Innovation experts Chris Pope and KPMG’s Phil Mitchell weigh in on the future of work post-COVID.
As the dust settles on a rattled reality, business leaders are seeking answers to questions they never thought they’d ask.
What will work look after the pandemic passes? How should companies think about their workforce in an uncertain world?
Chris Pope, vice president of innovation at ServiceNow, and KPMG UK partner Phil Mitchell share their insights on the future of work and what organizations must do to compete moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic changes in work practices. What must organizations do now to adapt and` ensure that their people thrive?
Phil Mitchell: Companies that never would have considered remote work have seen their productivity increase—not necessarily everywhere, but they have realized genuine net gains. This has prompted business leaders to look at their workforce structure and deepen their employee engagement as the current situation evolves into a long-term reality.
Chris Pope: At ServiceNow, we’re realizing that work is not a binary choice between the office and home. Our approach is about allowing our employees to work wherever they happen to be that’s most appropriate at the time.
But thriving is also about considering the wider culture of the organization—how we bring people together and engage with them. Companies with the digital infrastructure in place were able to innovate more quickly to support a dispersed workforce.
Challenges still remain with working from home. What are you hearing from your employees or customers?
Phil Mitchell: There is a distinction to be drawn between home working and home workers. We are not home workers, we are working from home, with many of us doing so due to the new circumstances and in ways that are not always ideal.
We are also beginning to witness COVID-19 burnout among middle and senior management. They seem to be the ones carrying the brunt of giving additional support to their teams while conducting extra reporting and due diligence as their organizations go through a complex business resilience process. There’s a growing need to focus on the wellbeing of the middle to senior management layer.
Communication has been put to the test. Is it all about video conferencing now?
Chris Pope: The traditional benefits of working in the same building that include going to someone’s desk for a short, informal catch-up are now gone. How we communicate and articulate ourselves on conference calls or via email has become very important now that the face-to-face body language aspect is lost. A lack of soft skills training can become very evident in such circumstances.
Phil Mitchell: We’ve also forgotten how to make phone calls. The communication currency nowadays is virtual meetings, but by putting the emphasis on scheduled video calls, we risk losing the art of simply picking up the phone for impromptu conversations.
Chris Pope: Indeed. Phone calls have become a modern-day equivalent of writing a postcard. They show that the caller is taking their time and making an effort.
Will workforces ever return to work to what they were before COVID-19?
Chris Pope: There are two phases to consider when we think about a “return to the workplace.” Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a risk and internal research that we’ve carried out at ServiceNow shows almost half of our employees don’t feel ready to go back to work.
ServiceNow also recently commissioned a comprehensive study of the impact of COVID-19 on business and the future of work and found that 60% of employees want to maintain the new ways of working.
What challenges and opportunities have you noticed when it comes to finding and recruiting talent?
Chris Pope: Previously, a company organized work around its location, which usually meant hiring people living within an hour’s commute from the office building.
In the past, we struggled to find the right talent because of such proximity requirements. We’ve removed such limitations and, for example, hired people based in South Africa that are delivering some amazing work.
Phil Mitchell: The ability to access talent globally is a big one. People will also have more flexibility with regard to how and where they live. Creating digital workplaces with the help of solutions like ServiceNow will be ever more important, both from an experience and security point of view.
What does employee happiness look like in the new normal?
Chris Pope: We need to be careful that the classic, overbearing management style doesn’t feature prominently in the new hybrid way of working. Providing support and being accessible is key, but micro-managing indicates a lack of confidence.
Every member of my team is located in a different city around the world. The whole arrangement is underpinned by trust and our performance culture. It is outcome based, with every team member having the freedom to manage their own time.
What will future prospective employees and customers look for in a workforce strategy?
Chris Pope: Diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) needs to be a big part of any workforce strategy, including philanthropy. Employees will be interested in a company’s involvement in community initiatives, be it STEM programs, women in technology, digital literacy, and similar.
ServiceNow is not only a technology company, but an organization trying to help and support where we can. It is certainly one of the criteria potential employees will assess you on.