What will happen after the pandemic has been tamed and we have been vaccinated? Will we be able to return to life pre-COVID-19, or will we incorporate what we have learned into a new reality? And perhaps one of the biggest question marks right now: what does this mean for our working life?
In July 2020, Gartner revealed that 82% of company leaders intended to permit remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace. And when you think about it, many of the ingredients that helped businesses navigate 2020 have laid the foundation for this type of hybrid working model – where employees can work both in the office and remotely – to succeed. From having the technical infrastructure to support internal and external collaboration, through to the data insights that gave leadership teams the confidence to adapt policies with agility.
This acceptance of remote working becoming ‘the norm’ highlights how the pandemic has accelerated shifts in attitude. As McKinsey noted, “the virus has broken through cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past, setting in motion a structural shift in where work takes place, at least for some people.”
However, there could be a danger that businesses think it’s all plain sailing from here: since employees were able to shift to remote working relatively quickly, technological and cultural problems would largely have already been ironed out by now. Yet that mindset overlooks how, for many, the past year has been a case of make-do-and-mend.
The evolution from primarily office-based to an equal balance of on and off-site working is as much about a move from people using technology to people empowered by technology, as it is about locations. It is in that step change that employers need to start thinking about if they haven’t already done so.
What’s needed will depend on the company, the industry they operate in and the role of the employee themselves. That said, there will be some consistencies, drawing on the experiences of 2020 – the ability to communicate, collaborate and create within teams that might not be in the same room, and the ability to access and digest information to make informed decisions without elongated discussions, meetings and ad hoc informal catch ups.
Underpinning all of this is a need for data. But leaders will need to ensure that having a mixture of physical and digital workspaces does not lead to data becoming siloed. More specifically, they must deliver access to trusted, cleaned and governed data, in real-time and the right context. If these parameters are met, then decision-making, sharing information, and actioning data-driven outcomes that deliver value become a reality for an organization, irrespective of where their teams are working from.
But there is another element required – data literacy. In a pre-pandemic study from Accenture and Qlik, 75% of C-level decision makers believed that all or most of their employees could proficiently work with data, yet just 21% of the global workforce said they felt confident in their data literacy skills.
That’s a big discrepancy. Especially since the entire workforce should feel empowered to process, interpret, and act upon data. Why? It takes the value of this information away from a select group of data scientists and business intelligence specialists and democratizes it across the entire organization. Data literacy is a vital piece in connecting the potential of data with the enablement of dispersed workforces – without it, worker productivity will be restricted to when they have access to specialist teams, or even when those teams are available to meet. And crucially, it will undermine the effectiveness and competitiveness of the business.
And as data and analytics technologies constantly evolve, employees must also upskill with them. Leaders must therefore ensure that data literacy training, accommodating both office and home-based learning, is a core part of their organization’s data strategy, with employees also encouraged to ask questions about turning data into insight. Only by doing so will they ensure that no one falls behind.
Our new way of working is likely to be a mixture of employers keeping what they think was best about office working and integrating the benefits of an empowered employee base that can work from wherever they choose. To successfully do this, leaders must continue to build on the digital foundations established in 2020. By closing data silos and upskilling their employees in data literacy, they will foster a culture of data-driven decision-making amongst the workforce that caters to having both physical and digital teams. It’s time to say hello to (and prepare for) the hybrid workforce, it’s here to stay.