As we pass one year since the UK’s first national lockdown, TJ speaks to five technology leaders to get their advice on how tech can support the transition to the next phase of this new reality.
Over the past 12 months, COVID-19 has affected organisations big and small. As a result, many have turned to technology in order to cope with the sudden change to remote/flexible working.
From the spike in new Zoom users, to innovative thinking around keeping employees fully engaged, many lessons have been learnt during the pandemic on how best to keep staff happy and productive during this difficult time.
Supporting employees with hybrid working
Businesses have had to adapt their ways of working to enable their employees to stay productive in the past 12 months. Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal Systems, explains how implementing workforce management solutions is one way to now help employees get back to a semblance of normal.
“Many employees will not feel comfortable returning to work straight away, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated or live with vulnerable family members. Using workforce management practices to plan when certain teams will return to work and promote clear social distancing policies and guidelines will provide an important level of support and structure.
“Combining these tools with learning management systems, employers have been able to successfully train their employees remotely on everything from contact tracing and social distancing to maintaining cleanliness in those industries that have continued to operate on-site.
“Employers will also need to manage schedules, both for returning employees and those who want to continue working from home on a full- or part-time basis. Ensuring communication lines remain open with employees is imperative as organisations begin to tackle the health and wellbeing challenges of a return to the physical workplace.”
In Britain, there is often a ‘put up and shut up’ attitude when it comes to mental health, but it’s okay not to be okay.
Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora, also identifies how maintaining communication and visibility over workloads during remote work has been essential, and how this will need to continue as lockdown eases.
“One method that some organisations have adopted, value stream management (VSM), has “helped many companies overcome the challenges of our new remote world by providing the necessary foundation and visibility to keep projects moving forward.
“As our world inches back to some semblance of our pre-pandemic days or whatever our new normal will be, many changes that were established to keep business moving, such as remote and flexible working, will stay in place.”
Prioritising mental health
Kathryn Barnes, employment counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners, reminds business leaders that ensuring employees have good mental health is more important now than ever before.
“As we mark the advent of the UK lockdown, it is important employers reflect on whether or not they are doing enough to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, curbs on social interaction, economic uncertainty, and millions of deaths have had a marked effect on people’s wellbeing over the last year – with 60% of adults claiming their mental health got worse during the lockdown.
“In Britain, there is often a ‘put up and shut up’ attitude when it comes to mental health, but it’s okay not to be okay. Employers should show compassion by creating an open and supportive space where employees feel more comfortable admitting if they are struggling. They should also practice what they preach, by putting policies in place that support wellbeing.
“Initiating mental health initiatives, nominating health and wellbeing champions, and implementing flexible working options that ease the pressure, are important in supporting employees both in lockdown and beyond.”
Keeping every sector open
“Over the past 12 months, the healthcare sector in particular has benefitted massively from technological innovations,” Sascha Giese, head geek at SolarWinds. “Many of these changes and improvements are invisible for the user, as they occurred in the infrastructure with which a typical patient would never come into contact.
“With more data now located in clouds, healthcare professionals have needed safe ways to access patient data, making this one area in which we’ve seen advancements.
“Technology has also been vital to streamline healthcare. Apps and online services to interact with doctors or pharmacies have existed in the UK long before the pandemic, but their usage has increased significantly during social restrictions and won’t go away even when we return to normal.
“There’s no need any more to leave home, see a doctor, only to be told to go back to bed – phone and video consultations have made many appointments far more efficient!”
Meanwhile Rishi Lodhia, managing director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks, notes how retail businesses can deploy smart security systems to help get them back up and running safely.
“For the retail industry, 2020 was one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Research has shown that every week last year, an estimated 3,400 retail jobs were lost in the UK, with up to 200,000 more retail jobs predicted to be at risk in 2021. With reduced employees on the ground, businesses are identifying what innovative technology can assist staff in their day-to-day jobs that will be crucial for the future of retail.
“One aspect of this is security. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) believes theft and fraudulent purchases amounted to a £1bn loss in the year 2018/19. As the lockdown exit roadmap progresses and shoppers return to the high streets, retailers should ensure they have the right security measures in place to minimise the risk of falling foul not only of dishonest shoppers but staff members too.
“After all, although shoplifting from customers makes the headlines most often, employee theft accounts for nearly half of all retail loss. Smart video surveillance on the shop floors can help managers keep an eye on any suspicious activity, and receive alerts if any unusual behaviour is picked up on the footage.”
As each stage of the exit roadmap progresses, and organisations across every industry return to a more recognisable ‘business as usual’, technology has been – and will continue to be – the saving grace that keeps our society thriving.