Many of us are guilty of thinking the whole world stopped when the pandemic first hit. We all went home, built flatpack desks, cleaned out the coffee machine, and jumped on our first 9am video call of many to come. That is simply not the case.
Singapore recently announcing that 75 per cent of staff can return to the workplace at any one time from 5 April 2021 onwards. This signals an inevitable migration back to offices for many, while for others, it will simply be another day at work – nurses will continue to save lives, police keep us safe on the streets, supermarket staff provide our food, lorry drivers deliver our goods, social workers keep children safe. In fact, 80 per cent of workers don’t work behind a desk, and many can’t – and don’t – work remotely.
Without these people, the world would have ground to a halt. People’s labour is the business – and that business needs to continue in a post-COVID world. Consultancy, social care, and construction – all very different industries, but which all depend on personal relationships and interactions. But how can this continue, with employees working from everywhere?
People leaders continue to face a big challenge: ensuring employees are working in a way that’s safe and successful. Desk or no desk, success hinges on one thing: leaving no one behind technologically.
Bidding farewell to the old way of working
In the old world, rolling out new technology in phases reduced risk in the short term. It also led to dragged out, siloed projects that failed to make an impact. When a business has to move and change fast – like the onset of the pandemic – we can see what speed is really possible. Now, the question is why we ever wanted phased implementations in the first place. From now on, it’s an all-in effort.
However, it’s not just speed that will change. The number and seniority of staff with access to new technologies will change too. When a whole workforce needs certain tools immediately – including frontline workers who have historically been left out – we can see that there’s no value in being selective. If only a small number of workers get the goods, we only know how a small part of the workforce can be transformed. The pandemic showed us that technology has to fill in the gaps between people – that means between everyone.
Creating a technocracy
To work better together, we need democracy in technology. All workers should have access to the same pool of insights, technology and resources. While we can all agree that investment in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will be key to recovery, we’ll only see success when these tools are available to us all.
Achieving this level of integration, and at speed, won’t be easy. But it can be done. Even as the pandemic hit, Fujifilm Business Innovation, the world’s leading provider of document services and printing technologies was digitally ready for the global health crisis. With Oracle Fusion Human Capital Management (HCM) Cloud established across nine markets in Asia Pacific, they were able to lead their way out of the crisis by investing in the tech, the data and processes to enable faster, better decisions. By moving staff data, HR applications, and localised policies into a single, digital platform, the organisation allowed 14,000 employees across the region access to standardised HR processes, and real-time insights into the workforce.
As ever, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, it’s important to start with making the most of the tools and systems you have already. Not all frontline workers will have the same technologies, but almost everyone will carry a smartphone. Think about all the systems they could access from this single device alone – many of us do much of our day-to-day jobs on our phones anyway, from calling clients to paying for goods.
When a business has this unity of people, purpose and technology, it can do great things. It can move much faster than before, all through empowering their people.
What’s more, when all workers are connected, the business can better support and develop them. According to a report by McKinsey, a quarter of people will need to upskill and retrain due to the shift to digital in the coming years. That’s why creating and prioritising connection – through data – is crucial. Important updates and learning opportunities can be rolled out regularly and to everyone. Instead of losing access to valuable talent, people can be deployed where they’re needed most, and be equipped with the tools to help them be their best.
Moving forward together
We’re all on our own path. While one business shifts towards a working model that’s almost entirely remote, another is readying itself for employee-centric hybrid working, and another focused on bottling up the office atmosphere to take anywhere. Each of these scenarios relies on employees to see success. It’s employees who have the potential to innovate and discover a better way of doing things – whether they are on-site, in their living rooms, or on a train. But to unlock that potential, they need equal access to new technologies – and they need it fast. In the new world of work, there will be no waiting around. It’s go time.