As the Delta variant gains ground in the U.S., so too does the topic of reopening the office. In this time of uncertainty, many business leaders are hitting pause or delaying their return-to-office plans. In some cases, the focus has been incorrectly placed on deciding how to “get back” and not embracing the new evolution of work and providing the support and flexibility employees are looking for.
We’ve encountered many of these same hurdles at PwC and while we’ve recently made the decision to delay office reopenings until November 2021 at a minimum, the technology we have in place gives us the ability to keep safety, well-being and flexibility for our employees and clients top of mind.
Across industries, executives are weighing which work arrangement is best for their business. One thing that has given me confidence at PwC is our organization’s reliance on rigorous technologies that help build trust among employees, keep workplace guidelines intact, and provide more options to workers.
Technology can help develop trust
This isn’t the last time executives will be put to the test. Today’s pandemic could be tomorrow’s cyberattack or natural disaster. No matter the crisis, employers must be prepared to expect the unexpected, and leverage technology as a critical component of their emergency preparedness plans.
Data plays a central role in these plans. It’s one of the few constants that businesses have available to them to make informed decisions, and explain them to their workforce. Leveraging people analytics and insights can also lead to more sustainable outcomes, helping leaders invest in technologies that employees are more likely to adopt. From daily health surveys, to digital contact tracing and even vaccination passports, we see how putting technology at the heart of our hybrid work model creates transparency and trust with employees.
Focusing on humans makes for more sustainable businesses
The last year has seen unparalleled resiliency from employees worldwide. Technology has helped reimagine the way employees can continue to deliver successful work, even as they navigated a pandemic. In a virtual setting, the right technology facilitates productivity, performance and employee connectivity. In an in-person setting, it gives people peace of mind.
At the start of the pandemic, our team of technologists saw an opportunity to create a unique product and contact tracing app Check-In. This app has not only helped us, but aided many of our clients as they navigated the “new normal” that came with COVID-19.
Since the rise in the Delta variant, which was first detected in the U.S. in March, we’ve seen a correlation between cases and client interest in the product, underscoring the importance of factoring technology into return-to-office plans. From June to July of 2021, client requests for demos jumped 111%, especially in the entertainment, transportation, and education sectors where the need to be in person remains critical. The pandemic has required employers to support entirely new aspects of the employee experience, as the needs of work, home and health collide. To continue meeting these challenges, we’re releasing new updates this month addressing social distancing metrics, vaccination status and the ability to reserve a spot in the office up to five days in advance – giving executives the information they need to make expedient, data-driven decisions.
Flexibility as a workplace constant
In addition to employee safety in the workplace, our customers are also telling us they want more flexibility since many of their post Labor Day return to the office plans have been revised. Executives need to keep their employees safe, and keep the business running. Despite best efforts to get people back into the office, employers now face a tight job market in an uncertain regulatory environment where vaccine and mask policies seem to change weekly.
In PwC’s latest Next in Work survey conducted in the U.S., CHROs say retaining talent is their top priority in the next three to six months. Focusing on the employee experience will help retention and encourage adoption of productive and profitable hybrid work models. Technology can help employees navigate a very fluid environment by giving them what they want – options.
The past 18 months have been a learning experience and a new venture in how people work. As a result, more than a quarter (28%) of employees and executives strongly agree they are making permanent changes to how and where work gets done based on lessons learned from the pandemic. Business leaders will continue to face uncertainty. Having a flexible work model, backed by technology, will help them and their workforce navigate the pandemic and the next disruption that may be just around the corner.
Joe Atkinson is a vice chair and the U.S. chief products and technology officer at PwC.