What 15 top executives have to say about the new normal? Surprises, changes, stress!

At first everybody believes the new normal can be easily defined, described, and made into a tidy little rule book. Some of the guys will be working from home and the others will stroll into the workplace when they are so-called weary of work at home. And then when the mask thingy gets a bit too much at office, they will flip back to work at home.

And so, it will keep rotating across the business and its pretty cool. After all, the schools are going to be doing it on a large scale, and so are the rest of the businesses, right? So, everything is figured out. Actually, it is not all figured out and the adjustment to new normal is just beginning.

This hybrid mode of working has some well-known pros and cons, that has been written about extensively. But it also has a host of less well-known pros and cons. The hybrid way of working has enormous stress levels also associated with it, for some parts of the workforce, while for others it seems to work extraordinary well.

The key takeaway is that in the post-pandemic workplace, organisations are just beginning to figure out how best to rebuild and realign with markets and customers, what services they build and deliver as an organisation, the teams of workers that collaborate and create this value, and for shareholders that have invested into the organisation and always require a handsome dividend.

The new normal does not recognise hierarchy in the organisation as a reflection of competency to manage workers in a hybrid workplace. Across a disembodied video or audio call, a CEO who has never had the empathy to feel a manager’s stress or sense of achievement in the real world, is not suddenly going to discover these qualities in a Zoom call.

In fact, the most singular achievement of the post pandemic world is that it has got people to try new ways of going forward, new skills and new relationships, inside a team, inside a home, or inside the organisation. Even across nations, a new world order is jostling to be released.

Mark Ackerman at ServiceNow draws attention to one of the most fundamental changes expected in the new normal, post pandemic workplace. We will start seeing employees get measured on how they communicate and collaborate. Those businesses that provide employees with the right digital experiences will see increased engagement, higher productivity, and better business continuity.

We are moving into the work from anywhere era, with a different set of rules. Organisations can attract and get more diverse talent by giving them more freedom in the work they perform. Human resources teams will need to think about how they enable and empower managers to effectively lead teams.

We will start seeing employees get measured on how they communicate and collaborate, Mark Ackerman

Leslie Raimondo at Booz Allen Hamilton explains that the real achievement is to be able to blend technology and compassion into the new normal. The lessons learned from this experience will help us evolve a technology-led and yet more compassionate work model for the post-pandemic workplace.

Do not anticipate we will go back to the old way of doing things once the crisis is over. Keeping and building a crisis playbook helps human resources to be prepared for future disruptions. People now understand the art of the possible when it comes to working differently. Even the most traditional businesses are opening up to different ways of work.

Evolve a technology-led and yet more compassionate work model for the post-pandemic workplace, Leslie Raimondo

Hassan Aljuaidi at Jupiter Business Mentors raises a deep question. Did the pandemic just create a new worker and a new role? Companies are no longer looking at candidates that fill 48 hours a week policy, rather they are keen to employ those with uniquely human skills. Managers and coworkers, are now taking additional responsibilities and becoming crisis managers.

Companies have discovered prioritising output does not mean less is achieved. On one side, it does not matter from where and what time people work, as long as they get the results. On the flip side, 40% of employees have experienced mental exhaustion from video calls while working remotely.

Did the pandemic just create a new worker and a new role, Hassan Aljuaidi

According to Luke Tapp at Pinsent Masons, the sheer disruption created by the pandemic has made the workplace jump forward by five years. The positive legacy of the pandemic from a human resources perspective is the workplace environmental changes. Majority of companies can take advantage of the new normal to make time at work as productive as possible and enable people to spend more time at home.

One of the most significant changes brought about by the pandemic was the passing of Resolution 279 in UAE. And one of the most negative changes brought about by the pandemic was the economic pressure it placed onto companies.

The sheer disruption created by the pandemic has made the workplace jump forward by five years, Luke Tapp

Dr Paul Hopkinson at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai says that the new normal is being driven by individuals not by the management. Remote working is breaking down traditional structures and organisations will rely on individuals as much as management, to keep the registers moving, as they become flexible and inclusive.

The World Economic Forum has cited that 98% people would like to have the option to work remotely for rest of their professional lives. Majority of UAE based employees want to work from home more frequently while three-quarters want improved office cleaning standards.

Automation is gaining prominence, which means employees will need to diversify skills or use existing skills for other jobs. While organisations across the globe accomplished high levels of remote working over a short haul, there is much more ahead.

The new normal is being driven by individuals not by the management, Dr Paul Hopkinson

Omer Saleem at Proven SA points out that there is a constant battle between short-term and long-term objectives. While the pandemic has provided stimulus to accelerate digitisation some organisations are taking short term steps rather than a long-term strategic approach. With the rapid adoption of collaboration tools, communication applications are evolving due to the pandemic. People require enhanced engagement with remote work and distributed teams to keep them motivated.

People require enhanced engagement with remote work to keep them motivated, Omer Saleem

Another consideration that is rapidly dominating the checklist of human resource consultants today is whether a candidate can effectively deliver while working remotely, according to Praj Calthorpe at Condo Protego. Human resource managers will need to rework recruitment criteria looking for those who have experience in being productive while working remotely.

With the region having some of the youngest workforces, Middle East managers need to adopt flexible working and remote working for Millennials and Generation Z workers. We are seeing a rise in hybrid workplaces, mix of remote work and some employees returning to offices. Some recent statistics: 74% professionals prefer jobs that allow them to work remotely; 90% expect remote work to increase over the next 5 years.

Human resource managers will look for those who have experience in being productive while working remotely, Praj Calthorpe

Swami Natarajan at Oracle feels that because of the acceleration created by the pandemic, the digital goals of 2030 are being realised in 2020, a decade in advance. The pandemic has disrupted every industry and digital transformation as well, accelerating its adoption and leading to an early realisation of the goals of 2030. Many companies have already begun the process of becoming more resilient, including re-defining job taxonomies.

Amidst the pandemic, the best companies are going further, by accelerating the shift to digital channels. Human resource practitioners must convey messages that show empathy, build trust and relate to workers. Until now, the focus tended to be on monetary remuneration, but health and wellness benefits are going to be a game changer. There are best practices that human resource leaders can implement in order to ensure a smooth transition into the new normal.

The digital goals of 2030 are being realised in 2020, a decade in advance, Swami Natarajan

Alain Penel at Fortinet, points out that even in the new normal, with a partially locked down society, cyber security personnel continue to be stretched. The organisation’s employees need to be continuously trained on security hygiene in a way that is non-disruptive to business. Many companies have lacked skilled staff to maintain security operations and now due to physical distancing the number of personnel has reduced further.

Organisations need a new training paradigm that delivers content without disrupting business. Overworked teams are struggling to troubleshoot a new range of issues while maintaining security controls from a home office. Organisations are generating much more data and logs than ever before. And majority of internal network traffic will for the first time be originating from outside the network perimeter.

Organisations are generating much more data and logs than ever before, Alain Penel

Ryan Trost at ThreatQuotient feels that work from home is creating blind spots for cyber security. Technology fallout is forcing security teams to be vigilant as company assets are on personal networks more frequently causing company blind spots. The stress on cyber security compliance has its downsides as well. In a normal environment this pivot of focus causes strain and stress.

With all the additional stress put on employees this shift could have a damaging effect. Teams will be forced to embrace and potentially cope with the distributed environment. Managers will need to pay close attention to team morale and promote small talk conversations to help employees feel engaged. Pandemic is forcing organisations to improve remote protocols and security to cater to 100% remote workforce.

Company assets on personal networks are causing blind spots for organisations, Ryan Trost 

Turn these pages to read more about what 15 top executives have to say about the surprises, changes, and stress that lie in store across the post pandemic, new normal.

Arun Shankar is Editor at GEC Media Group.