Post-pandemic work will be combination of in-person and remote models, study reveals
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussion of workplace digitalization gained impetus. Companies understood this movement and realized that their employees liked the experience. What will happen now? This question is answered in an article called “How to Implement Digital Workplaces,” written by Claudia Santiago in partnership with Thomaz Wood Jr. and Beatriz Maria Braga, both professors at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP).
The article, published in the latest edition of GV-Executive, was based on a study about the transformation of offices, looked at from four angles: technology, digital workforce, online work and digital organizational transformation.
According to studies in the field, the pandemic emptied out offices and led many workers, across a wide variety of professions and qualifications, to quickly migrate to working from home. As a result, the pace of work and routines of millions of employees changed drastically.
The authors write that a complete return to in-person work is unlikely. “Management science does not have a crystal ball capable of predicting the future. However, after looking at studies on the subject and examining the recent experience of companies, we concluded that the future of office work will not be purely in person or remote. Instead, it will be digital, integrating the two modes,” they write.
Santiago, Wood Jr. and Braga propose a model that identifies critical success factors for its implementation, encompassing both the business side and employee side. In their view, the workplace will be supported by digital platforms and tools, specific physical arrangements and aligned management practices to help employees be productive.
The phenomenon of the digital workplace
The study indicates that the following conditions are required to implement digital workplaces:
- - Adaptation: There is a cycle of adjustment to new circumstances and several factors can aid this adaptation, including technologies, the engagement of leaders, planning, change management and corporate policies.
- - Communication: Planning involves designing a process that includes dissemination of information, virtual sessions, group activities and individual exercises. This communication must reach everyone.
- - Trust: It is necessary to deconstruct the notion that those who are at home are not working and establish a relationship of trust between leader and team, and between peers.
- - Results-based management: Once a relationship of trust has been established, leaders do not need to monitor employees’ workday. The focus shifts from monitoring of work to measurement of results.
The study also indicates some implications of change:
- - Physical environment: The traditional office is reduced in scale, optimized, adapted and rethought. It becomes a place for interaction and collaboration, featuring adapted technologies and spaces.
- - People: Different generations react differently to changes. Younger people need more supervision and guidance to set priorities, while more senior employees are more focused and need less supervision, though they tend to prefer the in-person model.
- - Leaders: Leaders need to review their management style and practices and be prepared to manage remote teams. They must also learn new skills and improve existing ones, in light of the new context.
- - Culture: The implementation of digital workplaces will only be successful if accompanied by cultural intervention measures.
- - Results achieved through implementation work: The factors discussed above are connected to flexibility in terms of working hours, travel and physical locations, meeting the need for greater work-life balance. This leads to greater engagement with tasks and increases productivity.
Critical success factors
Because of the impact on people and organizations, planning and building a digital workplace must be considered strategic priorities. However, the process for organizations to succeed in going from traditional to digital workplaces, especially at large companies, still does not seem well understood or assimilated.
The study identified some critical factors for implementing digital workplaces:
- - Set targets to be achieved;
- - Invest in technology and the physical environment;
- - Prepare leaders;
- - Manage change and culture;
- - Transform employees’ experience.
New work horizons
The researchers stress that the digital workplace is no magic solution to people’s demand for more flexible working regimes or companies’ need to reduce costs. However, it can serve both of these purposes if addressed through a clear, well-planned and carefully executed transformational process. “To do so, it is necessary to avoid being transfixed by technology and to instead view it as a tool as part of a broader process of reinventing human relations at work,” they write.
Going forward, the researchers argue that to build tomorrow, it is necessary to avoid simplistic approaches that are focused solely on technology and adopt an integrated perspective of organizational transformation. Organizations need to define plans and objectives in order to understand their needs and actions related to work models.
According to Claudia Santiago, by working together, teams will find ideal solutions, which will not involve going to the office every day or staying home all the time. “Companies are preparing and they want to learn, listen and debate these changes,” says the researcher. In her opinion, the future will be built through social, technological and above all collective work.