Merging the Old World with the New Reality
It seems that the ‘work from home’ club has finally settled into a newly defined normal routine. The panic surrounding the remote move has dwindled, and working from home doesn’t seem so bad after all. In quite a short period of time, we are now referring to what our working lives were like a few weeks ago as ‘the old days’. So what has changed?
We can say with some clarity now that the debate from some folks about whether their teams can work from home is largely over. People may now expect a reasonable work from home (WFH) policy for many roles in the future. The Office for National Statistics recorded 5% of the total workforce working from home in 2019, whereas in the current climate, it is predicted that over 60% of people are now working from home. Business leaders will no doubt be more accepting of flexible and agile working going forward, now that they have been forced to make it work. This extraordinary climate has spring boarded the slow progress that was being made in this area (which was mainly dominated by start-ups or modern tech forward firms) and has therefore encouraged positive change and digital efficiency.
Many firms are reliant on paper and post for sending documents or filing, and these will be areas under pressure. Any remaining physical or paper-based processes will have to be replaced by digital processes, removing the strain of having to physically be in a certain place, doing a certain task. This is nicely aligned to the theme of digital transformation, and accountancy firms welcoming the digital age. There aren’t any expectations for accountancy firms to suddenly become entirely reliant on digital processes and technology, but it does shine a light on recognising technology as an enabler to effective and efficient working practices.
Businesses already immersed in the ‘modern workplace’ will have enjoyed less dramatic business change in the way they can and do work. The ‘WFH’ style is ok for now, but it will have a significant impact on many areas. What about the social and cultural impact? Removing the human interfaces that are important and valuable to employees will become lost, as we become even more keyboard and screen dominated. We are setting ourselves up to becoming even more socially isolated, which will have a greater effect on the younger generations.
A few months down the line, there needs to be an established balance between the old way and the new way, and there can be an ability to give people more options for what works best for them. It is amazing that we can have instant meetings with 20+ people joining from the comfort of their homes right now, but this doesn’t mean we want to stop having face to face meetings in the office, in the future.
The good thing about technology is that is can enable this balance. How? Let’s see.
- On the go attitude – remote and mobile working will definitely become more popular and accepted. Now that we’ve all had this experience, there is no reason why it can’t continue. Many practices haven’t allowed for this in the past, but attitudes are changing. With some refined processes surrounding security and collaboration, there shouldn’t be any issues.
- Meetings being more productive – you will likely be more decisive about whether you need a face to face meeting, or can instead have a video conference call. Saving time and finding ways to maximise productivity are naturally things we have been practising whilst working from home. There’s also nothing wrong with sitting down with your colleagues in a room to have a meeting – we are social animals!
- Positive impact on social barriers – collaborating with a wider group of people has been encouraged, for example conference calling within Teams, and features that include translation, sending virtual praises, screen sharing, and so on. You might have noticed that you probably speak to more people across your firm than you have in the past.
- Interactive learning and skill development online – there has been a change of pace with this whilst working from home. This being available at our fingertips may encourage employees to spend more time in the office.
It’s hard to envisage returning completely to the way things were and forgetting everything we’ve learnt, when we come out the other side of our current lifestyle. Some people will be grateful that normality has been restored such as seeing your colleagues in an office environment or being able to separate home and work life, it cannot be ignored that things can be different. Perhaps, this weird experience has been a blessing in disguise for many practices looking to review and refine their existing infrastructures. The seeds of change have been sown. The doors have opened for increased productivity, value for money, collaboration, and opportunity. As long as the accountancy world can continue to be inspired by this, the blended ‘old world’ and ‘new norm’ will be adopted, and the benefits enjoyed.