A big topic spanning the entire MRMW conference has been the (infamous) new normal and the impact of Covid-19 on the work environment.
Two panels focussed on this changing work environment for market researchers. Our expert client panel focused on the research work itself, while the WIRe expert panel focused on adapting to a fully digital workspace.
Highlighting some of the more general changes brought forward by the Covid-19 pandemic but also through digitalization itself, Google’s Mac Smith emphasizes that data collection and processing has become a lot easier over the past 10 years. At the same time, the contact restrictions have made informal, personal contact a lot harder since all interaction now requires a (formal) phone call or email. Victoria Sosik, Director of User Research at Verizon adds that the pandemic leads to a review of best practices of working together. Meetings for example have become much more focused and clearer defined. So while the number of meetings may have (significantly) increased, they have also become more focused and efficient.
“Over last year we had to break our processes and rebuild them several times” (Anton Popov, Director of Business Insights, McDonald’s)
Looking at research work itself and changing skill-sets, Anton Popov, Director of Business Insights at McDonald’s notes that analytic work has become much more frequent because changes are happening a lot faster. It has become increasingly important to keep a finger on the pulse of consumers and refresh insights regularly.
Mac Smith noticed that there is a lot more collaboration and cross discipline work carried out. While before the crisis researchers often stayed within their (core) tasks and disciplines, they now collaborate more frequently and more freely.
Victoria Sosik adds that indeed while more has stayed the same, the context has changed. More factors have to be considered and contextualized than before and you need to layer on a new set of context which is different and may have been unfamiliar, especially in the beginning of the crisis. Anton Popov echoes this sentiment, adding that while a number of factors have been the same or similar, the impact of certain ones (for example the broader economy or government subsidies) are now weighting much more.
So is there such a thing as a post-Covid world and what does it look like?
There is a general agreement that there is no hard date for a switch to a post-Covid world, nor a way back to the “old” normal. Not only have processes changed – and the longer the current situation prevails the more established these will become – but consumer behaviour and expectorations have also changed.
Using the restaurant business as an example Anton Popov predicts: “When consumers are going back to stores and restaurants, the expectation is going to be different and this is what companies need to be preparing for. We are not going back but going forward with new skills and needs.“
So what does the future hold in store for market researchers? Linking back to his opening keynote from day 1, Mac Smith suggests that researchers should think of as leaders and as part of the decision making team. He goes as far as providing special training to his team improving their communication to company executives.
WIRe panel “Adapting to a new digital workplace”
The WIRe panel, led by WIRe CEO Sima Vasa, discussed the challenges Covid-19 has brought on to management and the changed requirements managers now need to consider. Changes have been dramatic for individuals, with the home-office becoming the norm for many jobs, but also for companies, some of whom have started giving up their physical headquarters altogether.
Alter Agents CEO Rebecca Brooks highlighted how leadership styles have to change and adapt to this new environment. From personal skills like empathy to very practical set-up changes like arranging a regular “open” call with all employees to connect on a more personal basis when the regular “kitchen conversations” are no longer possible. Especially in a tight knit organisation like hers, Rebecca feels that a larger amount of empathy is needed now to ensure employees really (continue) to feel connected.
Crystal Martinez, President of Fieldwork highlights how the crisis has made people more forgiving and understanding, also because it has provided many with a different perspective on their colleagues, business partners, and clients. The insight into people’s personal spaces during video calls for example, with kids gate-crashing zoom calls and dogs barking in the background. Crystal also notes that it is important to keep in mind that not everybody may be comfortable with a video set-up and that the traditional phone call may be more productive (and comfortable).
“Technology is not to be feared but to be embraced” Dr Kelly Monahan, Accenture
Kelly Monahan draws from a study to be published by Accenture that investigated over 9000 worker sentiments emphasising how the future of work looks different for everyone. As leaders, it is important to keep in mind the inequalities when not everyone is able to afford a lavish home office set-up or state of the art video equipment. Leaders have to find ways of mitigating these inequalities and create equal opportunities. Balancing on-site and at-home work environments will be one of the key challenges and while organisational leaders traditionally manage scale, efficiency and productivity, they now increasingly need to manage differences and more human aspects.
So what does the future of work hold?
There was a strong notion that the 9-5 model is slowly coming to an end. Rather than counting hours, trust and empowerment are the key factors for managing staff in the future. Rebecca Brooks notes: “Now that work from home has become an established choice, companies need to provide employees with the tools, resources and support to do that. We need to shift from keeping employees in line and getting work done to trusting them to be adults and to make the right choices.“
Covid-19 forced a review of the existing work and leadership model, showing that something is broken – but what, asks Kelly Monahan. She recalls the current model being built on the notion that people don’t want to work. “What Covid-19 has changed is the realisation that people will not work less – often even more – when you send them home. It’s a fundamental shift and we need to say we got this wrong 100 years ago. People do want to work under the right conditions, so we need to know what is right and productive. We as leaders have adapted our mandate to express care and concern for individuals.”
It is important to note that on a panel that talks about adapting to the digital workspace – human empathy, empowerment, and trust are the key elements!
Want more? Join us for the 3rd day of MRMW 2021! There is still time to sign-up at na.mrmw.net. All previous sessions, including recordings of the above panels, are available on demand.