The "new normal" seems to be the moniker given to whatever world we will emerge into once the coronavirus crisis passes. It will be devastating for many people, and whether it tips the world into recession or not, there will be a big economic bill to pay.
Life will go on, however. And as we maybe see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, a diverse range of ideas are floating through my social feeds on what the "new normal" will be.
No Turning Back From Digital Transformation Now
These opinions range from jovial discussions of a new age of hedonism (as we saw in the 1920s) when we are all allowed back into the pubs, to the positive impact on the planet that will come following the realization that all the carbon fueled travel we have been conditioned to do is not necessary.
One thing that is certain though is digital transformation, something big businesses have been slowly kicking along the road, has become top of the agenda for the C-suite. Organizations are facing the twin challenges of employees working remotely and consumers expecting a digital experience, in the absence of the in-person or in-store experience, to match their perception of the brand.
On the former, in a very recent survey of 317 CFOs and Finance leaders, Gartner found that 74% embrace continuing remote work for at least some of their staff.
However, the transformation to being a digital business is not just handing an employee a laptop, an account on Slack and Zoom. Yes, it's a hallelujah moment for those folks working for the laggards that have finally ripped up procedures and policies, born in the 19th-century industrial age to grudgingly embrace the information age. But, it's not a digital transformation.
Those things have enabled employees to communicate about the work in isolation, but not necessarily to do the work, as that requires the digitization of processes and tools. The fact that (according to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance) the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year suggests maybe there is still work to be done.
Related Article: The Remote Working Pendulum Swings Again: 9 Lessons Learned
We're All Forming New Habits That We Might Just Want to Keep
Employers need to recognize that in the next few months of global lockdown, their people will have a lifestyle they may not want to give up. I'm no psychologist, but research has shown it takes between 21 to 90 days for life-changing habits to form. Guess what? Many of us will be doing exactly this as we shelter in place.
Listen to the noise on social media and you'll hear a lot from those of us who've been remote working for years. But make no mistake — this is a significant shift. In 2019, an estimated 4.3 million people in the US worked remotely, which makes up a mere 3.2% of the entire workforce. Forty-four percent of companies didn’t allow remote work at all.
A vast number of people around the world who have been conditioned on the 9 to 5 workday will not just experience remote working and an end to the commute, they will also reap the social benefits of flexible working that the digital process, technology, and more enlightened HR policies enable.
If you're currently on lockdown, how many people do you see walking around your neighborhood on a weekday between 9am and 5pm? How many men are you seeing in the supermarket? How much more time are both parents spending with their kids? How has the split in domestic labor changed?
New habits are forming and lifestyles are changing. If an employer has not used this crisis to create a digital employee experience, to embrace flexible working, then come the "new normal" they will surely be at a talent disadvantage.
Will we ever want to go back to work as we knew it?