As lockdown begins to lift for most, businesses are starting to review which quarantine-enforced measures they should keep in place and which to terminate.
One area that many will review is whether they need the entire workforce back in the office full time or whether staff are indeed happy to WFH (work from home). Time will only tell whether the option to WFH in the long term is as appealing as it was before COVID-19. Perhaps the lure of water-cooler chitter-chatter and face-to-face collaboration will win the day over PJs and last night’s dirty dishes?
Therefore many employers will be conducting somewhat of a social experiment for the remainder of 2020, evaluating whether staff are as productive now that the outside world has opened up, as they were during lockdown. Some staff will remain fully WFH, some will have a rotation system, and some may be offered a ‘working-from-anywhere’ policy, allowing staff to work from wherever, as long as they can charge their laptop and the job gets done.
Increase in messaging use during the pandemic
Keeping in touch with a much more remote workforce is going to be a challenge, perhaps more so than during the thick of the pandemic, which is why we’ve already seen a huge growth in the use of professional messaging platforms.
Guild, a relatively new ad-free platform for professional groups, networks and communities reported a 120 per cent increase in the total messages sent for the three months after 23 March 2020 (the date UK lockdown began), compared to the prior period.
Guild is not the only platform to have reported an increase in usage over this period. As early as the first week of April, LinkedIn reported a 14 per cent increase in messaging over the previous year Similarly, Slack said the average number of messages sent on its platform was up 20 per cent compared to the end of 2019.
WhatsApp use for business
Kantar research showed that consumer platform WhatsApp has also seen a 40% increase in use during the pandemic but there are concerns about whether businesses are unwittingly allowing its use within the workplace. WhatsApp actually prohibits the use of its platform for non-personal messaging but Guild believes that too few organisations have a formal messaging policy in place, which may mean that management are simply not aware of how much WhatsApp use has penetrated their business. Even unofficial business use could leave an organisation at risk from a privacy and data legislation point of view as well as non-compliance in terms of record-keeping.
Guild’s research shows that 41 per cent of workers were using WhatsApp for business purposes even before COVID-19, and Guild’s estimation, that this business use will have increased over the past few months, seems plausible.
“WhatsApp users are unlikely to be aware the platform isn’t for business use,” said Ashley Friedlein, CEO and founder of Guild. “However businesses cannot hide behind ignorance or turn a blind eye. They need to educate their employees around the importance of using platforms designed for professional use that provide the necessary levels of control and regulatory compliance,” he concluded.
What does the new normal look like?
If they haven’t done so already, many organisations will now be reviewing the digital solutions available to them to manage both workflow and to facilitate team communications. As good as they are, there is a significant difference between a tool that allows an organisation to monitor tasks and productivity, such as Monday or Asana, and one that allows individual employees to still feel like they are a member of a team, working alongside real people, all pulling towards a collective goal.
Project collaboration is undoubtedly important, but so is being able to welcome someone back from annual leave, share news or celebrate success. These are generally a given in a physical workplace but will require a digital solution in this new era, and probably something more sophisticated than simply email communication.
Similarly, although recruitment has for the most part been on hold during the past few months, some natural churn is likely to begin again now and employers will also need to give consideration about how to integrate new joiners into an established team, without the ability to go for a bonding lunch or after-work beers. This is particularly significant for recent graduates, many of whom will have never stepped foot inside a professional workplace and will need to learn the ropes of being employed from a distance.
In the rush to get back to ‘business as normal’ but primarily from home, organisations will need to embrace digital solutions to help ensure that all staff are not only productive and compliant with regulation but that they still feel a sense of belonging. Therefore, predictions are that professional messaging platforms will become part of the everyday work tech-stack, not just of every tech-enabled business but of almost any workplace where employers want to keep their teams connected on a human level.