The Covid-19 pandemic brought a real threat to our lives. But it also forced the world to progress in many areas. The workplace is no exception.
“Tomorrow I am working from home” - my employee told me today. She didn’t ask for my permission - she didn’t need to. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our team proved to ourselves that we can work from home as effectively (or more!) as we do in the office.
“Our people have been working from home for the last 6 weeks and I see no negative impact on the business - we are running with our regular speed” - a senior executive of one of the largest tech companies in Vietnam told me a week ago.
On the other hand, in the last few weeks, I heard many of these remarks: “Many of our projects are on hold or slowed down significantly” or: “The employee engagement has decreased a lot, we are not confident to launch any new projects until everyone is back in the office”.
The world of work is changing dramatically. The COVID-19 pandemic created significant limitations to the in-person interactions at workplaces. Workplace digitization trend started much before the crisis but the Covid-19 has accelerated its pace to the new level.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Asian companies proved to be open to finding, testing, and adapting new tech solutions for the workplace to maintain high employee engagement, communication, and collaboration.
Further workplace transformation will be led by positive results of this accelerated digitization. Employees who proved to work effectively from home will generate an increasing pressure to allow a higher degree of remote work in the ‘new normal’ creating a standard we haven’t seen before.
At the same time, many companies realized that they failed the Covid-19 test. The employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity became visibly weaker in companies without suitable management, culture, and infrastructure.
Interactions between employees decrease by 70% if desks are apart for more than 5 meters (Adecco) and the productivity will drop by 25%-50% as a result of “work from home”, at-work social distancing, and economic anxiety (McKinsey).
In the short term, companies will stay focused on cost reduction to balance the revenue shortage from Q1 and Q2. Moreover, a degree of ‘social distancing’ will be kept creating a further gap in employee engagement, productivity, and top talents retention if not addressed. More agile organizations will repurpose training budgets to remote working skills training and improving engagement channels.
By Q4 ‘20, Vietnam’s economy is expected to recover significantly quicker than other Southeast Asia countries, with the IMF projecting 2.7% GDP growth before an acceleration of 7.0% in 20201. Before an effective vaccine has been widely distributed, the WEF predicts the virus will continue to exist for between 12 and 24 months, reappearing seasonally. Partial isolations, including at workplaces, will continue to exist with stricter guidelines imposed in the event of subsequent outbreaks.
Employee's frustration and anxiety may grow due to the long-term economic uncertainty and the importance of internal communication in companies will further increase. Moreover, by the end of the year, employees will voice expectations for annual bonuses which companies may not be able to pay due to low 2020 financial results. To compensate, companies will have to replace promised bonuses with other attractive benefits at a lower cost to the company.
To be prepared for similar crises in the future and react quickly, local HR teams will receive more autonomy from the headquarters. The focus will be placed on improving organizational agility to shorten the development cycle of new initiatives. Most of HR processes will be moved to secure cloud-based platforms with additional tools being implemented for collaboration, documents sharing, and ongoing communication including rapid health self-reporting channels in case of new epidemic.
Other tools essential to keep the workforce engaged and productive will include online self-service benefits and recognition portals, listening at scale tools, virtual learning, and employee onboarding, as well as career progress tracking tools enabling workforce redeployment based on new needs.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought a real threat to our lives. But it also forced the world to progress in many areas. The workplace is no exception. While we can’t come back to the past, we are in control of the future and this is a great opportunity to transform our workplaces and bring employee engagement to the new heights.