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Both in the media and in casual conversation, we often hear about the time "after corona" when things are back to normal. But that world no longer exists and here's why.
In the same way major events like September 11th or World War Two changed the world irreversibly, so too has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While all of the ramifications are not fully visible yet, we are beginning to settle into a new normal or, in some cases, at least accept that certain changes are here for good.
For many established companies, especially outside the tech sector, it was a given that work was done from 9 to 5 in traditional offices, a relic from the era of industrialization that seemed written in stone until March. The rise of mobile devices over the past two decades meant work crept into our private lives although there was no added flexibility for most people to balance it out.
Once Upon a Time During Corona
There was also a time during Corona. By this, I mean the days and weeks in which entire workforces transitioned to home office overnight, where shift models were introduced for classic desk jobs, where orders for laptops and especially headsets shot up, as did inquiries in service centers and IT help desks. Many companies faced not just major technical challenges, but also organizational ones including:
- How can we ensure all employees receive important information?
- Which tools should we use to coordinate and communicate? Do we have them?
- How can we effectively work together on the same project or even document?
- How can we minimize the negative social consequences of isolation?
- How can we provide support to both customers and employees?
Even while lockdowns and other public measures are beginning to loosen, both private social interactions and businesses will certainly not be the same as before. Twitter has already announced its employees can continue working from home after the pandemic is over and many people never want to return to the office.
The Future is Now
Over the past two months, employers have learned by force of circumstance that most employees can not only be trusted to work from home, but can continue to maintain their previous levels of productivity, if not higher ones. Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration tools aren't just for those with offices overseas or in other time zones, but for everyone. Even our children are now taking classes online despite e-learning and distance learning having been predicted to grow for some time, but never quite taking off.
It is clear that the digitalization of things like education and especially the workplace are not only possible, but an unavoidable new reality. There are simply no more excuses conservative executives and management can make. It's now the end of the road and the metaphorical can can't be kicked any further.
Two Challenges of Our New Digital Workplaces
Despite the positives of today's technology enabling many people to keep their jobs and remain productive from anywhere, there are two challenges companies still face:
- The social aspects of work
- Collaboration and communication tools
Maintaining Social Ties & Mental Health
We like to count, analyze and measure productivity and output, forgetting that so many things are aided if not made possible via the relationships we have with others both inside and outside our company.
There's been plenty of creativity on the part of both companies and individuals for dealing with this shortfall in social ties. Here are some great examples for private and work life we've found.
- Setup virtual workout sessions with a buddy to exercise via Facetime or Zoom.
- Get to know your neighbors better
- Learn a new language on an app like Duolingo (I'm on a 42 day streak for Italian!)
- Celebrate things remotely. I recently celebrated a birthday with family in Europe and the U.S. via Facetime
- Start a book club either via video calls or online forums
- Send snail mail. My kids have had great fun writing letters and cards to friends, not to mention receiving them
- Setup virtual coffee breaks or happy hours with coworkers where discussing work is strictly verboten
- Teach others a new skill or share tips on a regular basis
- Bring pets & kids into video meetings for extra fun (may also not be optional!)
- Watch a movie together after work with things like the Netflix & Chill extension for Chrome
Working Effectively Alone & Together
Working alone and together at the same time can be a challenge of both social ties and especially tools. This is one area where having the right tools really makes all the difference in contrast to just getting by with something that works well enough.
Here are a few must-have tools for both right now and the long-term future.
- Online meeting tools - Whether Zoom, 8x8, Facetime, MS Teams or other, the ability to easily chat via text and video, share files and stay in real time communication is critical all within the same tool.
- VPN Access - Local and network drives quickly reached their limits when things began shutting down in mid-March. Ensure everyone has access to your VPN and that the connection is reliable and high-speed. Better yet, move to cloud-based like Google Suite for Business.
- Softphones - In order to remain available to customers as usual, phones must be forwarded and just as easy to use as before. Believe it not, sometimes people still need to dial real numbers!
- Knowledge management software - Access to the same quality-assured knowledge and a "single source of truth" is essential, especially when employees are working from different locations. No more shoulder taps.
- IT Self-service tools - Away from the office, many people may have trouble solving issues or getting questions answered. Solid self-service and alerting tools will enable your helpdesk to stay on top of things and employees to get issues fixed quickly.
Our Special Offer Has Been Extended
As the pandemic continues with the future full of uncertainty, Unymira will continue to offer it's range of knowledge management, customer service and IT products free for 90 days to help companies smoothly transition to digital workplaces. Be prepared now and in the future to deliver excellent service, whatever may happen.
Jarrod worked as USU's Product Marketing Manager for Knowledge Management in 2019.