By Smarp's Chairman, Pedro Ros -
The Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented upheaval: Two-thirds of the world’s population has been asked to stay at home, virtually paralysing the economies of the main countries in the Western World. People have stopped traveling. They’ve stopped going to work, stopped meeting for social gatherings, and all sports and entertainment events have been cancelled.
Organisations of every type, operating in every sector, are facing the challenge of forced disruption. This is unknown territory for all of us.
This situation has boosted digital activity everywhere and almost certainly paves a way for a massive change in the way we live and work. Most traditional face-to-face trading has stopped and will have to start again when everything is over. People are describing this state of events as “the new normal”. I believe this is a significant understatement.
The key question is this:
“How will the world of work be changed by the time we are able to function as we did before?”
Whilst our primary concern right now is undoubtedly for the safety and well-being of family, friends and colleagues, I would like to share with you three fundamental changes I anticipate:
1. Redefining employer/employee relationships
As I outlined in my previous article about leadership in times of crisis, employers and leaders will be remembered by their responses to Covid-19 and their attitudes and actions in the months that lie ahead. Openness and transparency will be essential in developing these new relationships, which will be less transactional and more based on trust, common objectives and shared values.
People will expect much more from their employers. Employees, particularly those working remotely, will need regular communication in order to stay informed about their organisations. This builds mutual understanding and also aligns people with organisational values and objectives. Technology and social media will play a major part in communication, both internally and outside the organisation.
At the same time, people will find that their employers’ expectations have evolved. New organisations will be more virtual and will require an employee to be digitally savvy, more proactive and more of a team player than ever. Employers will also want to leverage a broader talent pool by increasing their appeal to would-be distance workers, enabling them to return to work.
2. Reimagining the workplace
In recent weeks, the dynamics of working life have advanced by years. There will be a major rethink about the way we use office space once we are in a position to occupy it again. Workplaces, particularly offices, will be very different now that both employers and employees know that people can work remotely without a major impact.
Reducing occupancy costs will surely be high on the list of employers’ priorities, while employees will seek to balance the convenience of working remotely with the desire to remain part of a physical community. During recent weeks, advice and tips on how to work from home have been widespread, and people have embraced them, with technology again at the forefront.
Organisations of all sizes have implemented these changes at an astonishing rate – changes that would not have happened as a result of an individual corporate initiative. These are changes that are here to stay.
3. Rebalancing client/supplier dynamics
Recently, the seemingly impossible has been happening with increasing regularity. New hospitals have been built in weeks, rather than years, while new life-saving products have been developed by non-specialists and approved in similar timescales. Disruption has been forced not only on healthcare providers, but also on organisations in many other sectors, changing the demand/supply balance.
There will inevitably be a top-to-bottom review of many commercial agreements after ‘normal’ trading has restarted. It will not be one-way traffic either – both clients and suppliers have realised that the existing rules no longer apply.
Personal relationships alone will not provide a strong enough foundation for rebuilding. Innovation will be more important than ever, and true, open and equal partnership will be mandatory, with the most creative players likely to succeed. Communications technologies and social media have kept our businesses operational during this crisis. They will be an essential part of the new normal.
A warning: There is no alternative
These are the challenges that we will face. Maintaining this new normal may be a progressive process, but we must start embracing these changes now, and plan for them in advance. Organisations that do so effectively will come out ahead.
Pedro Ros, Smarp's Chairman, has 25 years of international experience notably as CEO of TNS (WPP) and CEO of Wilmington plc.