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The Good in the Bad – about the not so obvious results of the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: 2021-04-13

2020 has undoubtedly been a year of profound changes. COVID 19 has disrupted the way we work, interact and live. Old truths have been challenged and a digitized era enabling productive remote agile teams has begun.

Last Spring, as the world eased into the newly sanitized and socially distanced reality, we watched in awe the Venice canals turning clean, dolphins riding the costs of Sardegna and flamingos turning Mumbai pink amidst the lockdown. We could see the earth breath again.

The luckiest of us watch all this from the safety of our homes. As Eurofound’s research shows, almost 4 in 10 employees in Europe started teleworking. The Nordic and Benelux countries have taken the lead in terms of proportions of workers who switched to remote work, with close to 60% in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, and 40% or more in Ireland, Sweden, Austria and Italy. It comes as no surprise but is worth making a note, that among those who have never worked remotely before the conversion to teleworking numbers are significantly lower – with 24% - in comparison to people who have teleworked sometimes before – 56%[1]. The long-term productivity of remote work was one of the biggest concerns as we entered almost a world-wide lockdown.

The New Way of working – benefits and risks

As an agile organisation, we observe our own teams and trust that learning and refining is the key to success. Since the early spring of 2020 outbreak in Europe, we have seen ours and clients’ teams’ productivity increase, going against the old truths about teams having to sit together to be truly effective. With a focus on enabling digital collaboration and agile coaching for keeping organisation culture and team spirit on top, the results prove to exceed our expectations.

Working from home has led to improving digital collaboration skills, less sick leave (own or children’s) but also less vacation and travel, thus putting the work-life balance at risk. Studies show that especially women, burdened with the most of unpaid care and domestic work are affected and prone to professional burnout.[2]

Regardless of the decreased absence, many of our agile teams have experienced an increase in productivity working remotely, mainly since it has allowed them to really focus on their work. This is especially clear for teams working in immature agile environments where daily disturbances are common. However, all our teams have also experienced challenges in motivation not being able to meet team members and colleagues. We have found agile and team coaching an increasingly important tool to handle this and keep motivation, and thus effectiveness, on good levels.

These new opportunities are something that should be taken into consideration by employers, as the organisation’s ability to support its employees and to help them finding new ways to balance their lives in this new reality can make or break a business. The risk of securing talents has jumped from 12th to 1st position in the KPMG’s “2020 CEO Outlook: COVID-19 Special Edition” report.

Preparation is king

Let us get back to the Eurofound’s “Living, working and covid-19” research once again. The surveyed Millenials were asked about how the concept of Industry 4.0 will affect their work situation. 37% (making it the biggest group) claim that it will have a positive impact, enabling the automation of some parts, allowing them to focus on tasks that bring added value.

The lockdown showed the market if organisations are ready to swiftly adapt to the upcoming changes. We – albeit unwillingly – are taking part in a socioeconomic experiment on a scale never seen before. The above-mentioned research shows that companies able to transfer to teleworking have lost significantly fewer business hours and stayed on the surface. Using the sustainability filter and creating new business models should focus on enabling businesses to adapt to whatever comes next.

Accelerated digitalisation

The pandemic has noticeably accelerated digital transformation across the globe. 75% of CEO surveyed by KPMG states that their organization accelerated in creating a seamless digital customer experience, and 22% of those say that progress “has sharply accelerated, putting us years in advance of where we expected to be”. The change is also fuelled by the growing expectations of the digital-native customers: “Any resistance in our clients’ mindsets to moving to the cloud or the next generation of digital solutions has largely, if not entirely, evaporated” says Steve Hasker, CEO at Thomson Reuters[3].

The rapid digitalisation is one of the levers enabling companies to draw more optimistic prospects of their own business’s growth in the span of the next three years.

Renewed sense of purpose

Another – and kind of surprising – benefit coming from the pandemic is the renewed sense of purpose in business. 79% of CEOs feel a stronger emotional connection to their purpose and 77% of them say that 1) their purpose provides them with a better understanding of stakeholders’ (thus being employees, communities, customers, partners and investors) needs, and 2) a clear purpose makes a great framework for making quick and informed decisions related to COVID-19[4].

Summary

Today, a year after the new coronavirus was identified, I bet there are no doubts that The New Normal is here to stay and we have adapted. Our lives have changed just as much, as the ways we do business. Mark Zuckerberg committed Facebook going at least 50% remote, meaning that half of Facebook’s 50 000 employees will be working from home, with Twitter and Square following in their steps [5]. This will shift the paradigm of working in IT, rendering massive, amenities-packed offices expendable.

The pandemic lockdowns proved one more extremely important thing – our planet’s resilience is astonishing. In only a few months we got a taste of what could happen if humankind changed the way we operate. With all its risks and consequences, the pandemic is the unforeseen factor that could give us the push in the right direction. The companies that will harness this extra force and make it an opportunity to accelerate their own digital transformation will leap light years ahead of their late adopters competition.

How to make sense of all that and make sure the direction we chose for our company is the right one? - Hint the EU Taxonomy could be a good start to look at.

First off – check if your navigation system is working. Adopting Sustainable Development as a guiding star is a great choice to build the future-proof operations, making sure your business not only is future-oriented but also stays within planetary boundaries.

Another solution is finding the proper digital transformation partner, that would guide your business from needs and ideas to solutions and implementations. Someone familiar with digital sustainability, oriented towards building sustainable tomorrow.

Nobody pictured the worldwide lockdown; nobody knows when and where will the next black swan emerge. For one thing, is sure – it is going to happen. To gain the necessary resilience, we need to improve and build businesses based on digital sustainability: disrupt the old ways and harness the technology for the benefit of our planet.


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Posted by: Eva Clavin

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