Winning hearts and minds is key to the success of flexible working

Businesses—and employees—must now realise that there’s no going back

Few could have expected the events of the past 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic came almost out of nowhere, bringing massive disruption to our lives.

But businesses performed admirably in the circumstances, facing the disruption head-on and doing what needed to be done, shifting to remote working practically overnight to keep our teams safe and healthy.

That experience has been overwhelmingly positive for many Germans. In fact, 60% of those we surveyed have seen expectations around digital services rise during the COVID-19 pandemic; in contrast, only 20% of respondents are experiencing some kind of disillusionment with the current rapid pace of digitization.

But a temporary shift is one thing. We now need a proper perception change to make advantageous changes to our ways of working more permanent.

The reason is simple: If we can’t align together on the future direction of work—both what we do and how we do it—we won’t make the most of opportunities on offer. Ultimately, if we’re all going in different directions, thinking different things, it’s not sustainable.

What’s more, new research from ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab found that 54% of executives surveyed cite greater revenue or sales as a key benefit of business resilience initiatives.

We must therefore bring hearts and minds in line with reality.

The shift to hybrid work is a done deal

So what perceptions need to change exactly?

First and foremost, we need to accept there’s no going back to the status quo before the pandemic. Not only because employees prefer flexibility, but because the challenges, wants, and needs of our world have changed too much. There is no ‘normal’ to go back to.

Businesses need to work with this change, not fight it. People work differently, and we need to respect and understand that while the office is perfect for some people and some situations, it isn’t right for everyone, all of the time.

Forcing everyone to work the same way will only lead to dissatisfaction and reduced productivity. And in the long term, it will see your employees go elsewhere.

Different horses for different courses

In real terms, this means we need to learn to use the office like any other resource on offer.

It’s clear the office is useful in some settings; chief among these is collaboration. Sometimes Zoom calls just don’t cut it, and getting time in face to face with colleagues, customers, and clients is invaluable.

At the same time, tasks like strategizing, writing, budgeting, and admin are much more easily accomplished at home, with minimal distraction.

The key is to allow employees to play to their strengths. They know themselves best, and if they’re trusted to do tasks where they do them best, the results will not only be better, they’ll find their jobs more satisfying, too.

Securing tools fit for the job

And how do we do it?

If work is no longer location-based, our tools and systems must follow suit. Legacy tools are no longer enough to meet the requirements of this new world of work: companies need flexible working models and tools that enable employees to work how—and where—is most efficient for what they need to do.

So yes, that means laptops, VPNs, video conferencing tools, instant messengers, and so on. But, much more broadly than this, it requires the overarching infrastructure to support all these individual tools and applications and make them work seamlessly as a single whole.

The answer to this specific need is workflow technology—tools that connect businesses functions in one location, removing silos and pointless hoops to jump through, and allowing every employee to have the tools and data they need to do their work best, wherever they are—whether at home, in the office, or on the move.

Resilience is a virtuous cycle

After over a year of adapting to the pandemic, it’s important to take stock of how far we’ve come.

But we also need to consider how this journey will impact our future.

Going backward is not an option, and those businesses that want to succeed need to adapt to the new future of work: one that adapts to the needs of employees, not just the wishes of business owners.

At the end of the day, resilience is a virtuous cycle: The more we can invest in a sustainable future, the better we’ll serve the needs of our employees and our customers. And happier stakeholders means more growth for the future—which can, in turn, be reinvested in further expansion.

This cycle must start somewhere, and that somewhere is technology. For examples of how businesses are using technology to make the most of this new hybrid world of work, view the case studies in this guide.