The coronavirus epidemic will accelerate changes in the way we work, shop and bank, writes Brian Caplen.
The trends for working from home (WFH) and for shopping and banking online were well advanced even before the outbreak of coronavirus. When it is all over, they will be set in stone such that employers who do not offer this option will struggle to hire. The idea of working full time in an office will become alien to a new generation of workers.
With everyone wedded to total online consumption, banks will find they need even less branches than currently and shops will hasten the process of turning themselves into warehouses with delivery options.
As far as WFH goes (when an idea gets called by its initials you can be sure it’s serious), there are upsides as well as downsides for both companies and employees. Smart organizations will be thinking now about how to enhance the former while reducing the latter.
The upsides are the scope for employees to have a better work-life balance, for increased productivity and to cut costs by reducing office space. Productivity can be raised because WFH frees employees from much of the senseless bureaucracy and distractions that occur in offices. The follow on from higher productivity should be a better work-life balance for employees.
The challenges are to get people working as a team when they are isolated, to keep everyone onside and moving together when the business sets off in a new direction (the digital banking revolution, for example), as well as doing effective training and recruitment.
Working from home is relatively straight forward in emergency situations, as we have currently, when everyone already knows their job and has the right technology. But WFH on day one of a job is a bit of a puzzle for both employer and employee.
To ensure success in this new age of work, companies need to be better at getting their key messages out and being sure they are understood. That could mean daily webinars and email updates for small groups with larger compulsory ones for the big strategic statements from the CEO.
In fact, just as Twitter has allowed presidents to talk directly to the people by bypassing the press, so the new situation encourages CEOs and senior managers to talk directly to a wider group of staff rather than just their direct reports. Business leaders who can do this effectively may find esprit de corps rises significantly and will ask themselves why they ever did things the old way.
Customers obliged to do even more of their shopping and financial activities online due to the lockdowns may also decide to continue after the pandemic ends. Many shops and even some supermarkets should be transforming themselves into warehouses with an online delivery service, if they haven’t done so already. Banks will find that the economics of the branch which have been challenging for some time become even more so.
Brian Caplen is the editor of The Banker. Follow him on Twitter @BrianCaplen
This article originally appeared on The Banker @ Financial Times