COVID-19, the new normal? Will the pandemic change the way we work forever?

COVID-19 has transformed our way of living in almost every aspect one could list off. Although it’s hard to imagine right now, the coronavirus crisis will finally come to an end, and things will get back to normal. Some things may go back to the way they were. For others, there will be a new normal.

It would be quite challenging to drive change through a business, but [COVID] has been a giant experiment in working from home and given us the liberty to reform the norm. The four International Student Projects have carried out interviews with partner companies and learned about interesting changes that the pandemic has brought into these organizations. 

Uptake of technology
During the pandemic, many of the existing but unused digital communication channels suddenly became indispensable. Video conferencing was even introduced for social internal contacts, which Fent AG refers to as “e-coffee breaks”. Another example of digital transformation can be seen in the offices of EBL, sponsor company for connectUS, who has introduced Smart Work to their employees. Its aim is to maintain the distance among staff members at all levels but still be able to communicate properly. Since then, Zoom has been used for all kinds of meetings, from requesting brief information via chat to holding employee information events. After returning to work, most of the meetings with external partners are also carried out electronically.

Communication
While many might think that working from home would limit communication with colleagues, this wasn’t always the case. By forcing businesses to shift to remote working, the pandemic has shown employers and employees that strong communication can still take place away from the office. Working from home allowed many businesses to explore different collaboration tools, which have allowed virtual meetings and discussions. According to Mladen Tomic, Head Group Communications from Swiss Prime Site, sponsoring for insightChina, the individual teams often hold daily calls to keep each other informed. Moreover, they’re now using communication methods, which previously did not cultivate much, such as Video-Calls, MS-Teams, etc.

Photo: Swiss Prime Site

Corporate flexibility
The pandemic has shown there’s another way of organizing white-collar work. Chrys Francisco Laguitao, a Senior UX Designer from Google Singapore has shared with exploreASEAN that her team finds it’s even more efficient in communicating with each other remotely and not allowing the geographical differences as the barrier to their speed and efficiency. In the past, they would have to travel a lot, but now they find ways to do certain activities without traveling. It is not the same for sure and sometimes not optimal, for example when talking to the users, but they have been able to adapt to the situation and still get similar results. 

Photo: Google Singapore

Work-life balance
Roman Hofer, former Focus India Delegation Member, Junior Automation Engineer at Zenith Technologies – a Cognizant Company, has affirmed that it’s highly beneficial to work from home, especially for those who have to commute for 2 hours and more every day. For Roman, however, the best option would be a mix between three days working remotely and two days on-site or in the office to get the social interaction with the team and with the customer. He also thinks that when working hours become more flexible it helps to improve work-life balance. Therefore, companies can benefit from relaxed, healthy, and highly motivated employees.

Photo: Roman Hofer giving a speech at the preparatory seminar of Focus India 2019/2020

The common collected result from the interviews has shown that companies would like to keep a combination of physical and digital interactions. And yet, we won’t see a large-scale move to remote work and some work activities will go back to the way they used to be, at least for a while. But there will be permanent changes, which will forever alter the way we think about, and behave at work.