You already know that Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a human health crisis that is sweeping through the world at an unprecedented rate. The disease, which started in December 2019 in the Wuhan district of China left world leaders everywhere reeling and confused about how to handle limits its spread and contain the virus once and for all. The pandemic continues to spread with nearly 200 countries currently impacted to varying degrees. Globally, the number of confirmed cases now stands at over a million with more than 53 thousand deaths as of April 2, 2020.
More than just a human health epidemic that is affecting millions of people worldwide, COVID-19 is also having an enormous impact on the global economy and businesses everywhere in the world. The unprecedented nature of this pandemic has set the ball rolling on what is perhaps the most abrupt disruption of businesses in decades. Several organizations in various industries are reeling with uncertainty.
The coronavirus is forcing a restructuring of our daily lives and changing how we do business. As part of the efforts to contain the spread of the virus, social distancing rules have been put in place in every impacted country. While the measures put in place vary from country to country, and when you zero into local governments, the effects are quite similar. Several businesses have shut down entirely and many of those who can, now have their staff working remotely.
For any organization, surviving this scourge will be the most pressing goal. More than just living through the next few hard months, businesses everywhere have to start peering through the thick fog of uncertainty and think about the right way to position themselves for the aftermath of the crisis. Eventually, a “new normal” will emerge and things will change.
The only question is what exactly will change and how will businesses adapt? Having reviewed many predictions, Greetly's hypotheses are below.
We are currently in the midst s probably the largest remote-work event in history. However, one of the biggest silver-lining of this all is that after all these, businesses will become more automated than they have ever been. Experts have always predicted the inevitability of workplace automation. The current scourge will, however, force the adoption of automated systems earlier than planned.
As businesses close down world-wide, many of them will have to shed off some of their employees to survive the coming recession. After the crisis is over, organizations will have to figure out how to do more with less. This will foster a faster adoption of automation tools.
In the middle of a health crisis like this, it is normal for businesses to start realizing that human labor is more expensive and less dependable compared to robots and other automated tools. Machines don’t get sick or stay home in a pandemic. Thus, a firm that has been thinking about automation before this crisis will be under enormous pressure to adopt it. Pandemics like this reveal that people are generally more expensive and new technology can make it possible to restructure your business and do away with the human burden. Less skilled workers may have to go and companies will end up retaining more skilled workers and adopting automation tools to improve their efficiency.
Enterprise software like Greetly, which is a fully customizable visitor management system that automates the process of office reception will inevitably become popular during and after the pandemic as more businesses seek new ways to adapt. The inevitability of the adoption of automation tools like this has been shown in history. According to research by Nir Jaimovich and Henry Siu on recession events that have occurred over the past 30 years, it was discovered that the majority of job losses (up to 88%) occur in highly automatable occupations. This predicts an inevitable switch to robots and other automated tools at this time.
It is not all bad news for human employees though. Robots won’t take all our jobs. Another study by Brad Hershbein and Lisa Kahn of the University of Rochester revealed that although recessions may lead to job loss, companies will generally hire more skilled workers who can perform automated tasks. Hence, the result of events like this isn’t a mere shift to machines and software but also an upskilling of workers that make use of such tools.
Ultimately, the coronavirus epidemic will increase the efficiency of business operations for companies that learn to adapt. This will lead to better work practices and automation. While certain parts of the economy will be hard hit, enterprises may see some real benefits especially in the area of automation.
COVID-19 has generated a renewed awareness of hygiene best practices. Human interactions spread of germs. Going forward, businesses that rely heavily on direct human contact and interaction will have to rethink their processes. Already, people seem to prefer human-machine interactions to human-human interactions in places like grocery stores, gas stations and banks. The present spread of COVID-19 can potentially speed up this transition.
One of the basic recommended protective measures to stop the spread of the virus is to maintain a distance of about six feet between people. What this means is that businesses that require people to wait in line to get their order or gather in a crowded location will have to rethink how to deliver services safely.
Schools are shifting to online learning and conferences are now being held virtually so people don’t have to gather or congregate in the same location. Companies have to take measures to limit the interaction of customers with their staff as well.
Cash is typically covered in germ and aids the spread of viruses. Handling cash is a threat that has become obvious now more than ever. Hence, businesses, have to put structures in place that make contactless payment more seamless. Similarly, businesses that offer delivery services are also looking for ways to navigate the problem by implementing contactless delivery options. Since the outbreak, the use of drones to deliver food and other items has ramped up in China.
Another similar innovation that may become more widespread is the use of self-service visitor check-in kiosks. You may have used or seen one of them at large office buildings or hotels. In the coming months andyears, traditional receptionists in office spaces might give way to automated touch screens that make it possible for visitors to sign in on their own. This is cheaper, more accurate and an efficient alternative compared to traditional receptionists. It also limits human contacts with multiple visitors.
Another likely outcome of the pandemic is the rise of no-touch tech tools in workspaces. To limit contact and the possible spread of germs, businesses will have to invest in an array of tech tools that make touchless control possible.
In conventional workspaces, it isn’t uncommon for people to share the same desk or devices like shared whiteboards, markers keyboards and so on. The post coronavirus work environment will most likely see a decline of such tools and a move in favor of tech tools and products that either do not require touch at all or are not shared by multiple users. The future will also see more digitized work spaces with each worker holding their own devices instead of having to share the same devices.
The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has made it possible to control devices without having to touch them. Future workspaces will possibly have presentation screens and whiteboards that makes it easier to control them without having to touch them at all. Voice controls like Siri or gesture-controlled screens, whiteboards, kiosks will become popular in the coming years. This will inevitably make it easier to control such devices without having to touch them.
Devices that are used for work directly, fixtures in future workspaces will get smarter as well. The idea of automatic doors that open on their own and touchless faucets in workplace bathrooms is to ensure limited contact with these fixtures. There will be more of them in the post-coronavirus workspaces.
No-touch shopping will most likely become more popular as well. Brick and mortar shops with no online presence or e-store will feel the scourge of this pandemic the most as more people have to order their basic needs from home without physically visiting the stores. To keep up, such businesses may be forced to reevaluate their business positioning and service delivery. Even consultative services like psychologists, legal practitioners, physicians will make the switch to digital tools that make it possible to attend to clients online. Making it possible for people to order products or get service without actually visiting a physical store will further limit direct human contact and interaction.
One of the commonest contingency plans to cope with the lockdown order in many locations is the switch from conventional workspaces to remote work. More and more companies are encouraging their employees to work from home. Although this transition will not be smooth for most organizations, the few companies that can pull it off may very well decide to stick to a remote working culture especially if they find it cheaper or more efficient in the long run.
Currently, most organizations are either in the early stages of digital productivity and collaboration or have not committed enough resources to digitization trends at all. However, given the inherent nature of remote work as the severity of coronavirus increases, business managers will have no choice than to invest in tools that will make remote work, digital collaboration and monitoring possible in this season. Companies that already have remote work programs would most likely have to carry out a significant upgrade to improve their effectiveness and limit the impact on their customers, suppliers, and workers.
Modern workforce collaboration tools like Slack, Workplace and Microsoft Teams will become more popular. Businesses will also have to consider enterprise social networks like LumApps and Igloo. Meetings will now take place online with the use of web conferencing and meeting tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting among others.
Of course, businesses will have to decide on whether they want to deploy basic strategy and tools or go for a complete overhaul of their operations to accommodate remote work. In case of a complete move to a remote work ethic, businesses will have to work out a clearly defined remote work policy that will guide the process. The transition will also require a concrete plan, budget, communication programs and support for a sufficient infrastructure for workers that will be working remotely. Asides making available the needed technology, managers will also need to prepare quick start guides that will make the transition to a remote work environment smooth and seamless.
In addition to providing access to productivity applications and collaboration tools, remote work devices will also have to be provided for workers. This may include webcams for video conferencing, quality headsets and mics and other tools depending on the nature of the business. More importantly, secure remote access to important business assets, data and resources must also be made available through a virtual private network.
The world is dealing with a crisis right now, but it pays to see a silver lining in all of this. The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will provide an opportunity for businesses to learn from the various experiments and social innovations that were deployed to handle the crisis. We can expect an improved understanding of some of these innovations. This will make it easier to see if adopting some of them permanently will substantially improve workplace efficiency and offer some economic benefits as well.
Needless to say, most of the solutions people will implement during this crisis will not entirely disappear even after things return to normal. As we continue to consider the scale of change that has been so far caused by the coronavirus, and continue to think up new ways of halting or limiting its spread, it is important that will reflect on their possible implications of the future of work. Hopefully, your organization will evolve and come out of this global health crisis better than ever as an improved modern office.