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Opinion

How Covid-19 is revolutionizing the workplace and pushing innovation forward

In many ways, Covid-19 has been a positive engine for innovation and change as entire industries were forced to re-evaluate what they have in place and how they could do better

Ornit Shinar 12:2804.08.20
Both the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its effects on the workplace are likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future.

 

In a recent survey by Fortune, 26% of the Fortune 500 CEOs stated that they will never get back to over 90% of the workforce working from the office. Over 50% of those questioned further stated they would never again travel as much as they did before the crisis. These sentiments reinforce the notion that some of the changes we are experiencing will have long-lasting effects and companies need to ensure they have the tools required to face this new reality.

 

Ornit Shinar. Photo: PR Ornit Shinar. Photo: PR

Covid-19’s ramifications are likely to influence people and businesses in different ways. A 2016 McKinsey survey showed that one in six people who were gainfully employed in the U.S. and the European Union would prefer to work independently. Of the people that already worked independently, over half considered the job a side gig or supplemental income, but more than two-thirds said they were working this way by choice, not due to financial necessity.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented unemployment rates and as the reopening of businesses continues to be delayed, employment rates are expected to recover more slowly than initially hoped.

 

In turbulent times, however, temporary, contingent, and independent workers tend to grow both due to a personal need to create a revenue flow but also due to hiring organizations looking for more flexibility.

 

While everyone was caught off guard by this pandemic and the initial phase led many companies and freelance workers alike to pause and consider their next steps, we are now seeing that freelancers are amongst the first to reinvent themselves and start the path towards economic recovery. This reinvention is evident particularly in services and startups targeting freelancers, such as online event planning startup HoneyBook Inc., which is backed by Citi Bank , digital banking app developer Lili Financial Services Inc., and online gig marketplace Fiverr Int. Ltd.

 

Along with a shift in the way we work and employ people, we are also seeing a change in where and how we engage and work with those that are currently on our payroll. The pandemic has led us to critically inspect corporate culture, recruitment methods, onboarding processes, management, and leadership.

 

Forming a corporate culture when working remotely is challenging. At the beginning of the crisis, people, as well as organizations, were under stress and many reacted too quickly. It is now evident that employers, such as Citi, who supported their workers and stood by them during the crisis despite financial challenges have gained tremendous appreciation from their employees.

 

The crisis, however, also forced us to rethink how we engage with our employees and maintain the “soft” interactions that are key to a healthy work environment. Employers need to find ways to emulate the casual watercooler meetings and that is no simple task over video conferencing. Some corporations have turned to having online tea-time and yoga classes.

 

But, culture is not limited to existing employees. In fact, it starts at the interview stage, through onboarding and all the way to business as usual. Employers will have to address the cultural challenges of each of those stages and it is actually of critical importance for new or newer employees. From a technological point of view, we are starting to see solutions tailored to these unique challenges.

 

The workforce of the future may also change from a demographic point of view. Employers could recruit the person that best fits their needs rather than the best person that lives in their vicinity, as when working remotely, it does not matter where we physically are. For employees that were marginalized due to living in remote locations and working from home, Covid-19 may prove the ultimate equalizer, with physical distance becoming less relevant.

 

Women who have opted out of the workforce because they needed more flexibility, may find the current atmosphere has made their needs more acceptable and manageable. This could also go in both directions, with some women feeling the current arrangement allows them more time with their families, especially in couples that split the children’s time in a manner that enables both spouses to lead a successful career. However, there are also indications that women’s productivity has been impacted more greatly than that of men as traditional roles have taken on a bigger part of day to day life due to homeschooling particularly in families with young children.

 

Communication has of course been front and center in this pandemic. There are many different options but it is important to understand what works best for both your employees and your customers, and it may well be that you will need more than one tool.

 

As we have all noticed, video conferencing usage grew at a rapid rate due to Covid-19 and may be the best-suited solution for certain types of communication, such as team meetings or client calls, but there may be other solutions that are better suited for other types of corporate communication.

Some examples that come to mind are Kaltura Inc. as a video management platform and Ment.io Ltd.’s data analytics software for content-driven conversations as opposed to chronological ones. In some cases, bots, such as the ones developed by Voca AI Ltd., may alleviate pressure on understaffed call centers, improving the relevance of engagements and length of time spent on the phone.

 

When it comes to technology that helps the financial side of an organization, options abound to simplify, digitize, and streamline work. You can pay salaries and benefits to your employees using Papaya Global Ltd.’s software, manage expenses with Pleo Technologies ApS, Tipalti Solutions Ltd., Stampli Inc., or Kred and ensure you get your VAT reimbursed with VATBox Ltd. You can also make and receive payments with Rapyd Financial Networks Ltd. or Payoneer Inc. to companies you contract with around the world.

 

Another interesting result of the post-coronavirus world is that the technologies outlined here were originally targeting SMBs but many are now finding themselves working with enterprises as they look for mid-market flexible solutions.

 

In many ways, Covid-19 has been a positive engine for innovation and change as entire industries were forced to re-evaluate what they have in place and how they could do better. One of those areas where change is most evident is remote employee access. As the number of employees needing to work from home has skyrocketed, employers needed quick and safe solutions. For example, Silverfort Inc.—another Citi portfolio company—saw a sharp increase in inbound requests for its network-based adaptive multi-factor authentication solutions as a result of this transition.

 

We will all need to continue to change the way we work in light of Covid-19 and the technology choices we make will guide the manner in which we experience the new reality. The pandemic has proven what we already knew: companies that embrace change and adapt to the various technological solutions will be able to grow, those who do not, will find their resilience challenged in a world that is becoming ever more virtual.

 

Ornit Shinar is the head of external innovation and venture investing in Israel for Citigroup