While the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020 offered a literal and figurative shot in the arm to a weary public battling pandemic fatigue, a rapid return to what we’ve known as “business as usual” remains unlikely, even after vaccines are fully rolled out.
The UK, for example, has ushered in the new year with a third national lockdown. It will eventually lift, but many of the changes we’ve adapted to over the last 11 months will persist. Innovation peaks when the status quo is interrupted, or we’re faced with new, gripping challenges.
Practically speaking, what does this mean for knowledge workers?
It means that remote working – which became par for the course in 2020 – will continue well into 2021, and that professionals will have to continue developing new muscles around using technology and getting work done.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Over the past year, the usual services that are typically at a knowledge worker’s disposal – an administrative assistant, say, or a junior member of staff – haven’t been part of the picture. The upside of this is that it has forced a lot of professionals to embrace new technologies and new ways of working to become more productive. In essence, they’ve been forced to develop new muscles around using tech that they otherwise might not have bothered to beef up.
Many of the digital technologies and processes they’ve adopted in recent months might have been available pre-COVID-19, but – much like the dreaded trip to the gym to work out – it was easy for some professionals to find an excuse to avoid doing it.
For certain professionals, the excuse might have been that their existing habits and workflows were already engrained, and they feared that learning a new way would be too time consuming; for others, it was the simple fact that there was always a “Plan B” to fall back on. For instance, there was no compelling reason to learn how to digitally file your expense reports or enter your billable hours yourself using a purpose-built application if you could just scribble a few things down on a piece of paper and then hand it off to an admin or someone else to finish the process.
When you’re working from home, however, that fallback has been taken away – there is no “someone else” to hand the task off to. These conditions have gently broken people of some of their bad habits and moved them to adopt more efficient digital processes.
In addition to breaking their bad habits, the development of new tech muscles has empowered remote workers to start sniffing out compelling digital technologies on their own.
They see a collaboration app that their spouse (who is temporarily their “co-worker” on the homefront) is using and think to themselves, “We could really use that in my job to make communication with the team more efficient.” Or, they see the video conferencing app that their college-age child is using for a university project and think, “That looks like a much smoother user experience than the clunky conferencing system that we use.”
The net effect is that enterprise tech companies will need to make products that match the powerful functionality and smooth user experience that these increasingly tech-savvy end users have become accustomed to since working remotely. While knowledge workers may not be heading back to the office in the near term, they are continuing to build their muscles by adopting innovations brought to light by the pandemic.
Law firms that have embraced new tech initiatives and approaches to legal processes have seen significant benefits to productivity and client services. With these clear advantages, senior partners and associates alike are much more open to adopting new technologies into their permanent workflows.
Wherever firms are in their digital journeys, whether addressing pain points through more effective document management and collaboration innovations, or incorporating Machine Learning and AI to improve knowledge management or document analysis, or whether adopting any number of other technology initiatives – knowledge workers will be expecting to put those newly developed muscles to good use once they finally do make a return to their offices. And organizations will emerge stronger for it.
This article originally appeared in LPM magazine.