With the UK (and most of Europe) now grappling with a ‘second wave’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders are again facing new restrictions and guidelines to help contain the spread of the virus.
Ensuring business continuity and protecting employees and customers is as important now as it was eight months ago. However, my conversations with UK business leaders, partners and customers have shifted notably since March.
Earlier this year, the emphasis was on crisis management and emergency response. Now, we are discussing the longevity of the changes we are experiencing. The consensus is that the new, ‘distributed’ world of work is here to stay — but are we ready for the new ‘business as usual’?
COVID-19 as a catalyst for innovation
ServiceNow’s recent Work Survey brings fresh insight into how businesses have been coping with the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic — and there’s a lot to consider and learn from.
The research has revealed that 91% of C-level executives and 87% of employees believe their company has transitioned to new ways of working faster than they had imagined possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a new period of experimentation and innovation at work. Ways of working that previously have not been thought possible, or at least not to this extent, are the new norm.
The positive impact is notable too. For UK employees, time saved from not commuting is a key benefit for 61% (compared to 54% surveyed globally) and 57% of those in the UK also cite a better work-life balance. Half of UK employees also value the greater flexibility that they are experiencing when managing personal responsibilities.
From quick fixes to long-term solutions
Yet such profound change does not happen without some challenges and second thoughts.
Months into working from home, the Work Survey shows both executives and employees naturally have some concerns about the impact of new ways of working.
Executives worry most about outputs, for example delays in product or service delivery, and I’m hearing this firsthand from our UK customers. On the other hand, employees are most concerned about the inputs, such as reduced collaboration between business units, and limited direction and feedback from managers.
Furthermore, nearly half of UK executives want to return to pre-COVID-19 business procedures, even though 83% of employees like these changes. So why the reluctance to adapt to and further develop new ways of working?
Many UK businesses have pivoted quickly in the face of the pandemic. Innovation was rapid and these initial sprints have enabled them to react to the immediate COVID-19 challenges.
For example, ServiceNow has been working closely with NHS England during the crisis to enable a streamlined tracking, escalation, management and resolution of procuring and distributing personal protection equipment (PPE).
The Francis Crick Institute, which operates Europe’s largest biomedical research facility, has pivoted rapidly to contribute to the scientific response to COVID-19. A track and trace app, built on the ServiceNow platform in just three weeks, has enabled its 2,000 employees to safely return to the institute in London and continue their vital work.
We’ve also helped local authorities such as Buckinghamshire Council replace manual spreadsheets with an automated workflow platform to support critical services that delivered help to the most vulnerable citizens.
However, despite these examples, there are cases where the new systems that are implemented are often pulled together to support immediate issues. They’re not fundamentally changing legacy architectures or creating a foundation for transformation, automatically increasing support and maintenance overhead.
In the UK, almost all executives (98%) admit they still have offline workflows, such as document approvals, spreadsheets, IT workflows, performance reviews and leave requests. Less than half (45%) of UK executives say they have a fully integrated workflow management system.
I believe the key reason for reservations on the part of executives is that they haven’t truly digitally transformed for the long term. Those who have are not only surviving but finding new ways to strengthen business continuity and enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.
A clear path forward
We won’t be talking about the return to the workplace (as we know it) after the second wave of the pandemic. An entirely new reality of distributed work has emerged, with the potential to create the ideal environment for innovation, productivity and success.
At ServiceNow, we’ve already banished the terms ‘remote worker’ and ‘office worker’ altogether. Work happens anywhere, as we bring together thousands of employees and distributed workspaces to win as a team.
Alongside many of our customers, we’re running our business on a foundation of digital workflows. We’re connecting every corner of our organisation to give employees the services and experiences they need to do their jobs and the flexibility they crave.
It’s encouraging that this thinking is taking root, with the ServiceNow survey showing that UK executives are prioritising digital transformation investments. COVID-19 has reduced operational expenses for 93% of UK businesses, and executives are focusing these savings on advancing their digital transformation journeys.
UK businesses are under great pressure, but modern, digitally enabled organisations are demonstrating how today’s challenges can be met head-on. By transforming with digital workflows, UK businesses can achieve the agility, resilience and speed they need to survive any future disruption and drive innovation, recovery and growth in the new normal.