It took just a few months for the coronavirus pandemic to significantly alter the daily lives of people all over the globe. What started from Wuhan, China, spread to the rest of the world at an unprecedented pace and no one could have predicted the effect it would have in the long run. Even now, when lockdowns have begun to relax, it is a widely-known and accepted fact that workplaces, businesses and general life will not be the same. Dr. Israel Figa believes that one of the biggest challenges would be adapting open office spaces to the new normal, which would include physical distancing and strict hygiene measures.
However, this is not the only aspect of businesses that will change. According to Dr. Figa, there are many other ways that businesses will have to adapt and some of the modifications that will have to be made are:
- Bigger workplaces
First and foremost, office life will undergo a complete transformation, which also includes office furniture as it will have to be reshaped radically. Real estate companies all over the world have come up with new designs for adapting spaces to the new rules and requests. Over the years, office desks have reduced in size, but this is expected to change because social distancing will be necessary for now.
Work-from-home (WFH) is expected to continue on some level, as per Dr. Figa. As less people will be allowed in the offices, which means a number of businesses should be prepared to have a remote workforce in the future. The pandemic forced a number of people to work from home and some of them have managed to do so rather successfully. Thus, some organizations will have little choice, but to restrict the number of employees working on-site. Enforced flexitime, staggered shifts and 24/7 operations will become the new normal, as will remote working.
Due to social distancing measures, several organizations have been forced to look for ways through which they can work with limited employees. According to Israel Figa, some labor trends like automation have been accelerated due to coronavirus. For years, businesses have been trying to automate repetitive jobs via robots, algorithms and drones and researchers have discovered that implementing this kind of automation is easier during times of economic downturns. Because of the current circumstances, companies may have to go digital a lot quicker for catching up with the latest requirements. Before COVID-19, automation had been coming along, as it was predicted that by 2030, it would impact about 400 to 800 million jobs. This trend is now going to accelerate.
- No more 9-to-5 office hours
A number of employers have relaxed their rules when it comes to starting and ending their work at a certain time. As a greater part of the workforce is now working from home, it will be difficult for employees to work during the same hours as they did in the office. Since technology allows a lot of workers to do their work remotely, they can also enjoy the freedom of building their schedule as per their convenience. For striking a balance between work and personal time, managers and employees will have to work together closely for ensuring that no one feels pressured to respond to messages and email at any time of the day.
- Virtual meetings could permanently replace in-person meetings
Currently, there is a plethora of apps that are available for video conferencing on all devices free of cost. Dr. Israel Figa highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has played the role of a technology equalizer where those who were unaccustomed to using tech tools previously in the workplace have now had to adapt to these new circumstances.
Employees have been putting in a great deal of effort to learn new technologies and engage with them, simply because it was required of them. Consequently, virtual workplaces may actually be around to stay. Team members who are no longer working at the office will now move to video when it comes to phone calls and meetings. There is no doubt that video conferencing can improve communications because it allows participants to make better decisions quickly and also gives productivity a boost.
- More technology
Experts like Dr. Figa are of the opinion that companies have to invest in new technologies for reducing transmission of the disease. For instance, workplaces will now need to have doors that open and close automatically, contactless pathways, facial recognitions and lifts that can work through smartphones.
Moreover, technology will also be utilized for reminding employees about social distancing. For instance, beacons could be utilizing for tracking employees’ movements through their smartphones and alerts can be sent when the breach the six-feet rules. When businesses invest in more technology, it will show their employees that they are committed to make their employees’ work lifestyle as comfortable and effective as possible.
- Organizational transparency
Even when employees work remotely, it is essential to ensure that they feel connected with senior leadership. In order to accomplish this goal, Dr. Israel Figa believes that top-down transparency needs to be part of the company culture. When a company has transparent leadership, it can help in establishing an environment of trust within the team. With the existing health challenges and the various unknowns that surround the pandemic, employees need to know that they can discuss certain issues with the leadership before they are rendered irreparable and inflict a lot of damage.
- Inspiring and effective leadership
In Dr. Israel Figa’s opinion, leaders should be able to engage their employees to work hard and come up with creative solutions together. It will become even more critical for them to master the management and design of teams because team members will now be working as part of flexible groups where members will constantly be changing. Depending on how long the current pandemic lasts, there may be a change from static organizational structures towards more dynamic team formations. However, it should be noted that this is only effective under conditions of psychological safety i.e. when leaders are very upfront about the situation and when every team member is free to speak up with concerns, ideas and solutions.
- New business models
A lot of businesses out there may have to rethink their business models in Dr. Israel Figa’s opinions and shift their focus towards developing and strengthening safety plans. Plus, they will also need to plan their future strategies in a way that enables them to expand their remote working capabilities for a greater part of their workforce. This will require businesses to readjust their priorities as additional resiliency measures will need to be given the same importance as efficiency and cost.
There are a number of things that have changed due to the COVID-19 crisis, which includes supply chains and consumer behavior. In order to respond to the pandemic and the changes it has brought, Dr. Figa says that they will have to adapt to the new situation and find quick and effective ways of overcoming uncertainty. Technology and data will prove to be vital tools for every business in speeding up this process. Businesses of the future need to be capable of dynamic self-management and constant adaption. They need to be built for resiliency, agility and growth.
- Increased local trade
There will be a need for rethinking what products are necessary for a country’s survival. Trends show that supply chains will undergo change because there will be greater focus on producing goods locally or closer at home. According to Dr. Israel Figa, the coronavirus pandemic showed that if China shuts down, the entire world’s economy comes to a halt. In order to ensure it doesn’t happen again, local trade will go up. Global trade is expected to go down by almost one third in this year alone, but it might bounce back some. Globalization is expected to continue, but there will be some changes.
- Online access to products and services
A contact-free economy is another consequence that the world will see because of COVID-19. The pandemic has proven to be a turning point in several areas, which include telemedicine, digital commerce and automation. In e-commerce, the coronavirus sped up the change in shopping habits of consumers, as most of them were forced to do their shopping online. In April, 13% of consumers in Europe said that they were considering using the services of online retailers and there was an 81% increase in e-commerce transactions in Italy in the month of March alone.
- Agile workforce strategies
The future and present requires a resilience workforce. Dr. Israel Figa explains that this is not exactly a one-time procedure; it will require a great deal of effort in building persistent relationships and capabilities across various stakeholders. It will not be possible for every business to follow the same path or move at the same rate. Every organization is at a different level of maturity and so, they will make their changes accordingly. It also depends on the support they will receive from diverse laws and regulations from all over the world. But, it is not possible for single organizations to achieve this, as nonprofits, citizens, governments and businesses will all play a role here.
- Contactless payments
Avoiding all sorts of contacts when you are shopping has become crucial for health and safety. Therefore, it has become essential for businesses to incorporate means of contactless payments, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, to their clients in order to be able to meet new requirements and challenges and to offer greater customer satisfaction.
- Less human contact
As mentioned before, human contact has to be minimized as much as possible for health and safety reasons. This means businesses have to do this across all spaces, from factories to their retail stores. According to Dr. Israel Figa, this may require businesses to reallocate some of their investment; for instance, restaurants may have to focus more on making deliveries whereas clinics will offer both facilities of visits and telemedicine. To put it simply, every business will have to rethink its strategic plans if they want to attract and retain customers.
- Areas with fresh air
One of the key requirements for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is good ventilation, something that’s very difficult for most businesses to achieve, given that they have air-conditioned office spaces. However, to ensure the health of their employees and for safety purposes, opening windows, if they can be opened, is going to be the new trend. Other options would include climate control systems and filtered air.
- New business etiquette for greetings
An essential change that every business needs to make is that in their greetings policy, according to Israel Figa. Some organizations have already made changes as handshakes, hugs and kisses are no longer allowed. This new etiquette will have to be followed for quite some time and so, new greetings have been introduced. In fact, it started from Beijing where billboards were promoting clasping your own hands as a sign of greeting. In the next few months, safer greeting options are expected to be introduced.
The crux of the matter is that there will be a number of changes that will take place in the business world, even after COVID-19 is eliminated. So, far there has been no sign of a vaccine and it is not expected before next year to the very least. Nonetheless, organizations, people and communities will have to have new answers for responding to these new requirements. Dr. Israel Figa highlights that for businesses, it is vital to evolve and adapt to this new world if they want to survive in the long-term. Businesses, governments, non-profits and citizens have critical roles to play in establishing a system that promotes workforce flexibility and resilience.
It is not a process that can happen overnight and will need development of relationships and capabilities across different stakeholder groups to make it happen. As long as everyone plays their role, it will be possible to achieve this goal.