I think he’s right. The pace and degree of change has not only been radical but has shown us what is possible – including much we would’ve considered wishful thinking just a few months ago. And so much of that emergency response includes attitudes and ways of working we should keep, whenever and however the pandemic ends.
" What is the purpose of “the office” and what changes if these properties are no longer where the vast majority of work is done?”
I’ve been having many conversations with chief executives and other leaders operating in financial services, retail, public sector and technology. I’ve compiled a list of seven strategic areas that are increasingly dominating the agenda of my conversations:
1. The future workplace
Where do we do work, what is the purpose of “the office” and what changes if these properties are no longer where the vast majority of work is done? More than just working from home, this calls into question collaboration, culture, the employee value proposition and the very nature of productivity as we try and find the right balance of working anywhere and delivering quality outcomes. The virtual office has been on our minds for years. Now it is on the agenda of CEOs around the world.
2. Employee wellbeing
Ensuring our people can perform at their very best makes sense on so many levels. While employee wellbeing is not a new topic, it is more clearly seen as a critical success factor since COVID-19. More than something left to human resources leaders to promote, this is now something all good leaders are driving with purpose. In particular, the recent crisis has shone the spotlight on resilience. More than a “defensive” play where we are trying to manage adverse situations, the focus has expanded to realising that an offensive play that builds sustainable resilience will enable organisations to be in an always ready mode, prepared for future shocks, regardless of their nature.
In a world where so many physical objects are being digitised at pace, what happens when data is real-time (fewer reports), transactions are digitised and contactless (less cash, zero cheques, minimal paperwork) and stand-ups are virtual (no sticky notes)? Bill Gates called it 30 years ago but the paperless reality may be finally upon us. But what is needed behind the scenes to do this well? What tools are needed, what controls are needed and what needs to shift at the top of the house to support this change?
4. Supply chain risk
Risk assessments start with one simple question: what could go wrong? The answer to this question is now vastly different to what is was just six months ago. Understanding all parts of the supply chain and thinking about the business impact of one or more failures is a priority for every business. Topics such as cloud, automation and offshoring are now seen from an entirely new perspective. Some are calling this a turning point in the globalisation mega trend – is that too soon?
5. Data is the centre of our digital universe
We have all known data was becoming increasingly important... and then COVID-19 happened. Trying to operate any team or business during this crisis without accurate, timely and well presented data would have been impossible. The consequences of this are far reaching from your architecture to your ecosystem, from your capabilities to your governance models. Having an abundance of trusted, data-driven insights has never been more important than now. Will this crisis accelerate the ethics and privacy debate as seen by the response to track and trace apps?
6. IT-savvy community
The consumerisation of information technology was all about the shift of technology from the office to the home. My generation first got access to technology at work - first email account, first computer, first mobile. While that is now almost ancient history, there has been a “late majority” of tech consumers who have simply not seen a reason to change. To watch “Zoom” go from cool tech to a mainstream verb in weeks has been breathtaking. But it is more than Zoom - it is the use of contact tracing apps, the preference for contactless payments, the rise of the podcast and webcast and the boom in online retail. Our customers have a very different appetite for technology and with that comes higher expectations and greater opportunity to innovate.
7. Small “a” agility
Peak “Agile” may have been reached recently with the word splashed across the front cover of leading management publications. While many organisations have looked at agile work practices and some have pursued this more formally, during the crisis every organisation has had to adopt the basic principles of cross functional teams operating at pace with imperfect data, failing fast and pivoting, and focusing on clearly articulated priorities. Organisational agility and the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions has never been more important. What will these lessons teach executives who are looking for competitive advantage through execution at pace?
These are the forces at play and companies are responding in a myriad of ways. Predicting the future rarely goes well - especially in times such as this. However control the controllable is a favourite mantra of mine.
What we can control is how we lead. How we empathise with our teams and customers, how we think about the opportunity regardless of the headwinds, how well we engage transparently with all stakeholders, how we use data to help inform decisions and how we manage for the short term and the long term at the same time.
I started with a professor and will end with a doctor – Dr Seuss.
“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
This crisis has already bought incredible hardship and it is likely there is more to come. How organisations will emerge post-COVID will somewhat be defined by which of the three alternatives we choose.
Gerard Florian is Group Executive – Technology at ANZ