The COVID-19 lockdown has forced millions of businesses around the UK to shift to completely new ways of working. For many, this meant transitioning from offline to online models. Some were able to adjust more easily to this, but many small businesses struggled in terms of functionality or maintaining staff engagement.
As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, now is the time for business owners to ask themselves; what has and hasn’t worked during this period? What learnings or new practices can we take away and turn into positives for employees and customers? In a lot of cases, the pivot to digital has been a gamechanger. But it will be how these learnings are used to bolster recovery and future resilience that drive meaningful impact for small businesses and the economy. Intuit QuickBooks HR Business Partner,Hayley Penn has worked at Intuit for more than five years and assesses how business leaders can now expect a change to the office life typicalities that once were.
More flexible working
Although internet-dropouts and disruptive children have become regular challenges of the working day, many employees are also discovering the benefits of homeworking. Whether that’s spending more time with their family, or noticing an improvement in productivity, increased flexible working is a positive behavioural change that is likely to stick around.
Minimising the amount of desk space needed as a result of more remote working could also be a cost-effective solution for businesses looking to make savings during the recovery period.
However, be cognizant that remote working isn’t the ideal for all employees. Open and honest channels of communication are vital to understand what works on an individual basis. A mix of remote working and face-to-face time is likely to become a common compromise once the lockdown restrictions begin to ease more widely.
An end to the meeting madness
According to recent research, meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where the average employee spends 23 days a year in them – of which over half (56%) are said to be unproductive and a waste of time.
Over the years a number of solutions have been posed; stick to an agenda, hold your meeting standing up or walking, but it seems this has had little impact on our meeting culture. Remote working has finally forced us to stop and think about what genuinely requires meeting time, and what can simply be communicated in a message.
Meetings undoubtedly have a time and place as they enable collaboration and creativity, but it’s also important employees have enough uninterrupted time to get work done efficiently. The pandemic may result in business leaders and employees applying a more cut-throat or streamlined approach to meeting time – whether virtual or in-person.
A digital catalyst
COVID-19 has unfortunately shown how vulnerable tech laggards are to operational disruptions. On the other hand, tech-enabled businesses have been able to move at speed and thrive by meeting surging online demand.
This is particularly an issue amongst small businesses. Pre-COVID-19 research from QuickBooks suggested that only 7% of small businesses derive their turnover from e-commerce sales, whereas for large businesses of 250+ employees this proportion jumps to 25%. Similarly, less than half (47%) of small businesses had a website.
Adoption of digital technologies can streamline processes and drive efficiencies to improve cash flow management, allowing small businesses to get paid faster and access capital to grow. This will be especially crucial during the recovery period, as businesses will look to make up for lost time as quickly as possible.
The social value of work
So, with all this in mind, will digitalisation and remote working pave the way for the death of the office? Most certainly not. Perhaps the one thing we have all learnt throughout this period is the importance of connectedness and belonging.
Whilst lockdown has certainly highlighted some archaic and inefficient work practices – and expedited a digitally-driven and tech-focused approach – it has also demonstrated the economic and social value of work as a place. Inevitably, the lockdown experience will change working practices, with more companies open to flexibility. It has also caused people to re-think the purpose of the physical office, which will still play a significant role for many companies, but a different one.