How to use tech to emerge from the crisis stronger

By Tammy Browning, SVP & President, KellyOCG

The future of work is here, ahead of schedule. I believe that companies must act now by exploiting the possibilities of new technologies.

For centuries, new technologies have emerged and changed the way people do business. In the past decade, it’s been all about remote working, with the rise of cloud computing helping many workers slowly untether themselves from their desks and achieve a better work-life balance. Like a wave building steadily, remote working has been gaining momentum. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and suddenly that wave was a tsunami. It broke across the globe, forcing millions of us to start working remotely full time – at short notice. New technologies made it possible.

For businesses, the combined effect of new technologies and the pandemic has been intense. It’s not just where we work that is changing because of this unique combination, it’s also how we work.

Of course, technology was always going to play a huge role in the future of work, but the global pandemic has sped up the process. I’ve seen this acceleration play out myself, both at KellyOCG and among our clients. But some organizations are struggling to make the best of this unique opportunity, so I’ve outlined three ways in which they can harness the possibilities:

  1. Follow your employees’ lead on remote working
  2. Invest in technology and embrace the gig economy
  3. Reimagine the big picture

First, let’s try to understand how the pandemic and technology have combined to transform the workforce.

What’s changed?

First, remote working has suddenly become normal

Where are you reading this? Chances are, you’re in your home study or at a makeshift workstation on the kitchen table. Our homes and our offices have blended into one. At the height of the pandemic, almost half (44%) of the US workforce worked from home for at least part of the week – more than double the 17% who did so before the pandemic.[1] That increase is staggering.

None of it would be possible without new technologies. We’ve all become accustomed – if we weren’t already ­– to saving our work to the Cloud, hosting meetings by video and collaborating using tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. Covid-19 has supercharged the remote-working revolution, and the big tech firms have enjoyed the benefits. Zoom, for instance, saw use of its software jump 30-fold in April,[2] and Microsoft Teams’ active users surged to 75 million during the pandemic’s peak.[3] Pandemic and tech are combining to create new industry leaders.

At KellyOCG, we’ve helped people improve their working-from-home experience. One of our manufacturing clients was planning to launch a new helpdesk function when the pandemic forced people to work from home. Our KellyConnect team helped this client reimagine the entire facility and roll out a virtual solution, including converting training materials into an online virtual course.

Second, a new kind of gig economy is on the rise

It’s not just about where we work; the pandemic is also changing how we work. I mentioned in previous blog posts how workers now have a new sense of purpose and values, and how the make-up of the workforce is changing as a result, with more and more people choosing to prioritize their home lives over their jobs.

As a result, more and more people are looking to tap into the gig economy. Famous for Uber drivers and Deliveroo bikers, it’s gone from strength to strength in recent years – and now the pandemic could be the catalyst for a new kind of gig economy. Britain’s gig economy doubled in the three years to 2019, accounting for nearly five million workers,[4] and in the US the percentage of the workforce participating in the gig economy is expected to grow to 43% this year.[5] Most of us have experienced the gig economy in some way, and now it seems like many of us want to work on this basis as we re-evaluate our nine-to-five jobs: motivation is changing from a job for life and the gold watch for decades of service to flexibility and time with family.

So I see the gig economy evolving as people from different industries, with different skills, seek to work in this way. It will expand to include higher-paid and higher-skilled jobs, giving way to a new kind gig economy. Again, technology is enabling this shift. A range of online platforms, such as Toptal,[6] connect freelance workers to flexible projects across the globe. And at Kelly we’ve launched an online human cloud platform aggregator[7] that gives companies a faster, more cost-efficient way to hire people by integrating with freelance work platforms simplifying access to new sources of highly skilled talent through an existing MSP solution. 

How to get the best from new tech during the pandemic

  1. Follow your employees’ lead on remote working

When offices were forced to close, employees stepped up. They created makeshift workstations, juggled caring responsibilities and work, and found new ways to build a remote culture through technology. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve earned the right to design their own future at work, whether that’s on a full-time, part-time or freelance basis, at home, in the office or both. If you afforded these benefits to workers when it suited the organization’s goals, you might struggle to make the case to remove them. So follow your employees’ lead and allow them to work in a way that suits them.

Some of the big tech firms, Facebook[8] and Twitter[9] among them, have already committed to permanent changes to their workforces, allowing employees to work from home if they want to, and I strongly suspect many other companies will follow suit in time.

As well as fostering a happier workforce, providing a flexible option will encourage more reluctant people to return to work. Of course, not everyone can work remotely all the time due to the nature of their role, but they should be able to continue working flexible hours if you introduced these during the pandemic.

But giving employees what they want is just the first step. If they choose to be more remote in the future, you will need to build and nurture a remote-friendly culture. To do that, create a people and culture task force and experiment with new ways to create team spirit, such as online events and activities. At Kelly, we’ve been experimenting with ways to keep up employee morale while we’ve been working remotely -- such as virtual coffee chats, favorite t-shirt or hat and other virtual contests. It’s been a lot of fun.

The remote model won’t be without its challenges. You must do all you can to reduce video-call fatigue, and pay special attention to new starters who might feel isolated or overwhelmed. But I think that if you overcome these hurdles you will have a happier, more productive workforce.

  1. Invest in technology and embrace the gig economy

When the pandemic hit, we were forced at short notice to work from home, which meant we had to make the most of the technology we had (or could acquire quickly). This was fine in the short term, but if you make remote-working strategies permanent, you will have to invest in the right technology and equipment for staff.

But we must go beyond this too, by investing in new collaboration tools to ease the transition. We can tell from the rocketing numbers using the likes of Zoom and Slack that many companies are already on the case here.

You should also embrace the new gig economy in order to meet some employees’ desire to work on a flexible basis. It’s a mutually beneficial move: by tapping into the gig economy, you will access a rich vein of talent you would otherwise miss out on.

  1. Reimagine the big picture

Invest strategically in technology, and you could reimagine your entire operation. With more people working remotely, does your city-center office space need to be so big, or can you save money here? This opens up huge opportunities for companies to reinvest those savings into other, more meaningful areas.

Can you invest more in your employees to make them happier and more fulfilled? Can the cash go toward making your products even more customer centric? Or perhaps it could fuel your new efforts to give back to the community. By investing in technology to power a remote workforce, you can use the resulting savings to create a better company.

Pandemic + new tech = a powerful catalyst for workplace change

Like many of us, you may have personally re-evaluated your professional life and your role in society as a result of the pandemic. I strongly believe that companies should also use this time to rethink their place in the world, by listening to their workforces, investing in new technologies, and reassessing their strategies. This is a huge opportunity – use it wisely.

 

 

[1] Cision PR Newswire, 66% of U.S. Employees Are Working Remotely at Least Part-Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic, April 16, 2020

[2] BBC News, Zoom sees sales boom amid pandemic, June 2, 2020

[3] Business Insider, Microsoft Teams now has 75 million daily active users, adding 31 million in just over a month, April 29, 2020

[4] The Guardian, Gig economy in Britain doubles, accounting for 4.7 million workers, June 28, 2019

[5] Fortunly, Gig Economy Statistics 2020: The New Normal in the Workplace, May 19, 2020

[6] Toptal.com

[7] Kelly, Kelly® Launches Full-Service Human Cloud Platform Aggregator, April 21, 2020

[8] Financial Times, Facebook to shift permanently to a more remote workforce, May 21, 2020

[9] Twitter blog, Keeping our employees and partners safe during #coronavirus, May 12, 2020