How tech will be instrumental in post-pandemic return to work

“The future of work is hybrid”

How tech will be instrumental in post-pandemic return to work
Though the pandemic has been extremely tough, there are lessons to be learned.

With Canada’s Covid data rapidly improving, business leaders are now looking toward safely re-opening offices and workspaces. Though there was a brief respite last summer, many Canadians have been working from home for over 16 months and a number of surveys have pointed to the fact that a lot of people actually enjoy working from home.

Employees may be reticent to go back to the office – especially if they’re not given a good enough reason.

Companies such as Twitter or Facebook have announced that, where it makes sense, employees would be able to work remotely permanently. Other companies seem much more keen to bring people back to the office.

Oleg Tolchinsky, Vice-President of Architecture Sales, Cisco Canada, says that a hybrid model is “key” to back to work.

“The future of work is hybrid, it is going to be some combination of those remote work and office work models,” says Tolchinsky. “What I found really interesting in the Canadian market is just how far-ranging opinions are on what exactly that will look like for any given organization.”

“Work is something you do versus a place that you go […] And different contexts are differently suited for different types of work,” he says.

Tolchinsky explains that we need the office for collaborative work, for people to get together in person and build and create. On the other hand, he says, “there is absolutely no reason as we've proven during the pandemic that we can't get […] work done from home while adding some layer of flexibility.”

Implementing tech solutions

And when it comes to the future of work, tech will play a huge park regardless.

“I think that with Covid the belief exists now that employers should make the office a safer place to be,” says Tolchinsky. This could include tech to ensure adequate social distancing, or digital signage to notify employees of important changes.

Cisco’s data suggests that moving forward, 98 per cent of meetings will have at least one remote participant: “You can imagine what that means to the importance of the quality of the interaction,” says Tolchinsky.

Another important thing to consider with regards to tech is security, especially cybersecurity.

“If every person working from home is effectively their own little miniature remote office, then we need to rethink how we secure what the perimeter of the organization is, because it's suddenly very diffuse,” he says.

A new safety culture

Outside of tech and remote working, the pandemic has also shone a light on mental health and how we perceive it from an occupational safety point of view.

“There is an opportunity to expand the definition of safety, from safety in the truest sense to this idea of wellness,” says Tolchinsky. “If you're sitting and staring at a screen all day […] how do you ensure your employees are not getting burned out? There is a whole mental wellbeing and a mental health aspect to [the return to work].”

And this feeds more broadly into how to ensure optimal worker wellbeing amid recovery.

“I think fundamentally, there is a cultural aspect to this,” says Tolchinsky. “Employees need to feel like they're being heard, and their ideas and thoughts are being acted on. I think a very practical first step to [recovery] is to listen to your employees and ask questions.”

Going back to the idea of a hybrid model, he that says there has to be a fundamental belief in the organization that hybrid work is important. And, that leaders must model this behaviour. For example, does leadership need to be retrained? Do we need to develop leadership skills to eliminate the bias – or stigma – of working from home? Remote workers need to be as valued as those who come into the office.

Silver linings

Though the pandemic has been extremely tough, there are lessons to be learned.

“I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to redefine the nature of work. If we're not careful, we can slip back into this idea of just doing things the way we did them before,” says Tolchinsky.

“It's undeniable that we are starting to see the benefits of giving employees flexibility. Organizations are encouraged to think this way because they're competing with other organizations that include inclusivity, flexibility, and quality of life into their thinking. They become more competitive, and they have happier and healthier employees.”