Positive Impact: 5 Potential Return-to-Workplace Changes in the New World of Work

A businessman wears a mask in his office

The new world of work isn't going anywhere, but what does it mean for businesses going back to the workplace? Here, we explore the potential of positive — and possibly permanent — workplace changes.

In the new world of work nothing is as it was before the global health event. From staff interactions to project completion, managerial evaluation to customer expectation, everything is changing. For many organizations, some of this change will be permanent; several high-profile firms have already announced permanent work-from-home programs for staff who prefer home offices to corporate cubicles.

The global heath event continues, yet many governments and municipalities are prioritizing economic restarts. Enterprises are also planning to accommodate in-person operations. This creates understandable concern: As employees return to the workplace, it's not business as usual. There's a new way of work that requires enhanced focus on staff safety, support and skills. This presents an opportunity for organizations to usher in significant cultural shifts.

But what does this look like in practice? With the help of Jessica Zhang, ADP's General Manager for North Asia, we'll explore five new workplace practices to help underpin permanent, positive change.

1. Supply Situational Supports

"Our associates very much appreciated ADP's great support and caring for them in this difficult time."

As return to the workplace plans evolve, Zhang points to the need for business owners to "understand your employees' individual situation and provide flexibility to your employees." This is critical as employees face the unprecedented challenge of working from home without typical social supports such as childcare. From cooking and cleaning to conference calls and remote collaboration, the nature of work fundamentally changed overnight.

While there were and still are hard realities here, many businesses have extended work-from-home programs through the rest of the year and are also offering staff flexible time-off options. For Zhang, the overall result is positive: By prioritizing workforce support as employees come back to the workplace, organizations can better equip their staff to focus on the task at hand and keep the business on its feet.

2. Forge Physical Frameworks

"Develop good personal hygiene and infection control practices when employees are in the workplace, such as increased hand hygiene and avoiding touchpoints."

Zhang points to another positive outcome: Improved physical frameworks that support both client and staff safety. Companies should consider reducing the number of staff in the office at any given time, asking employees to self-evaluate their temperature every morning, use provided hand sanitizer before entering the workplace and assign staff to conduct checks to ensure that hygiene protocols are being followed. Combined with work-from-home policies for non-essential workers to improve in-office physical distancing, this new approach to in-office operations can reduce the overhead that comes with completely full (or over-full) offices and increase employee peace of mind.

For Zhang, businesses are best-served by developing physical distancing frameworks before they send staff back to work. This should ensure that PPE, equipment readiness and access controls are set prior to resuming operations.

3. Maintain Meeting Modifications

"Maximize the utilization of virtual meetings and training over face-to-face interactions."

According to Zhang, the shift to remote work revealed a surprising result: "There's no need to have face-to-face meetings, classroom training or offline events. Virtual meetings, training and webinars work well."

Allowing these digital meeting modifications can benefit both your staff and your business. Productivity isn't affected, and meetings can focus more on minimizing extraneous interactions to deliver actionable project and operational insight.

4. Create Customer-first Connections

"Good communications help further strengthen client relationships."

As Zhang's staff, managers and C-suite members adapted to the new way of work, she and her team noticed something: "Client experiences improved as we continued to provide flexibility and continuous communication during a difficult situation."

Equipped with the right tools and technology to complete work remotely, staff didn't just keep pace — they enhanced client relationships and satisfaction. This speaks to the positive potential of adopting long-term flexible work strategies that let staff choose their best-fit framework.

While many businesses have historically been reluctant to implement work-from-home policies at scale (despite emerging research that suggests they support at least as much productivity as in-office mandates), the unanticipated reality of COVID-19 operations makes it clear: With the right assistance from their organizations, employees can meet — or exceed — operational expectations.

5. Prioritize Adaptive Perspectives

"Working from home provides a new perspective on ways to run business."

Zhang makes it clear that remote work had "no impact on service quality, accuracy and timelines." What's more, she notes that "Cross functional collaboration and a sense of urgency on projects greatly improved, and employees gained new skill sets." These results lay the groundwork for fundamental business change in the form of continual adaptation. With new opportunities for successful remote work, enhanced communication and greater collaboration, the new world of work requires enterprise leaders to think on their feet and be open to change.

Agility and adaptation must become integral approaches — not operational outliers.

Navigating the New Normal

Most organizational changes happen slowly. Benefits and drawbacks are considered, impacts are modeled, and small-scale trials are completed to evaluate their long-term potential. The global health event pushed these processes into overdrive, forcing businesses to adapt on-demand and develop new ad hoc solutions. While this may introduce the possibility of operational error, it also comes with the potential for positive, permanent change.

As organizations move to improve staff supports, physical frameworks, meeting standards and client connections, it's important that they remain willing to embrace change and adapt. Zhang sees returning to the workplace not as a return to business as usual, but as an opportunity to deploy business best practices that outlast current concerns and help establish a new world of work that is naturally shaped by staff needs, informed by customer expectations and bolstered by business goals.

Go Deeper

Launch the ADP virtual summit anytime, Looking Beyond the Curve: Recovery and Engagement in the New World of Work. Choose your sessions and hear from expert panels on what employers are experiencing with retention and engagement, and the future outlook of the workforce.