Charting a new way forward

Day-to-day work was already being disrupted by globalisation and new technologies before most people had even heard of COVID-19. However, the pandemic instigated an astonishing acceleration of the digitalisation process, transforming business landscapes - from how we collaborate to how we source talent and motivate our people.

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As with all advances, however, leaders will need to strike a balance between the huge opportunities offered by an “always-on” virtual world and the need to manage employee wellbeing and preserve a healthy organisational culture. The pandemic has also laid bare the need for stronger and more authentic human leadership.

"In a period of crisis, people are constantly looking for direction and reassurance.” – Shayne Elliott

According to ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott, the past year reinforced to him the importance of clarity in communication.

“In a period of crisis, people are constantly looking for direction and reassurance,” he explains. “I needed to ensure what was most important to our business and our people remained top of mind for all employees around the world.”

Capgemini CEO Aiman Ezzat says across industries change is taking place in weeks that would have normally taken months or even years.

"I’ve been deeply impressed by the speed at which our societies have evolved and adapted. For example, new investments and innovations for health like vaccines, telehealth and contact tracing. And in retail a massive acceleration in the adoption of contactless payments and ecommerce."

"All businesses, including Capgemini and ANZ, have been disrupted in the short term as they have focused on their immediate crisis response. One major long-term impact of the pandemic is seen in the evolution of our operating model towards a borderless hybrid working model," he explains.

While the precise definition of ‘hybrid working’ will vary by company, the consensus is there will be no going back to a 100 per cent in-office model in the foreseeable future – perhaps ever.

Capgemini’s future of work research found three-quarters of organisations expect 30 per cent or more of their employees to be working remotely now and over a quarter expect over 70 per cent of staff to work remotely going forward.

In remote settings which may make up a bulk of people’s working location in the future, employee productivity has increased and costs have decreased. However, these gains may come at the expense of employee wellbeing.

A majority of companies say remote working has transformed performance but some business leaders believe this productivity gain might be due to people simply putting in more hours as the line between home and work become blurred.

At ANZ, Elliott says the bank has always offered flexibility around working hours.

“Employees could come in and go home early or even work part-time. But over the past year, flexibility has been the focus,” he says.

“There are two dimensions to flexibility of the workforce now: time and place. We allow teams to access the quadrant of these two dimensions they naturally fit into. We also realise the number of people in each of those quadrants will shift and change over time.”

Despite this, some leaders do not believe this productivity gain from remote working is necessarily sustainable beyond the pandemic, given it can come at a high personal cost for employees. This concern is supported by Capgemini’s research which found more than half of employees feel burned out from working longer hours in a remote environment.

However, this focus on employee wellbeing needs to be backed up with positive action. Many companies are now training managers to engage employees with more empathy and care and to adjust their leadership and communication styles when dealing with remote workers.

"We have a unique opportunity today to reimagine the way we do business, the way we work and the way we live," concludes Ezzat.

Marisa Slatter is Director of the Capgemini Research Institute

Click here to read the full Conversation for Tomorrow report

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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