How COVID-19 is Forcing Organisations to Rethink Working Ways


By Millicent Clarke

The COVID-19 pandemic has beckoned the hasty transformation of workplace structures across the globe. In turn, organisations have leveraged their technological capabilities to instil an ideal and efficient ‘workplace’ reality for their employees, while also introducing several novel advancements to their toolbelts. The pandemic has accelerated the introduction of an entirely digital workplace, through remote working policies, online meetings and various methods of virtual collaboration. Although these processes were bred and implemented out of necessity, they imply the question: is this the reality all workplaces should be adopting hereafter?

At Standard Chartered, we have championed a digitally enabled workplace, and in light of the current climate, are quickly realising the efficacy of this model with 90% of our workforce working from home across Africa and the Middle East. In fact, we’ve recently announced that our remote working policies could exist following the abatement of the pandemic, as our employees continue to showcase their productivity and efficiency, despite the change in our working conditions and environment.[1]Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the bank had exercised a series of flexible working policies across the entirety of its markets that aimed to afford employees a greater level of flexibility and maximise its workplace performance. Through this framework, employees were afforded the ability to work remotely in agreement with their People Leaders.

As we navigate the challenges the pandemic has brought, we are witnessing fundamental and structural changes in the way organisations work. We have often spoken about the future of work, and it is now clear that the implications of COVID-19 will result in a reimagined reality for the norms of working standards worldwide. Leaders that capitalise on the new reality and are quick to leverage and implement a digital workplace moving forward will unlock a myriad of opportunities and harness the ability to optimise their operations across the board.

The current situation has forced employers and organisations across all industries to face an unprecedented situation. Likewise, although differing in magnitude, changing market and business needs can impose numerous consequences on organisations that are not equipped with the necessary technological capabilities needed to adapt to these changes. An inability to align your corporate culture with the changing conditions of your business model may result in significant operational deficiencies and compromise the growth of your organisation.

At the same time, progressive digital capabilities can serve as catalysts for an organisation’s growth. To accurately map this, let’s look at banks, specifically. According to Accenture, banks that invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human-machine collaboration at the same rate as top-performing businesses could boost their revenue by an average 34 percent and employment by 14 percent by 2022.[2] Through advancements in automation and AI, organisations are able to streamline and simplify transactions between members of the workforce and the wider enterprise, fostering greater engagement and driving more productivity in both front and back office sectors. Banks such as Standard Chartered are aligning their internal measures to complement that of their larger digital strategy, in a bid to encourage a tech-savvy approach and digital culture throughout their operations.

Looking towards spurring a culture of ingenuity, redesigning the workplace to adopt a digital approach will reap a string of engagement- and innovation-related advantages, specifically between employees and the wider institution. Advanced technology implemented in an entirely digital workplace will facilitate further collaboration among team members, but more so, will enable a frictionless experience underpinned by flexibility and convenience. Through streamlined services and the automation of back and front office operations, employees will be able to focus their efforts on more strategic and innovative functions, further augmenting an ideal knowledge-sharing and collaborative environment. At Standard Chartered, we prioritise the progression of a digital workplace across our markets and operations, through the implementation of numerous advancements, enabling our staff members to seamlessly collaborate and innovate through digital tools and solutions.

As leaders look to derive the benefits of technology on their bottom-line, they must first instil a digital culture and corresponding values within their workforce and corporate culture. As organisations continue to champion their digital agendas to meet consumer demand and changing market conditions, the same effort must be exuded towards enhancing their workplace experience. By instilling a digital mindset throughout one’s organisation, companies can forge a virtuous innovation cycle and foster idea generation, thus creating more opportunities for employees to co-create on technology.[3]

A digital workplace experience that does not meet the efficiency and convenience of the commercial standard can cause a significant amount of internal dissatisfaction—contributing to a negative workplace experience overall. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, organisations with the best workforce experiences received 12 percent greater customer satisfaction than other organisations, and their three-year revenue growth rate was 2.3 times greater on average.[4] Likewise, an organisation’s digital capabilities are crucial when looking to attract and retain a younger, and more digitally savvy, generation of recruits. Given their aptitude in technological advancements, these new-age members will expect their workplaces to parallel this proficiency.

At Standard Chartered, we have altered the very fabric of our internal operations to reflect a forward-looking, digital mindset and continue to champion our digital agenda across all fronts of our business during this time. Through training programmes, communicative efforts, progressive technological tools and internal policies, any institution is able to adopt a digital approach to their workplace and reap a myriad of benefits in this regard.

COVID-19 has essentially forced organisations to undergo a fundamental restructuring of their workplaces to adapt to a new, digital reality. However, in a post-COVID-19 era, organisations must leverage this opportunity to gauge their internal shortcomings and address these through the execution of a comprehensive digital workplace. The operational and developmental gains are vast, and leaders that are early adopters of this approach will be well-equipped to weather storms of any magnitude thereafter. The future of work is NOW!

Millicent Clarke, Regional Head of Human Resources, Standard Chartered AME