Will post-Covid business be leaner, if not meaner?
Every dark cloud has a silver lining, they say. And in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, that could be true in some respects. Out of sheer necessity, barriers that once held organisations back from introducing remote working have come down. Changes that might have taken years to bring about have happened in a matter of months. Priorities have changed, timescales have shrunk, as the focus has turned to doing whatever it takes to keep business moving. Now, as organisations consider their post-Covid future, what will it look like and which pandemic-driven changes are likely to stick?
The end of the office?
According to research by flexible working technology specialist Abintra, big businesses in England and Wales squander £10 billion a year in under-utilised office space. It is no wonder then that business leaders, seeing that their employees can work just as effectively from their kitchen tables, are questioning whether they actually need an office or as much space as they currently have.
As flexible working becomes the new normal, Fujitsu is the latest company to announce plans to reduce its property footprint. It intends to halve its office space in three years while launching satellite offices in areas where its employees reside. Barclays, Lloyds and Mastercard have similarly said that they will be consolidating their office space – and there are countless others.
Organisations may also look to use their offices in different ways. This might mean turning it into a meeting space or co-working hub, even renting it out to other businesses to recoup some of the costs. Co-working spaces, arguably, could offer businesses a more flexible alternative and the option to have employees working closer to home – as per Fujitsu’s plan.
It is reasonable to assume that most businesses will take a long hard look at the space they currently have and consider whether they actually need it, particularly if more employees are going to continue working from home.
Reimagining processes for greater efficiency
The Covid-19 pandemic has put long-held business processes to the test. Companies have found that some of the processes that once held true no longer apply in the current world of work. They are either slowing things down or are impossible to complete because they are based on past assumptions and on people working together in an office. Either way, they’re standing in the way of efficiency. According to Gartner analyst Bryan Klein, businesses shouldn’t simply be streamlining their processes but reinventing them as “it is twice as effective as streamlining at achieving the flexible processes companies need during and after this crisis.” And if processes are no longer necessary, business leaders shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of them.
Another way to optimise processes and practices is through digitisation. During the current crisis, meetings have become video calls, doctor’s appointments have become virtual consultations, enquiries have been handled by chat bots, even school lessons have gone online. Businesses should be asking themselves; is this process dependent on physical contact and how can technology optimise and transform the way we do things both internally and externally?
To travel or not to travel?
Travel restrictions have put paid to business travel for now and organisations are realising that, in many cases, they can achieve what they need to without leaving home. Meetings can be held via video call, factory or facility tours can be conducted virtually, while conferences and events can work just as well online. This is saving busy executives both time and money. Post Covid-19, businesses are likely to approach business trips in a more strategic way, restricting them to essentials only.
A focus on what really matters
That is not to say that there isn’t a role for the office, that tried and tested processes are obsolete or that physical and face-to-face communications aren’t important. It is simply that the coronavirus crisis and sudden move to remote working have highlighted slack and inefficiencies, focusing our attention on what really matters. And it is those organisations that learn from this experience and take the opportunity to streamline their processes, practices and operations that will be agile enough to respond to future challenges.
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