“Change,” observed the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “is the only constant in life.”
Quite what someone reported to have died in 475BC would have made of the current century and all its tech-driven adjustments is impossible to imagine. Mind-blowing, most likely.
Yet you expect Heraclitus would have seen the epic levels of disruption and digital adoption enforced by Covid over the past 12 months as fitting in quite neatly with his view of the world.
However evolution is woven into the consequences of time. And as history over three millennia has shown, there is no going backwards. Embrace the new, or perish.
How have we adapted?
Business, included, of course. From sole traders to SMEs to the biggest corporations in the world, regression to 2019 is simply not an option on the table as we all peer into the distance.
People and places are locked into this transformation towards a new norm now. Forces, both national and global, are remoulding how and where we work. The implications remain huge.
The revolutionary switch to working from home has redefined our requirements for property, both in offices and the manufacturing space. Have glistening skyscrapers and sprawling business parks been consigned to redundancy by kitchen tables and insulated sheds?
Not fully perhaps. But according to research from consulting firm, McKinsey, 54 per cent of businesses plan to reconfigure their office space in the short term with an even greater number targeting fewer, lower-cost hubs. That’s already brought a movement in early termination of leases and consolidation of properties.
While this mass reorganisation is partly driven by trimming budgets, it is also sparked by reorganisation and reform - and eyes that have been widely opened.
What began as an ‘experiment’ last spring has morphed into an acceptance of a better way.
For our human resource planning and management too. The pandemic demanded that we reconfigure the idea of a meeting, of an office, of a team. Remote project delivery is now vital. But is every business well-equipped for the challenges that presents in effective collaboration?
If we are designing a digitally-savvy workplace that can deliver growth and potential, then the very idea of ‘people’ can be blown up and constructed afresh. Talent and expertise are now more mobile than they have ever been. How to acquire and utilise them though?
Opportunity knocks. Threats likewise.
“People have adapted,” underlined Lorraine Kneeborne, a SmartPA, who has HR experience within FTSE-100 companies. “You see it in the way that teams have been maintained and built through Zoom and Teams.
“It’s become second nature. Project groups can still function very well, if not better.
“There are some issues that can become problems. If someone isn’t performing well, then it’s impersonal to sit down on a video call rather than face to face to find out the support they need.
“There are things we will be able to keep doing even better in the future. But there is going to be a balance to strike.”
Being smarter in the price of capital
Positioning the right person in the ideal situation to benefit an organisation has never been more vital but more problematic.
Priceless to build resilience and plot how to rise above the noise in this brave new universe; difficult when competition to acquire that fresh input comes from all over.
Working from anywhere also means hiring from any place. And our pool of recruits increasingly choosing to base themselves where it is best for their lives, not their bosses.
In a YouGov poll for recruitment giant Adecco, 52 per cent of workers in the UK forecast a reversal of a brain drain to large cities that has been decades in the making. Instead, the survey found, people will migrate to smaller cities and the rural environment, anywhere with reliable broadband and decent coffee.
That can provide an opening for corporations to pivot and profit. Covid, found McKinsey’s analysis, has revealed not just weaknesses in the old methodology but also areas where improvement can be found.
We have witnesses how processes, in the office and on the shop floor, are there to be revised.
“Leaders will need to reconsider which costs are truly fixed versus variable, as the shutting down of huge swaths of production sheds light on what is ultimately required versus nice to have,” said McKinsey’s report.
“Decisions about how far to flex operations without loss of efficiency will likewise be informed by the experience of closing down much of global production.
“Opportunities to push the envelope of technology adoption will be accelerated by rapid learning about what it takes to drive productivity when labour is unavailable. The result: a stronger sense of what makes business more resilient to shocks, more productive, and better able to deliver to customers.”
Injecting the perfect expert knowledge no longer has to be accompanied by an employment contract. There is a good reason Business Processing Outsourcing was on the rise before the world was turned upside down. But in planning all kinds of resources and reorganising accordingly, it makes sense to pursue adaptability.
New dynamic environment
Just as the office will become a hub of hot desks and gathering places rather than a rigid series of pods, so too should we buy in the human capital that suits our needs and market demands at each moment. Scalability and flexibility are the new must-haves.
In Deloitte’s recent report on Workforce strategies for post COVID-19 recovery, it suggests this “new dynamic environment” will connect people with “greater speed, more adaptability, a heightened team focus, and new priorities.” That, it underlined, is the way to survive the pandemic and emerge stronger and leaner on the other side.
Pitfalls lie in wait. Without a true sense of brand advocacy, then customers can feel a damaging disconnect. Cost cutting looks great on the bottom line. Slashing expenditure without a strategy to underpin future growth risks a slump into the red.
Embrace virtual working and outside insights. Just do it with the right partner.
Seize the chance to review and revolutionise our approach to people and place. But plan for the future over mirroring the past.
Know that to do nothing is to go backwards. From Ancient Greece to Earth 2021, change is coming and we must constantly run to keep up.
Mark Woods is a freelance business writer.