than you did previously. Protect your time and, if you’re a knowledge worker, don’t be afraid to go offline. If you need to think, being disturbed by endless notifications will not help. As we all understand this is a long-term situation, think about your working patterns and what is best for you. Are you a night owl? As long as it fits with the rest of your team, why not change your working day?

If you feel nervous about going offline, notify your team. “I’ll be working on the report for the next two hours, so I’ll catch up on my emails after that”. Everyone will get used to this very quickly, and you’ll be able to work uninterrupted.

Focus Area 2: Organizational Resilience

This has to be the new buzzword for 2020 – resilience. How do we cope as an organization when faced with a new set of challenges? Here are some things to focus on for organizational resilience.

Firstly, have you got firm foundations? Organizations who understand how work gets done find it easier to adapt to change. If you’ve got effective processes (particularly knowledge management) and good technology in place, this will save you a lot of time when you plan for changes. Techniques and frameworks like OBASHI dataflow mapping and the VeriSM management mesh can help to build a picture of your current state, as well as helping you plan for your desired future state when change is needed.

One UK organization found Brexit planning had been a useful dry run for COVID. They had locked all staff out of the building some weeks previously as part of their testing.

How is your business continuity planning? If business continuity is an annual exercise based on a few typical scenarios (fire, flood, etc.) you may need a rethink. Consider an agile approach to business continuity, focused on creating autonomous, empowered teams who are confident about responding to change. Resilient organizations respond quickly – this year, we’ve seen that happen in the short term as staff are moved to home working, and then in the longer term as new technology is deployed and business processes are adapted.

Organizational resilience is a measure of your ‘bounceback-ability’. One final thing to check is whether you’re ready to bounce back again. If your staff are all burnt out responding to existing challenges, you don’t have the organizational energy to cope with anything else that may happen.

Focus Area 3: Supply Network

Who do you rely on as a business? Who relies on you? What happens if one of your suppliers can no longer operate at normal levels?

Most organizations now have complex, inter-connected supply networks. Our suppliers sub-contract to other suppliers, leading to a lack of transparency. We work with organizations all over the world, which has created challenges this year when lockdowns have been applied in different ways in different countries.

A UK financial organization lost much of its customer service capability. Outsourced teams located in India weren’t able to work from home due to poor local infrastructure, leading to higher workloads for UK staff and a scramble for resources. A UK based organization with its support service in Macedonia experienced no interruption due to their local infrastructure.

To get the full benefit from our supply network during a crisis, here are some things to focus on.

Firstly, (I say this again), have you got firm foundations? Do you know your supply network, including sub-contractors and dependencies? Do you understand the contracts that you have in place and your ability to scale your supply network up or down when needed?

In a crisis, pointing to clause 4 section 3.2 of the contract doesn’t usually help. In this situation, strong relationships with suppliers are far more effective, encouraging a culture of collaboration allowing you to all pull together. The service integration and management (SIAM) methodology encourages a culture of cross-collaboration between all suppliers in a network.

Focus Area 4: Connectivity is Life

Imagine doing 2020 without the internet. Good connectivity has helped us to work, but it’s also allowed us to shop and to access limitless entertainment.

From an organizational perspective, there are some important considerations here. Firstly, governance, risk and compliance (GRC). Where is your data now? How is it protected? How are you able to demonstrate your compliance? Many organizations were still worrying about ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) considerations, but we now need to think about ‘bring your own internet’ (BYOI) and how we govern data that is being shared via people’s home connections. For staff in rural areas in the UK, connection speed can also be an issue, in addition to security.

In the longer term, we need to be thinking about what our work patterns will look like. As organizations consider becoming more flexible, we need to build the technical infrastructure to support our people.

Focus Area 5: Look Ahead

For most organizations, their pandemic response had three phases. Phase one was reactive, often panicked, a scramble to keep business processes working and data moving. Phase two was a stabilization phase, as temporary solutions bedded in and everyone got used to the changes. What will phase three look like? That’s really up to us.

Roy Atkinson (CEO, Clifton Butterfield) suggests organizations ask the question “what did we have before that is worth rushing back to?”

Many organizations are still talking about a ‘return to normal’, but I would suggest a higher goal than that. Let’s aim for something better, not just a change back to where we were. The way we worked before this year was based on decades (if not centuries) of evolution. Patterns don’t get questioned because they are just ‘how things are done’. This year has given us the chance to ask the big questions. Why do we work the way we do? Why do we work five days out of seven? Why do most of us work the same five days? Why do we work 40 hours a week? What could our future look like, including where we work, when we work, who we work with and why we work? How could our societies and our travel patterns change? We have an opportunity to ask and to answer these questions – let’s take it.

This post is part of our Future of Work series. You can read the previous post or find them all in our Future of Work section. If you’d like to discuss how we can help get you prepared for the way work and business is changing, then please contact us.