A humble team tea round in 2019 seems like a distant memory. It has now been more than 11 months since my generation, that is the Millennial workforce, in the UK first-hand experienced the fallout of a global pandemic.
To put this event into perspective we must first acknowledge that global pandemics are a rare occurrence, modern humanity has experienced only 5 (as listed) worldwide large-scale pandemics in the last 120 years that have impacted millions of souls.
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- The 1918 H1N1
- The 1957-1958 H2N2
- The 1968 H3N2
- The 2009 H1N1-PDM09
- The 2020 COVID-19
Compared to the original Chinese COVID-19 and its potent British and South African companions, the 2009 outbreak had been successfully managed worldwide, strictly from a statistical perspective and due to the relatively mild nature of H1N1-PDM09 and in 1968 the event broadly contained within Hong Kong where it originated.
So why are we confused then you ask?
Here are my top three reasons:
First: The work culture
Within the business setting, numerous in person meetings and hundreds of weekly electronic memos was a common theme. Before the tilt towards a better “work life balance” culture, it was engrained common practice for managers and their teams to work long hours in the office, skip lunch at times and take work home with the usual detour via the local pub. Such behaviours have come to an abrupt halt and have been literally flipped on their heads.
Second: The speed
The one major lesson nature has tutored us this time is that we all live in one big fishbowl and a problem in one corner of the world can quickly become everyone’s problem. The worlds governments wholly underestimated the speed at which this virus could be transmitted. The battle was in fact lost in the first 2-4 vital weeks where a lot more could have been done to prevent the spread within the UK. This nevertheless resulted in the virus entrenching itself within the populations and the resultant is this long-drawn war.
Third: Lack of experience
Broadly speaking, large organisational workforces including government and its agencies currently cover 4 generations, the baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. Management and leadership teams across any of these generations simply do not have the required depth of experience to fully support such a crisis.
This lack of insight must be recognised and it is evident as majority of organisations and governments alike have initially struggled to develop and agree a viable crisis management strategy to support business continuity in the face of mounting operational challenges.
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The resulting consequence is that the UK workforce has been segmented into four distinct groups and most of their standard working models were rudely interrupted and transformed anew.
Even after the virus has been vanquished, the changes to the new business as usual will further evolve and crystalise over 2021 as business leaders and managers relatively come to terms with their new operating environments.
Operating environments which now redefine the meaning of a team, individual productivity and core organisational values.
Group A: Front Liners: NHS & Essential Services
Group B: Behind the Scenes: Critical Infrastructure and Support Services
Group C: Hardest Hit: Retail, Hospitality, Close Contact Services
Group D: The Adaptive: Professional and Highly Skilled Workers
This natural segmentation has resulted in the organic evolution of two work models:
A: The Working from Home Model: Flexible Model
This model is the more familiar of the two, back in the days sitting in front of your laptop in the evening post usual daily chores, trying to stay ahead of the workload or a critical deadline was an occasional scenario in many households.
While adopting this familiar model has been a natural instinct; rather than working occasional evenings, we now have to typically replicate normal business hours, potentially early morning and late evening work within the confines of your home over an extended period.
This type of work can only be sustained by a subset of Group B and Group D workers where deadlines can be negotiated and work can be completed in isolation over any period within the 24 hours.
B: The Remote Working Model: Inflexible Model
A relatively newer model where the work setting (hardware & systems) is replicated within an individual home. The biggest distinguishing factor here is that work tasks and timings cannot be negotiated or altered.
Vast number of Group B and subset of Group C workers fall within this category and have been the most impacted by the crisis due to the non-flexible nature of this working model.
For both the models, childcare/home-schooling, and the ability/temptation of running the washing machine, exercise or walking the dog means discipline is lost and the “work life balance” seamlessly merges into one unsustainable cycle.
For both the models, the only opportunity for organisations to realise optimum efficiency is when:
(a) added responsibility of home schooling is passed back to the teaching institutions and
(b) each role and its tasks are correctly grouped so targeted support can be provided along with alignment to one of the two models.
The real threat to our mental health is when we have to switch between the flexible and inflexible models continuously, resulting in increased stress and a degradation of daily routine.
Conclusion, how can technology compliment these two new models?
Before we look to technology for solutions it is important to understand which groups it can help and to what degree.
Classification is very important to ensure no one is left behind.
Classification Boundary 1:
Every effort must be made to ensure the population in Group C is minimised, by ensuring appropriate and definitive classification of who is a “Key Worker” including Teachers.
Classification Boundary 2:
This is the first area where leveraging technology can have a high impact to empower Group C workers effectively deliver their services. We can already see innovative approaches within the retail and real estate sector with virtual shopping experiences and home viewing respectively.
The residual Group C population like hospitality must then be supported by the various Government schemes over the long term as they do not have any other recourse at present.
Classification Boundary 3:
Ensuring Group B workers can return to On-site working within a safe environment should be a priority for business and we can see a lot of work has already been done to support such workers i.e. with their child care.
Classification Boundary 4:
This is the second area where technology can have a high impact to empower Group B workers and offer them a more flexible working model.
Beyond doubt, technology has a greater contribution in the face of the COVID-19 challenge and the shift in our clients working habits into the new Virtual Office Environment.
In my opinion the 5 key goals for us in 2021 and beyond as technology solutions professionals is to be able to offer our clients:
- Process flexibility while supporting effective operational
- Increased automation without losing the ability to audit each step of the process.
- Power to integrate volatility effortlessly without diluting accuracy & timeliness.
- Manage large data seamlessly without compromising on speed.
- Insightful ability to connect people & support productivity while being distributed, globally.
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