May 21 2020

Knowledge 2020: Entering the Next Chapter of the ‘Next Normal’

As businesses move further away from crisis management, there are new considerations in a remote work–oriented world.

Chapter one is done, but the work is far from over.

That was the message from ServiceNow Chief Information Officer Chris Bedi and Chief Talent Officer Pat Wadors during a live Q&A session at Knowledge 2020. Many businesses have spent the past several weeks and months rushing to ensure their workers had everything they needed to maintain business continuity, and it would seem that that process has mostly been a success.

“The immediate focus of chapter one was, ‘How can we enable everyone to be productive working from home?’” said Bedi. “And I do think chapter one is coming to a close.”

That doesn’t mean that organizations should be looking to go back to what business operations looked like in February. The mad rush for equipment and workflow may have ended, but the transition is far from over.

“The pre-COVID workplace no longer exists,” Wadors said. “We will do dramatic shifts to make sure we’re safe, healthy, productive and adaptable for the new workplace.”

This new workplace will come to fruition in what Bedi refers to as “chapter two.” This period, which he anticipates lasting about 18 months, will be defined by businesses transitioning to at least some fully remote employees, new health and safety precautions, and a new workflow that emphasizes collaboration and communication in a “work from anywhere” structure. 

To be successful in this phase, technology and HR staffs will have to work together to make sure employees not only have the ability to get the job done, but also feel comfortable and productive doing that job wherever they are.

What Will Businesses Need to Succeed in the New Normal?

Businesses have been heavily relying on the cloud during widespread remote work. The immediate concerns many leaders had were around business continuity and ensuring the work got done.

“As we work from home to stay safe, we still have a company to run,” Bedi said.

But as the ripple effects of long-term remote work began to reveal themselves, it became clear that challenges facing different aspects of the organization were going to require a digital solution.

“You’ll have the head of talent thinking about things like virtual onboarding and how to keep employees engaged,” Bedi said. “You’ll have the CFO thinking about modeling out cash flow forecasts, supply chain officers thinking about logistics and routes to market. But there’s one thing in common, which is, it’s all powered by tech.”

“This isn’t going anywhere,” said Bedi. “There are new processes in the workplace that, in order for them to scale and not have corporations bogged down in a lot of manual labor, we have to automate.”

The same conversations are happening across industries, Bedi said. CIOs are talking about how to protect revenue, pursue productivity and maintain business continuity with remote workforces, and the answer has always come back to digital platforms. This has placed even higher importance on ongoing digital transformation projects.

“That can’t slow down,” said Bedi. “In fact, it needs to accelerate because the pandemic and this new environment have exposed flaws in the current environment.”

While many of these new technology initiatives will be centered around remote work and collaboration, they will also be necessary when offices reopen. Guidelines designed to protect the health and well-being of employees will make tools like office space calendars and even biometrics necessary to ensure workers are healthy and complying with social distancing.

“Office life will change,” Bedi said. “It won’t be the same as we know it.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: How to build a culture that's ripe for digital transformation.

How Organizations Can Take Care of Employees in the Next Chapter

The next chapter can’t be tackled by tech alone. Bedi noted that the global health crisis has driven tighter collaboration among CIOs, HR executives and facilities heads to navigate these changing waters. To do that successfully, employees have to be on board.

“It’s about putting the employee at the center of all of this,” said Wador. “Life and work are clashing together, so we have to adapt how we work and where we work, and leverage technology to smooth that out.”

Frequent check-ins with employees can be crucial as businesses try to find what works best for everyone. While finding that balance, it’s also important to remember that the old work schedule is now out the window.

“It’s really hard to create change,” said Wador. “But what you have to do is just check in with your team and say, ‘What schedule works for us? What’s your situation?’ Just be open and transparent.” 

While it is a difficult transition, taking away the barrier of location can be a boon when it comes to cultivating talent. HR managers will no longer be limited to job candidates in one city or region, potentially making finding the right fit for a role easier.

Both Wador and Bedi emphasized that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Organizations will have to go through trial and error to discover what works best for their production, their employees and, ultimately, their customers.

“Just like the last three months has taught us a bunch of new lessons, the next 18 months will teach us a bunch more.” Bedi said.

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