The world is segueing to the “next normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes a greater emphasis on the well-being of employees and digitizing most aspects of the workplace, according to executives at PaaS provider ServiceNow.

Now that companies have figured out they can maintain operations, and staff are still productive, the next phase of work will include keeping employees engaged, onboarding people virtually, and rethinking supply chains, all powered by technology, said ServiceNow’s Chief Talent Officer Pat Wadors, and CIO Chris Bedi, during a webinar Thursday on what the next normal workplace will look like.

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Life and work are “crashing together,” and technology is helping smooth that out, Wadors said. “There is no one-size-fits-all” when it comes to how people should be working, she added. “We talk with peers about what it looks like for employees to go back to work and do we want to go back? We know the answer is no. The pre-COVID-19 workplace no longer exists.”

Nevertheless, for those who do go back to the office, it’s important that businesses make employees the focal point and create a safe environment, she said.

Accelerating, not slowing digital transformations

In conversations Bedi has had with other CIOs, top of mind is the need for “even tighter collaboration between the CIO, head of HR, and head of facilities to figure out how to make this work at scale,” he said. Digitization and accelerating digital transformation is another trend, Bedi said.

“As I talk to CIOs, they say this can’t slow down—in fact, it needs to accelerate because the pandemic exposed flaws they have,” he said. The focus needs to be on digitizing workflows, even if it’s at the cost of initiatives that may be interesting, but are not that compelling, Bedi said.

When it comes to protecting revenue, creating digital services to create new revenue streams, pursuing productivity, scaling operations, optimizing financial models, and prioritizing business continuity–all of that can be achieved with digital platforms, Bedi said. “And CIOs need to lean in harder to help their companies thrive and survive in the new normal.”

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Looking ahead, employers need to ensure the workplace is safe and that employees feel safe coming back to the office, “and we shouldn’t confuse those two things,” Bedi noted. “This is the new normal,” and to make new processes effective and scalable, companies must focus on automation, he said.

This week, ServiceNow introduced apps for its own staff geared at employee readiness surveys, health screening, workplace safety, and managing global levels of PPE. Bedi said he anticipates biometrics being integrated into the employee health screening app. The workplace safety app will help facilities managers figure out where people should park and when cleaning crews should come in based on the flow of employees, he said.

In terms of advice for other HR professionals on how to navigate the new normal, Wadors said it takes about 21 days to create a habit, and that people who were initially reluctant about working remotely have learned to adjust. The past few months have been the experimentation phase. Now officials need to explore how to innovate and develop a better work/life balance, she said.

“We’re perfectly imperfect. Adjustments are needed,” Wadors said. “Employees love choice; it helps reduce anxiety … make sure they know they’re the center of your universe.”

Working and collaborating from anywhere

The first chapter of social distancing guidelines illustrated that not only can people work from home, they can work anywhere, both Wadors and Bedi said.

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“Just getting work done is really important, and supporting them is the new frontier,” Wadors said.

The digitization of the workplace will include “a new wave of innovation that will spawn new technology,” Bedi said. For example, already, biometrics startups have technology that will sound an alarm if people get within six feet of one another. It’s “inelegant,” he said, “but it’s a start.”

Most likely, there will no longer be large meetings with people huddled together for a long time to come, Bedi added. Executives also need to think through how people will get to the office, whether they can commute safely, and will they have to deal with elevators–and if so, how to maintain a six-foot distance, Wadors said.

“Managers have to listen to [their employees] and adapt and not apply old schedules to the new world,” she said, noting that 60% of the staff on one ServiceNow team have toddlers, so flexibility is important.

The future of work is about working from anywhere with new, immersive ways to collaborate, Bedi said. “We’re all used to getting on a whiteboard to collaborate, and we’ll find ways to do that virtually.”

Technology still needs to be written to have that happen at scale, he said.

“Digital will be the answer no matter if you’re running a factory floor or you’re a bank with a ton of compliance requirements,” or in healthcare or at a tech company, Bedi said. “It all comes down to digital and scaling on the back end for companies.”

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