It has been an extraordinary couple of months in a crisis that will leave many permanent changes behind it. We won't go back to how things were before but will instead find ourselves in a ‘new normal'. There are countless ramifications from the pandemic one could talk about - but I want to focus on three things here.
A boost for gender equality
This has long been an issue for the tech sector - last year's Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found that just 12 per cent of tech leaders are female. Overall, women represent only one in five of tech teams. I think - and hope! - that the crisis will prove to be a great catalyst for more equal opportunity for people with child caring responsibilities, a role that sits overwhelmingly with women. People have frequently been held back in their careers by family and caring responsibilities, which have been - or have been perceived to be - a barrier. The pandemic has shown that it really is possible to juggle both work and caring from home. There has also been a marked, and very useful, relaxation around how people go about working and communicating. Pre-crisis, being on a video call, and having your child invade the room might have been a source of major panic, but now can often be a welcomed interruption!
Another factor that has affected women's career progression has been how so much business has been conducted through face-to-face networks. Whether formal, like clubs and societies, or informal, like meeting for drinks after work, men have disproportionality benefited from the connections and relationships that these networks offered. Right now there are no bars, no clubs, no ‘off-line' discussions. There's just Zoom.
The rise of the quiet ones?
Another really interesting trend is that the move to distributed working is actually providing an opportunity for different people to shine. Whereas in traditional office working it's usually the more extrovert and self-confident people that take the lead, the more remote model changes that. Other qualities - independence, efficiency, self-organisation - become more important than before. It's been surprising in a really lovely way to see people popping up with brilliant ideas and suggestions who before might have looked to their boss or someone else to put something forward. So, I believe we may see a wider range of people with a wider set of attributes begin to blossom. New skills may come to be prized more highly. This could affect recruitment strategies too, in terms of what employers look for in some technology roles. What's more, if location matters less, then this opens doors for a wider set of candidates to be considered for different positions. At the same time, candidates may also benefit from smaller tech hubs springing up across the country where good transport and broadband infrastructure is readily available.
Balancing OOO with ITO (In the Office)
Through the crisis, we have all learned that working from home works - and there won't be a mass return to five days in the office. However, as lockdown eases, the process will begin of learning to balance OOO with ITO. The return to offices is something that businesses need to control and manage very carefully and with maximum flexibility built in. Transport issues to and from work; distancing, hygiene and equipment usage in offices; logistical arrangements around shared facilities such as lifts, kitchens and toilets - all of these need to be coordinated and thought through. Most organisations are likely to take some form of ‘teams' approach, with different groups of people in on different days - perhaps a ‘business bubble' variant of the ‘social bubble' concept.
It will take some time for the balance to settle. For me, the golden rule is that no one should be made to do anything they are not comfortable with. Employers have a duty of care to their staff and if an individual is not comfortable with returning to the office, we have to be sensitive to that. That's likely to be the case until a vaccine is available.
Building on the good
It is essential that we don't lose all the good things this new way of working has opened up to us.
As we attempt to stamp out the virus, we must also stamp out the harmful working practices that have held so many people back in the past. If the tech sector embraces the change, I believe it can become even more productive than before.
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