How the pandemic accelerated the next generation of the workplace

Adapting to the future of work must begin today, and it starts with a fundamental element of a business: its people. With this adaption comes the opportunity to create a more dynamic workplace environment that emphasizes productivity, flexibility and collaboration. Here are some key factors driving the change in how work gets done.

The pandemic forced every business, practically overnight, to rethink every aspect of its operation, from top to bottom. Videoconferencing became the norm as technology rapidly shifted to a lifeline for companies with projects to complete and clients to serve. And it didn’t take long for leaders to see the advantages of working this way. Instead of spending countless hours flying across the country or around the world to meet with teams, they could grab a cup of coffee on a video chat to catch up on what was happening in a number of locations all at the same time.

While this new normal was an adjustment for everyone, from leadership to professionals to clients, this newfound workplace flexibility showed that people could work from anywhere, as long as there was an internet connection. It confirmed that some employees could work remotely and produce the same level of work as they could sitting in a cubicle.

Now that geography isn’t as big of a barrier as it once was, organizations can offer broader and more diverse opportunities to a wider range of talent. Not only does this enable employees to gain access to more client engagements, it also creates more opportunities in career mobility, cross-sector teaming and building greater diversity throughout businesses. It also became noteworthy, during these cost- and environmentally conscious times, how much could be saved in reduced travel expenses, carbon emissions and overhead.

The workplace was already evolving prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic accelerated the process. Moving forward, businesses must offer flexibility in order to attract and retain talent. People make businesses run and, when their work location is prioritized over their work accomplishments, it limits what people can do for businesses.

As people continue to return to offices after a year of lockdown, many companies are redesigning their physical space to be safe and healthy and to promote collaboration and flexibility for their employees. In the near term, spaces could be used for socially distanced interaction that enables colleagues to reconnect and teammates to brainstorm. Once the pandemic has passed, a more open office layout could facilitate client meetings, working sessions and team-building activities that support the work being done, when needed.

The key to making the future of work possible is flexibility. Leaders who are willing to consider alternative operating models that better fit the strengths of their teams may find that it unleashes a wave of creativity and fresh talent that can take their business to new heights.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

Monte Repasky is Cleveland office managing partner at Ernst & Young LLP