How COVID-19 will permanently change working life

COVID-19 has created many business challenges with no industry left untouched. Iress Chief Technology Officer Andrew Todd takes a look at the impact of coronavirus on how we all work.

While we have a long road ahead of us to emerge from this crisis, there are clear signs of a permanent and a positive impact on how we all work. Within this period of rapid adjustment to modified work life, a permanence is setting in, and it's difficult to see things reverting to what they were.

As a technology company dedicated to agile work practices, we believe colocation enables teams to do their best work. We support the principle that everyone should have equal access to information, and autonomy to make decisions. In a global business with engineering teams located all over the world, it was simplest to achieve this when people were in the same office. We've spent time and effort to create physical environments and ways of working to deliver on this vision.

Business agility in this new world is only possible where there has been an appropriate investment to create and support a workplace technology stack with strong foundations. It must be easy to use, enabling people to access information and connect with colleagues or clients. This was important before the pandemic but is now essential.

COVID-19 and self-isolation has shown us a future where the right skills and knowledge can be instantly brought together with a couple of clicks. It’s also forced us to figure out how to keep the best of our in-person agile practices while adapting them to support the new remote workplace.

There are cultural elements that require focus, such as ensuring rituals like stand-ups, retrospectives and planning sessions are maintained and operated effectively. This includes encouraging all people to turn on their webcams to replicate 'face-to-face' conversations. Etiquette must be maintained to ensure all people have an equal voice. These practices and principles require extra focus and attention when everyone is working remotely.

It’s true that most people resist change, but they are also adaptable and resilient when needed.

Our commitment to agile and flexible working has been a big help in rapidly shifting nearly 2000 people across to working from home. I've heard some painful stories where companies were unprepared and had underinvested in both technology and culture. The response to this has even included reintroducing timesheets to ensure people are productive. Timesheets do not do that. As well as being an unproductive administrative waste, it can hardly instil confidence, engagement and positivity in people already grappling with a range of personal and psychological issues brought on by the pandemic.

Strong leadership and direction are also required. This will have a lasting impact on the business given the emotional impact it has on people facing very challenging circumstances. The costs of rework associated with 'command and control' systems due to miscommunication, the unnecessary approval of processes and slower decision making are all exacerbated when people are working irregular hours to balance work and family life in isolation. An agile culture and its underlying principles reduces these risks.

It’s true that most people resist change, but they are also adaptable and resilient when needed. It has been fascinating, if not surprising, to see how people have reorganised their personal and professional lives. We’ve also seen people use collaboration tools in new ways during the past few weeks. Tools that we had introduced to increase our ability to engage remote teams have now changed the way work gets done. I predict a significant if not complete removal of physical workshops. This is because we’ve seen an increase in the quality of work preparation for collaborative sessions, information is distributed more easily and decisions are made more quickly with less effort.

Businesses are only successful because of their people. The impact of the pandemic has amplified empathy for each other. We're no longer worried about kids running around in the background of a video call or most other distractions that were unacceptable a few weeks ago. We're gaining new insights into the lives of the people we work with each day. Introverts might set cameras so you can see a wall behind them. Extroverts might change their rooms to illustrate their interests, artwork or music equipment. Everyone is having fun with virtual backdrops.

Every organisation will work differently in the future as a result of the coronavirus experience. For Iress, this will mean finding a new balance between people who have found remote working liberating and productive and those who are keen to be back in the office. It means a more robust business that more easily responds to changing conditions. It means continuing to think differently about how we work, or how and where we find and employ people. And it certainly means a sharper focus on how we move faster, leverage our global scale and drive quality outcomes for clients.

This article first appeared on The Australian.

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