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As we prepare ourselves for the “new normal” that everyone is talking about, there is one thing we can all agree on – without a doubt, the Covid-19 global pandemic will change the way we work in future.
We will eventually begin shaking hands, high-fiving and hugging again. We’ll be keen to get back to those Friday afternoon work drinks. And one day we’ll travel for work again.
But it will be interesting to see how many of us are as excited about getting back into traffic to commute to an office for an 8-hour day. And more importantly, if there are to be more pandemics in future, as many global scientists are predicting, what can we learn from this experience to prepare us for the future?
Having scrambled up the learning curve of how to run a business from remote locations, many of us have had a taste of the freedom and flexibility of working from home (along with all the challenges that came with it). Is this something worth continuing with, even on a smaller scale?
At ROLL, we’re continually studying how organisations function so that we can support and improve the way people work and help businesses introduce efficiencies.
What we’ve learned from lock-down is that many of us can run a business using non-traditional ways of working. We’re likely to see more businesses trial and roll out some of these new methods which focus mainly on location and hours.
A new approach to working spaces and locations
We predict we’ll see two things. First, there will likely be an increase in staff members requesting to work from home more. Online file sharing, collaboration tools and video conferencing make the logistics of this easier than ever before. While these tools don’t address issues such as maintaining company culture and service delivery consistency, they do make day-to-day operations feasible. If you’ve got good systems in place, it is possible to run a business – particularly a service-based one – from remote locations.
This doesn’t necessarily mean working from home. We’re likely also to see an increased interest in shared offices or community co-working spaces – a way to allow people to work remotely, but not in isolation (reminiscent of the level 4 concept of physical, not social, distancing).
This isn’t a new concept at all, but what was previously thought to be a solution for smaller creative hubs is now being considered by larger organisations. Companies have already started to weigh the costs and benefits of high central city rents against the perks of community shared offices. Splitting up a workforce into satellite offices isn’t as daunting as we once thought – especially when there are numerous benefits of being closer to home (shorter commutes, lower transport costs, logistics of school runs, etc).
Research conducted by market research firm GlobalWebIndex concludes that “remote working is linked to business agility and personal empowerment”. Their data suggest that “businesses licensed to work from home acquire a culture of personal autonomy and independent problem-solving. As such, the remote working environment cultivates employees who maintain faith both in the company itself and their personal ability to make worthwhile contributions.”
There is talk in New Zealand of the staff of the National Business Review moving to a working-from-home model. NBR publisher Todd Scott has been active on social media commenting on #TheNewNBR – where staff are working full-time from home on full salary, while saving the business “a recurring, increasing annual fixed cost of $311,000”.
A new approach to working hours
The other significant change experienced by many firms during lock-down was the need to manage variable working hours. Without a commute into the office, factory or shop, employees at home were often working staggered hours – some starting earlier, others enjoying a bit of a lie-in, many working in time blocks around parenting duties, and others logging back on in the evenings, an option made possible by the lack of after-school sports and activities and evening social outings.
As well as co-working spaces, we’ve seen the rise of alternatives to the traditional childcare model. Shared babysitting or nanny services are becoming popular as families re-consider whether they want their children going back to large and/or expensive daycare facilities or after-school programs. For employees adopting new working hours, shared childcare options also provide more flexibility outside of the traditional nine to five routine. We start to see the domino effect of how new business practices impact the chain of supply across industries.
A number of pros and cons have emerged through this interesting remote working experiment. For years New Zealand businesses have boasted an open-minded approach to flexible working arrangements. Our employment laws even stipulate a “right to request” and a “duty to consider” them.
Now that we’ve had a taste of it, will we be wondering how necessary it is to be in the office at 8 or 9 am (or at all)?
A series of research reports released by GlobalWebIndex focussed on the effects of coronavirus on consumer habits and workplace practices. Coronavirus Research | April 2020, Series 7: Work Behaviors summarised some of the benefits uncovered. “Among those who are working from home, the biggest benefit overall is more flexible working hours (58%), followed by the added free time of not commuting (47%).” The knock-on benefits included better eating and sleeping habits, and having extra time in the morning to exercise or spend time with family.
In 2018 Perpetual Guardian made news when it trialled a four-day work week for its employees – a system which it eventually rolled out and has resulted in reported improvements in work-life balance and job satisfaction for staff.
But what about productivity?
Every business owner we’ve come across has shared the same concern, asking the same question: If we offer team members flexibility around hours and location, what effect will that have on productivity?
Productivity is a complex concept – one dependent on the staff you have, how you motivate them, how you define and measure productivity, and several other variables that differ from one organisation to another.
In the true sense of the word, productivity relates to what you produce – your outputs and yield define how effective you are and whether you are using your time and resources wisely. It comes down to the equation of inputs vs outputs, and ROI.
This is where ROLL can help.
Our software helps organisations in two key areas – operations and finances. ROLL gives organisations greater visibility around where they’re using their resources, how they’re using their time, and how all of this affects the bottom line.
Owners and managers worry about ensuring that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and working the number of hours they’re being paid for. But what we saw during lock-down was a growing sense of trust and empowerment, where the outputs were the focus, not the hours and locations – an approach of “I don’t mind where and when you do it, just make sure the work gets done”.
ROLL allows you to confidently track work, gain visibility, allocate costs, improve collaboration and time management. It can actually improve working relationships and connectivity between team members – particularly those working from remote locations or during different hours. For companies where employees are working staggered hours or broken shifts (think of the parent who stops work at 3pm when children are finished school, and then gets back into it later in the evening), ROLL helps give managers clarity around hours worked and outputs. You could even use it to assess whether productivity is greater during the day when team members are around compared to the early morning or late evening shifts when people tend to do more uninterrupted work.
One of the biggest lessons we’ve all faced because of the drastic impact of Covid-19 is the need for our businesses to be financially prepared for unexpected events or market changes. We’re hoping we never experience another sudden shut-down of business as we’ve just seen. But it has been a real eye-opener for many about how dependent business can be on regular cash flow and surety of incoming cash.
ROLL has several easy-to-use features that enable you to do future modelling and forecasting, looking at what’s in the pipeline, and seeing how changes made to various elements can affect profitability.