MNP Business Insights

The Future Workplace: Business Reimagined

June 14, 2021
Presented by:

An interview with Dan Caringi, MNP, Partner, Advisory Services

Fight, Not Flight

I think of fight or flight, and what we saw across the board was a fight. We saw a fight in individuals and companies trying to stay relevant, afloat and competitive – to avoid layoffs and/or downsizing. We saw a collective heart in corporate Canada, where companies wanted to do what was right, as opposed to looking at margins and profitability. The economy keeps on rolling, and what we are seeing is that our economies can be more resilient than given credit for. We are in control of our own destiny even though at times it may not seem that way.

In-Person Versus Virtual Meetings

In the early days of the pandemic, when we were in lockdown, the biggest impact was to the freedom of being able to go into the office or meet physically with our team members. From a client perspective, about two-thirds of our clients were ahead of the curve by having already adopted some form of cloud enablement technology, whether it be Zoom, Microsoft Teams or one of several media where people can be accessible outside of the bricks and mortar we were all used to. The other third lagged behind. COVID-19 was a wake-up call or call to action to mobilize a different way of thinking on how we engage with our teams and clients.

Choosing the Cloud

Traditionally, Canadian companies are very conservative when it comes to technology investments. However, we saw that conservatism somewhat disappear just by necessity. Over the course of the year, we’ve seen a lot of the conversations shift from moving more parts of the business to the cloud as opposed to maintaining the physical server locations that some companies have been used to.

The Workplace

I don’t know if there’s a one-size-fits-all model for returning to work: given the different industries, different calibre of individuals and different hierarchies that exist. The model has to be flexible, and I think we will see a permanent shift in how businesses operate. I think we’re seeing that today. If you’re leading an innovative business, you’re going to realize people work differently, and that new generations are coming in, so the soft benefits are key: flexibility in where and when people can work. We have to realize there are different values at the business table, which are going to give us better perspectives when dealing with staff and clients. We are starting to see that with some of the larger companies where they don’t care where you work so long as you’re accountable for your work.

Little Conversations Make Big Things Happen

Not being able to see, listen to and laugh with individuals in person is probably one of the largest gaps we’re seeing. I also think one’s actual creativity is more enhanced in person as structured meetings with no time in between can stifle productivity. It’s those water-cooler talks we are missing; those little conversations make big things happen, and I think that’s what’s missing right now. In the future, once we’re in the office at least once or twice a week it will become important to provide a platform for each member of the team to contribute, as opposed to just having a top-down voice approach. The social aspect of work is an important element and that is missing today. The talk now is all about a hybrid approach, in which people will go into the office at least one or two times a week to break up the feeling of isolation.

No Room for Complacency

We’re creatures of habit and I think people naturally yearn for social interaction In the future companies are going to have to come up with different business models to ensure this happens. At the beginning of the pandemic, people fought really hard to cope with a significant change in how we traditionally operate, but you can only fight for so long. At some point, fatigue sets in and so does complacency. That is when the next wave of innovation needs to happen. We are starting to see this as people are understanding that a business can be “frenemies” with its competitors, and you can collaborate on different business models, because everything shifted from what we’re used to. That complacency model – the idea of working only from 9-5  and I am going to retire at a certain age – is changing because of the virtual workforce.

Business Reimagined

The pandemic has sped up the need for digital transformation. Today, it is about business reimagined. In the past, a company’s financial leaders were the driver for some of these digital transformation efforts. Now, the reimagined component is about automation and workflow. We are also going to see further acceleration of cloud adoption. We are probably 50 per cent of the way there, but that’s still 50 per cent we need to modernize. We are going to see this big leapfrog on what has happened over the last year, in that there is more openness to the cloud. The reality is that there are more efficiencies to be made through different integration or automation points than by any other means.

The Changing Workplace

We spent a lot of time talking about the pandemic and COVID-19 over the last year, but the fact is there has been a series of pandemics outside of COVID: climate and social justice pandemics, for example. There is a lot of change happening. There is also the issue of the global economy. There have always been interdependencies between Canada and other countries, but I think the opportunity now lies with breaking down borders even more, especially with the U.S. We saw, firsthand, manufacturing start to come back on shore. It’s been talked about for years, and the reality is that you have a low dollar and higher expectations on paying the cheapest possible price for manufactured goods. So there has been a shift in values, with people saying I’d rather pay a bit of a premium to have something manufactured here (in Canada) because I’m supporting local. When you look at all these little microcosms and value shifts, it ultimately presents a good opportunity for all of us to try something different and innovate.

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