By Andy Campbell, global solution evangelist at FinancialForce
The beginning of a new year is typically a time when we look at what we expect to happen during the year ahead, predicting which of the latest oft talked about technologies and trends will materialise; from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to quantum computing and robotics. However, this year is different. The effects of the pandemic on the world have been profound, and are continuing to be felt to this day, nearly two years on from initial lockdowns and measures coming into effect. As such, this year, it seems better practice to focus on what the major learnings have been from the past two years and how these may shape the future of business.
Increased focus on outcomes instead of processes
One consequence of the pandemic has been an increased willingness for company employees to speak out and speak up, challenging the status quo and questioning business decisions. This can perhaps be attributed to the sense of detachment that accompanies remote working, with employees released from the overbearing physical presence of managers. In order for many businesses to survive and successfully deliver the ‘new normal’, they’ve had to make significant changes. Employees have played a pivotal role in this, reviewing business processes to ensure customers are served and the desired outcomes are still achievable.
Within organisations, existing ways of working are being reconsidered, internal barriers are being questioned, and in some circumstances torn down. This is being done either by overcoming adversity or taking advantage of potential opportunities to grow. The focus is on ensuring that outcomes are beneficial and positive, in addition to making sure that organisations are restructured to try and maximise what is achievable. There has been more business transformation in the past 18 months, than in the previous 10 years, with this pace of change set to continue.
Diversity and inclusion will continue to grow in importance
There is no hierarchy on video conferencing applications. The fact that all employees have been sharing the same virtual real estate for nearly two years has been meritocratic and freeing. It has allowed some members of staff to find a voice where they didn’t previously, providing them with more opportunities to contribute. An example of this can be seen with neurodiverse people, who may have found working from home to be more comforting and productive when compared to working in an office, where distractions are aplenty. For those employees with children, the challenges of home-schooling have been a levelling experience, however working from home has resulted in the school run becoming far easier to manage. As we return to the office, people may be reluctant to give up the freedoms and flexibilities they enjoyed when working remotely. Moving forward, issues surrounding ease of access and increased personal expectations will receive greater focus. Employees will rightly question, ‘if it worked during the pandemic, then why can’t it continue once the crisis is over and the new normal is established?’’.
The Great Resignation, or perhaps not
‘The Great Resignation’ is a term which has recently emerged in the fallout from the pandemic. This refers to the idea that large numbers of people will resign from their jobs en masse, a phenomenon which has been largely attributed to the perceived freedom from having spent a significant period working remotely. Individuals have taken the opportunity to reflect and question their entire relationship with the working world and rethink how, why, and where they wish to spend their time. However, research suggests that this phenomenon is not actually based on a large amount of tangible evidence, besides advanced economies, and certain professional grades of staff in America. Many people do not have the luxury to make such life changing decisions, especially those that are currently experiencing challenging economic circumstances in one of the many industry sectors that are continuing to struggle.
What certainly has happened is that an extended period away from the office has acted as a catalyst for many employees to reconsider the way they’ve been treated during the height of the pandemic and whether they wish to remain with their current company. For some people, working remotely has been hugely beneficial, providing them with flexibility. Individuals have also relished the more collaborative management style that has come about because of working from home, enabled through the regular use of video conferencing applications like Zoom. Management teams who do not take the opportunity to review their own leadership styles and reassess their employee proposition, can only blame themselves if their best talent departs for pastures new.
Data’s importance continues to grow
Fake news has spread rapidly in recent years, and this has continued with regards to Covid-19 and the development of conspiracy theories that question the establishment narrative. In response individuals are increasingly using data and facts to question and counter the misinformation that is being circulated. In response to big issues, people rely on data to make important decisions and sharing that information is vital to facilitate acceptance and adoption within the broader community. The importance of data and analytics is continuing to grow, contributing significantly to numerous business functions such as financial reporting, operational forecasting, and workforce planning. For example, in challenging situations such as the pandemic, the speed and effectiveness of cashflow forecasting becomes pivotal in understanding the current state of the business and what decisions need to be made to ensure survival. When there are issues concerning the availability of products, effective supply chain management planning is essential to provide the business with continuity of supply in essential products and materials. By using analytics, companies can gain a better understanding of availability and location, in addition to the amount of control they have over the routes of their supply chain.
Increased collaboration, internally and externally
Collaboration between different departments and teams within organisations will increase. The regular use of video conferencing tools and chat applications, which encourage employees to engage with colleagues working remotely, has helped to improve communications, break down barriers and reduce departmental silos. This, combined with a greater visibility and democratisation of data, has led to greater organisational transparency. As employees are working from different locations, it is necessary for them to be open and transparent with one another to work together effectively.
This will increasingly extend beyond the boundaries of the organisation to embrace customers and partners as well. Improved communication and collaboration between all these different parties will deliver many benefits, especially enhanced relationships. Such approaches however will also necessitate different mindsets, skills, and management styles, including increased honesty and transparency, which may prove to be more of a challenge.
Although we cannot accurately predict what the future will hold in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that its impact will continue to be felt by businesses and it will have a profound impact on the way in which we work in 2022 and the years ahead.