The “new normal” is that dreaded phrase we have all been hearing since the onset of the pandemic. But there is nothing normal about this new normal we have been living and working in over the last six months.
Work has moved to our homes, our personal lives have been upended, we have stopped shaking hands with people, travel has basically come to a halt, and typical day-to-day activities have largely adapted to stay-at-home orders as well as health and safety precautions put in place across the majority of the world.
Having said that, there has been a myriad of benefits and new realizations that have come out of this unexpected situation; many of which will translate into the next chapters of our professional lives, when we are all back in a more formal corporate space.
Loss of Personal Touch Does Not Mean Losing Touch
Moving to a remote work environment came with the loss of personal touch and face-to-face interaction, but in some ways, this has also forced us to communicate more than ever. Picking up the phone to reach out to individual employees, checking in with teams on items unrelated to work, and holding virtual social gatherings to replace “water cooler talks” – these are all things that we have integrated into our day-to-day remote activities, which we can carry forth once we return to the office. These thoughtful interactions, whether in person or remote, show our workforce that it is truly cared for and valued.
For those leading global organizations, geographies and time zone differences may have already made it difficult to keep in touch with everyone and prevented teams from cross-country brainstorms. But because of the pandemic, we have been able to overcome this barrier with the various technologies at our fingertips, bringing about greater team collaboration. For team members that usually work remotely, the need for all team members to meet online can feel more inclusive.
Even when taking trips to visit other SAP offices and teams across the world, rarely did I get the chance to meet everyone. With the increased use of video conferencing, I have had the opportunity to get to know many more employees and learn more about who they are and how they contribute to our success – a great and unexpected benefit stemmed from our remote work reality.
Lead by Example
There is no better time than now for leaders to step up to the plate and lead by example. Where there is much uncertainty, leaders are looked up to for guidance and security, especially for younger employees who had maybe never faced such adversity. As leaders, we must be role models for our peers and set a healthy example for navigating the challenges of remote work. Part of that includes setting the right tone as it relates to taking personal time off and prioritizing employee well-being.
Working in this remote setting has caused much of our personal lives to blend into our work lives, understandably creating a new type of employee fatigue or burnout. Many of us are experiencing similar issues – working early mornings all the way into late nights and rarely taking breaks.
As someone who was guilty of doing this, I made sure to diligently carve out time for mandatory breaks throughout the day, and even take longer lunch breaks. I have shared my personal learnings on that already. If your teammates saw you do that, they could feel comfortable doing it themselves.
There are many changes we have seen in the remote workplace that have allowed us to simplify and streamline old ways of working and business processes.
Firstly, SAP has used this opportunity to hunker down and change some of its decision-making processes. Usually, when making big corporate decisions, the company seeks input from the full leadership team, which would have involved physically getting everyone in one room. Nowadays, SAP has made use of technology to gather the information it needs virtually and come to a decisive decision more swiftly. In fact, this has proven to be more inclusive, as the company has been able to gather thoughts from far and wide before coming to a collective agreement.
SAP has also been able to simplify and streamline much of the administrative tasks that, in hindsight, took much longer than necessary. What seemed to be only possible to do in person, such as onboarding new talent, is now very much possible with all the tools and technologies put in place. These kinds of efficiencies have been a huge benefit of remote work.
Break Old Habits and Create New Ones
While the current situation has turned our world upside down, many of us have still been able to keep our businesses running and our customers satisfied.
In fact, SAP Support was able to celebrate an all-time high in customer satisfaction. This may have been possible because we had business continuity plans that were in place to activate for situations like this, but it is also because we learned how to break some of our old habits, while forming new ones. SAP was able to pivot and adapt to help ensure that customer needs were still met, all while delivering on our promise to help businesses run better.
No one knows when we will go back to the “old normal.” In fact, I believe the old way of work and life will no longer exist. Once we head back into the office and start to get on with our usual day-to-day activities, my hope is that we will start to implement new ways of working and interacting with our peers. We will live and work in a new “new normal” that I believe we have always been working toward.
Andreas Heckmann is the executive vice president of Product Engineering and head of Customer Solution Support and Innovation at SAP.