Is this the end of the office? Tech leaders discuss COVID-19 changes
Posted on April 28, 2021 by Jonathan Symcox
Regardless of scale, industry, or location, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to transform the way they operate.
With the majority of organisations forced to work remotely, a transition which may have taken years or even decades was forced through in a matter of weeks – and the changes may be here to stay.
One year on, the UK is rapidly vaccinating its population and beginning to transition out of lockdown. This leaves companies facing a new challenge: do we work remotely, in-office, or adopt a hybrid model?
“Before the pandemic, I didn’t believe that a company could ever be as productive and grow with home-based workers,” said Michele Romanow, co-founder and President at Clearbanc.
“This proved otherwise. It’s been an incredible year for eCommerce companies as everyone changed their habits to buy online; we’ve hired almost 200 people.
“In the past we’ve struggled recruiting executives from afar. One of our big realisations has been that we can recruit anyone from any part of the world because the Zoom-box is the great equaliser.”
Romanow believes that the changes brought about by the pandemic will ultimately benefit women as they seek parity with men.
“There’s been all this press around COVID setting women back [as] many are now at home with their children trying to teach them algebra and also do their jobs,” she adds. “But I think in the long term this will be a huge win for women in the workforce.
“We’ve seen this year it just doesn’t matter when you get the work done; you can send communications any time of day, and there’s not the bias of people thinking that when you’re working from home you’re not ‘actually working’.
“I’m super excited to see my employees in person again, but now I think that we’re going to do a series of in–person retreats throughout the year rather than being in the office everyday together. It’s going to be a brand–new world.”
Sergei Anikin, co-CEO and CTO of Pipedrive, expects further change in the way we work.
“At Pipedrive, we believe a hybrid model will become the most desirable option – as employees will want the flexibility to choose where they want to work,” he says.
“To facilitate hybrid working, businesses must look ahead and determine how they can keep their employees connected wherever they are based. The past year of remote work has taught us that it can be challenging to stay aligned when working in different locations – this lack of clarity can easily transition into burnout if left to fester.
“To tackle this, businesses must prioritise their company culture. Creating a work environment with forums and the right people in place so employees can ask for help even when the concern isn’t work-related, but is work-impacting.
“Prioritising communication and collaboration across your teams will result in an inclusive and supportive work environment that will see sustained and increased talent growth, and will continually produce the best possible business results.”
Simon O’Kane, Head of EMEA at Asana, says “there simply isn’t a replacement for in-person connection”.
However, he adds: “The future of work will remain flexible and some companies may consider hybrid work to give employees greater choice. Regardless, businesses need to look ahead to what the future of work holds and predict the pain points before they occur.
“The uncertainty that we experienced in remote work, resulted in an increase in self-doubt and impacted employee wellbeing. As we look to the future, businesses must be mindful of these issues and how they can be tackled.
“Organisations need to use this as an opportunity to shift their focus to the three Cs: content, communication, and coordination. Business leaders can achieve this by reviewing the tools deployed across the organisation and consolidating them to those that will support communication and collaboration.
“If successful, businesses will see greater alignment across teams and in turn improved staff wellbeing.”
Asam Akhtar, UK Manager at Envoy, says that the rapid shift to home working has had mixed results.
“Some have celebrated the personal liberation working from home has afforded them, while others have felt this transition has led to a blurring between home and work life,” he says. “As the UK continues to move out of lockdown, businesses must plan for what the future of work will look like.
“At Envoy, we believe that this will vary from company to company so instead of choosing in-office, at home or in a co-working space, organisations should empower their employees to choose by offering hybrid working as an option.
“Before a business can enable hybrid work, they need to create a safe work environment. To accomplish this, businesses must find solutions that provide visibility into who comes into the office and when.
“Using accurate data, businesses can then make informed decisions, from socially distanced office layouts, through to how many employees can work from the office at one time.
“As the vaccination roll-outs continue to progress at pace in the UK, we can expect restrictions to continue to ease. Therefore, it is critical that businesses get ahead now and begin planning for the future of work, or risk losing talented employees to organisations that do offer the choice.”
Stuart Templeton, Head of UK at communications platform Slack, describes the last year as “the great remote working experiment”.
“The meaning of ‘work’, along with the purpose of the physical office, have both been completely redefined,” he explains. “Only 11.6% of employees want to go back to being in the office full time, highlighting that this space is no longer the central hub of all business operations.
“Instead, employees are looking to take control of their time and create a schedule that empowers them to do their best work. In order to give workforces this flexibility, companies can only take one approach – hybrid working.
“To help teams succeed and embrace a hybrid future, business leaders must ensure that the tools they use to communicate are transparent and collaborative. Implementing a messaging app for business like Slack means that the right people can be across the relevant projects, streamlining information sharing and unlocking effective asynchronous work.
“As employees continue to work flexibly, channels can also be used to update teams on individual movements, so that everyone can take the time to switch off or manage their time more efficiently.
“Over the past year, flexible working has empowered teams to take control of their schedule. The future of work will be hybrid, and it will be the companies which embrace technology to facilitate this shift that will thrive in the months ahead.”