Many business leaders told me they planned to reopen their offices in May. Then in mid-May, after their state’s restrictions were lifted, they told me that they had delayed until June. Now, the date they have in mind is July. History teaches us, however, that the bold, early innovator in a crisis, not the laggard, becomes the industry leader.
The reasons they give me for not opening their offices are similar:
- Remote work for office workers is going better than they thought. Empirical evidence from a May survey supports this view. Some 70 percent of managers and employees report that they are as productive or more productive working from home as they were in the office. My own research also confirms that home-based workers are 22% more productive than those in the office.
- They have not figured out how to make their rest rooms safe due to toilet bloom. The solution may require installing toilet lids.
- The ventilation in their offices would blow COVID19 particulates around further than six feet, raising health concerns.
- Their employees do not feel safe coming into the office. Again, empirical evidence confirms this finding as two-third of employees do not want to return to the office. When they are required to return to the office, 73 percent want the office disinfected, and 64 percent want a government agency to inspect the facility. Some 60% want to be wearing masks, have others wear masks, and maintain six feet of distancing. About half want an end to hand-shakes.
- Their lawyers tell them the liabilities are too high. There are many considerations for reopening an office, including checking the most recent guidance from the CDC, OSHA, ADA, and state and local regulatory bodies. Although COVID19 lawsuits are currently few, they are expected to grow and could be costly. How much is anyone’s guess. Many states have taken action to prevent such lawsuits. Walmart, cruise lines, and meat packing plants, however, have been sued for COVID19 liability.
The list could go on.
These are troubling and confusing times. Frankly, until we have a reliable vaccine, cure, or herd immunity, none of which are probable until 2021—later–these struggles will remain.
There is another, fundamental obstacle to transitioning to the office environment of the future: the cost, fear, and challenge of bold digital transformation. Many leaders also tell me the cost of IT upgrades and cypersecurity to further enhance the productivity or innovation of their remote workers, supply chains, and external partners is too expensive.
What they do not comprehend yet, is that the office of the future is today.
The early mover will reap the benefits of profitable growth, not the laggards. The post-COVID19 office environment requires an integrated and comprehensive approach to digitization, and that journey needs to begin this quarter.
In the post-COVID19 era, recent research from McKinsey shows that companies that implement bold and comprehensive digital strategies outperform their rivals and benefit from higher revenue and EBIT growth even after including the cost of digitization.
McKinsey defines investing boldly in tightly integrated digital strategies as the digitization of the following:
- Products and services
- Marketing and distribution
- Supply chain
While most companies have invested in digitizing their products and services, McKinsey reports that many have under invested in ecosystems, supply chains, and processes. These companies can significantly improve their EBIT and revenue growth by investing in these other areas. Even better, companies that implement an integrated digitization strategy achieve higher revenue and EBIT growth.
However, digitization is not easy and can face many internal obstacles. McKinsey reports that companies that can overcome the pitfalls of siloed mind-sets and behaviors and insular and uncollaborative cultures are more successful at implementing digitization. Recent research from InnovationOne and The Conference Board has similar findings.
Gartner advises that unlike past initiatives, digital transformation doesn’t have a definite end goal. Therefore, businesses need a new approach: digital transformation shouldn’t be treated as a project with concrete time-lines and budget, but rather as a product that requires continuous development.
The shift to digital business requires constant change. As new technologies and market trends evolve, so too must the organization, its processes and operations.
It is time to recognize that we are in a disruptive era requiring bold action on how to conduct business. It is time to rethink our paradigms on how, when, and where work is performed and the technology required–and invest in digitization boldly. Below are four strategies:
- Create a vision for the post-COVID19 digital transformation. As COVID19 was hitting the world, about 79 percent of companies were just beginning their digital transformation. However, few were successful at it. This insight is crucial because too often, cost has been the overriding factor when it comes to technology. CEOs have a leading role to play now in ensuring companies address value creation across their business from supply chain to products and services, ecosystems, productivity, cybersecurity, and resiliency. McKinsey provides excellent guidance.
- Managers need to double down on long-standing effective leadership skills, which can immensely improve the effectiveness of remote work. These leadership skills include setting clear norms for working remotely and for keeping in touch with each other. Managers need to use digital tools and provide constant communications on priorities, deadlines, and expectations, and ongoing performance and developmental feedback. As always, each manager must learn to build trust with each employee. Learn more.
- Invest in intelligent digital assistants. The days of walking down the hall to IT or human resources or to call 1-800 call centers for routine calls are over. Employees rarely read the policy statements on the company’s websites. By 2021, Gartner, Inc. predicts that 25 percent of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) on a daily basis. This will be up from less than two percent in 2019. Most questions employees ask of IT, HR and Finance can be answered by intelligent digital assistants. For many companies, digital assistants provide a smart return on investment.
- Rethink how the office is used as a gathering and collaboration place. Once the employee concerns about getting infected are overcome, the post-COVID19 office of the future will become the place to meet safely for more private business conversations, brainstorming and project meetings, and to socialize in small, safe groups. While work will remain at home for most employees, safe spaces will need to be created at offices for workers whose homes are not suitable for ‘head’s down’ work. In addition, space will be needed for R&D employees and those working with hard-copy files too sensitive for internet storage. The office of the future can be an effective place for face-to-face collaboration and to keep employees emotionally aligned to the company’s vision, strategies, and outcomes. Besides, most workers want to come into the office about 2.5 days a week, if it is safe.
Business leaders should no longer keep delaying opening up their offices. It is time to bust the paradigm of office work and where, when, and how it is performed. It requires a bold digitization strategy and leadership. The future is NOW.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne. He works with companies on their post-COVID19 transformations, and to improve their recruiting, HR operations, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures of innovation. His new book is Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.