3 Ways to Prepare for the Future of Digital Offices

22, 2021

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the biggest question was whether it was logistically feasible to have such a huge number of people doing their jobs from home. In some cases, such as with the restaurant industry, businesses took a massive hit as they discovered there wasn’t an ideal solution. In other arenas, where the nature of the jobs didn’t require in-person work, leaders discovered that they could let some or all of their employees work remotely and still be incredibly profitable.

Now, though, the country is beginning to open up, and American businesses have to think about what the immediate and long-term future after reopening is going to look like. And one of the biggest questions is how to ensure that their offices are prepared for new digital realities and objectives.

Related: Pros and Cons of Remote Work: Will Your Employees Adapt?

1. Evaluate worker preferences carefully

Even though 68% of workers want a hybrid workplace model after the pandemic is over, there’s a disconnect between that preference and what many leaders want. Meanwhile, 70% of surveyed CEOs said they plan to have workers back in the office, and some professionals assert that things will just go back to the way they used to be because of the power companies have over their teams. 

To make sure your plans align with what your team wants, find workable compromises:

  • Avoid tensions that can sour your culture, have important but hard conversations with the team and conduct surveys to discover what most people prefer to do.
  • Consider whether allowing your remote workers to stay at home would create a practical or financial burden.
  • If remaining at home benefits employees’ mental or physical health, or their overall productivity, consider allowing them to maintain their current setup. 

Most companies have been vague about their plans or haven’t discussed them at all. Additionally, businesses that have reneged on what they told workers already are seeing a backlash, as the broken promises dissolve trust and create challenges for employees (for example, having to choose between the job and the home they wanted to buy in a different location). So whatever the worker preference is, communication about your intentions needs to be clear. If you already have made a promise to your workers about what you would allow them to do, keep it.

Related: 5 Ways Your Business Can Benefit From a Virtual Office

2. Review consumer behaviors

During the pandemic, consumers drastically changed their behaviors, spiking ecommerce and adapting to options like no-contact pickup and pay. As McKinsey & Company points out, this has shifted many of their long-term expectations, and companies are having to account for that shift in how they operate and what they offer. 

But consumers and your team are interconnected. When your workers are happy to buy into your vision, they work better and provide better service so that customers are happy too. It’s a simple cycle perpetuated by good business practices. Additionally, companies that identify emerging opportunities and provide great empathy during times of change often navigate the change most successfully.

So you have to think about whether your remote workers are going to meet the new demands consumers have in the post-pandemic world, and whether they can continue to be the powerful brand advocates you need them to be from a distance. Many companies likely will find that, at a minimum, they need to continue to invest in their current digital workforce to serve consumers who spend more time online. Metrics can tell you how many workers need to be face-to-face with your buyers, where it makes sense to rely more on technology or where workers can pivot to different tasks. 

3. Capitalize on emerging and proven technologies

Prior to Covid-19, companies were using a slew of incredible technologies to stay productive and connected. But the pandemic elevated these technologies and helped leaders understand their importance. Platforms like Zoom, for example, went from useful to vital almost overnight because they solved new problems while still offering the face-to-face contact teams needed.

As more and more people work from home, a survey from McKinsey found that 93% of businesses experienced an increase in remote work during the virus crisis. Of that 93%, 54% of respondents said they thought the changes would stick. Because leaders see remote work as a long-term change, they’re already investing in it for the long haul.

With this kind of financial support and shift in attitude, the use of these existing technologies will only become more normalized over time. There will also likely be a wave of entirely new digital options from developers and engineers who seek to innovate even more dramatically for the remote-work environment in highly customized ways. It makes sense to acknowledge this trend and at least explore the possibility of modernizing the systems and practices your company currently is using.

Related: Why You Need a Virtual Office in 2021

As the pandemic may be coming under control and we move through reopening, companies have choices about how to proceed. But how people lived and worked during the crisis will continue to have an influence on how we live and work for years to come. There is a new, positive mentality emerging that it’s okay to use cutting-edge technology to serve customers better and create a happier, decentralized workforce. Adapting to this new way of thinking will allow you to stay ahead of the pack, but remember that every company is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to anything. To create post-pandemic plans that truly lead you to success, evaluate your own situation and goals. The digital office is here to stay and offers incredible power in all kinds of industries, but how you shape it is entirely up to you. 

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