Remote working and return to the office in the era of COVID-19

PL Staff

Return to the office will be slow, phased, and regionally dependant – and in some cases – optional. Procurement Leaders recently hosted a roundtable discussion among several procurement leaders on how they are tackling remote working and the eventual return to the office

Return to the office will be slow, phased, and regionally dependent – and in some cases – optional. Procurement Leaders recently hosted a roundtable discussion among several procurement leaders on how they are tackling remote working and the eventual return to the office.

Covid-19 has caused disruptions across the board from international to local in scale, from professional to personal in nature, and short term to long term in duration. While impacts have been wide-ranging and nuanced, disruptions to the workplace have been one of the most universally felt. For many organizations, the pandemic has meant a shift to remote work policy.

This following piece explores the ways in which organizations are approaching the new working remote reality, what changes are likely to be permanent, and what a possible return to the office plan could look like.

Staying engaged, while Remote

Covid-19 has posed new challenges seemingly everywhere, and the workplace is no exception. For many, especially those in the corporate environment, are now having their first remote work experience in their career.

How procurement teams are managing this:

  • Keep up productivity: Turbulent times bring new challenges, shifting priorities, and further ambiguity. Procurement leaders should structure their days and weeks to remain productive and relevant relative to organizational priorities.
  • Be intentional with collaboration across different stakeholders: Remote working has the propensity to stifle ad hoc team collaboration, collaboration that was previously taken for granted yet still integral to overall success. Teams should be intentional with their collaboration efforts among procurement teams and across the business. Scheduling collaboration can feel odd, but creating opportunities is vital in a physically distanced reality.

Scheduling collaboration can feel clunky, but it is vital we stay connected – it’s what has enabled us to stay resilient and productive through the disruption.” Procurement Exec, consumer goods

  • Foster work/life distinction: Create and maintain a distinction between work and home life allows you to be your best self in both environments. Set up a dedicated work station and maintain set working hours to maintain a work/life balance.

What changes will be permanent?

Covid-19 has caused widespread disruption and has caused many organizations to pivot. Organisations are now speculating what the ‘New Normal’ will look like for them. The group considered and shared their thoughts on what changes will be permanent.

How procurement teams are managing this:

  • Flexible work location: Many organizations and teams have now been working remotely for months. In most circumstances, productivity has remained consistent or even improved. Work location flexibility will likely continue well beyond COVID, with an increased emphasis on remote collaboration measures.

There are times I have to stop myself and double-check I am including the same people in a virtual meeting as I would in a live one. We can’t let ‘out of sight, out of mind’ become a thing in this WFH reality.” Procurement manager, consumer goods

  • Acceleration of digital transformation: The pandemic has shown both the value and necessity of digital efforts. Most organizations were already well along their digital transformation journey, and many benefited from these efforts as Covid-19 hit. Many organizations are now looking to accelerate their digital roadmap by bringing milestones forward. Supply chain visibility tools and virtual supplier audits were top of mind in discussions at Procurement Leaders recent Americas Procurement Congress.
  • Emotional/mental health awareness: Organizations have begun discussing mental health more openly, even offering training in managing stress and anxiety in the workplace. Conversations around these topics were becoming more common before, and COVID has accelerated these conversations. These changes are likely to be for the long term.

What will return to the office be like?

While work from home appears it will be an option for the foreseeable future, some organizations have begun outlining their plans for a return to the office. The majority of organizations are still in the planning phase of return to the office plans. In most instances, it appears the return will be phased, staggered, and highly regionalized. Team members should also expect increased sanitation precautions and standards when they do return.

How procurement teams are managing this:

  • A welcomed return to the office for some: While many teams rose to the occasion as global organizations pivoted to remote working during the COVID-19 quarantines, many individuals in the roundtable discussion they looked forward to an eventual return to the office, even if it included work from home as an option as well.

There is a lot to be said for the structured environment the office provides. The default work/life distinction it creates is lost in a work from home environment. Our teams have to be intentional about how we create this distinction for ourselves. Maintaining a workspace and working hours are musts in order to keep productivity up and a balanced life.” Category Management Leader, manufacturing – automotive

  • Phased return, regionally dependant: As the option to return to the office becomes feasible, return strategies will likely be phased to start. In-office days will alternate among and between teams in order to limit person-to-person contact. These phased timelines will also depend on and follow regional guidelines.
  • Increased sanitation standards: As teams return to the physical office, there will be increased precautions taken to limit interaction and maintain increased sanitary standards. Actions taken could include physical barriers between workstations, sanitation stations, and mask requirements.

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