Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “It is becoming clear that companies and individuals are grappling with three issues – the changing size and composition of the workforce; the productivity of those who are driving the businesses; and attracting, reskilling and engaging the broader workforce.” These are the challenges that tech providers will have to help organisations with.
Workspace is Google’s office productivity suite comprising video conferencing, cloud storage, collaboration tools, security and management controls built into a cohesive environment. The new features announced by Google Workspaces include Focus Time to avoid distractions by limiting notifications, recurring out-of-office and location indicators to make colleagues aware if the person is working from home or office, support for Google voice assistant in workplaces, second-screen experiences to support multiple devices, and features for frontline workers designed to help mobile employees collaborate and communicate better with the rest of the organisation. Google is also working on a trimmed down version of Google Workspace – Google Workspace Essentials – which will provide support for Chat, Jamboard, and Calendar. Workspace is estimated to have 2.6 billion monthly active users.
Bhogaraju says, “One of the issues that is fast emerging as significant is not just the employee experience or customer experience but the complexity of the digital workplace as platforms introduce newer and advanced features. In the end, there has to be simplicity, clarity, and a clear focus on the goals – not just an overload of features that makes life more complex for the employee. It would be critical to enable these features thoughtfully and reskill staff adequately so that the adoption and impact to business process is felt in their day-to-day activities.”
Workspace Transformation across Industries
With many of Google’s employees and developers working remotely, the company has first-hand experience of the challenges of remote working and is leveraging the experience. Google Workspace is also working on custom solutions for various industries. In Retail for example, Woolworths, rolled out Google Workspace and Chrome for geographically dispersed teams to collaborate in real-time and adopt custom-made applications linked to global servers to allow managers to log and address tickets from the shop floor itself. Similarly in Aviation, All Nippon Airways uses Google Workspace to allow pilots, cabin attendants, HR and finance staff to communicate and collaborate in real-time across the globe, using Google Meet, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides from their PCs, smartphones or tablets. Google retains its focus on the Education industry – Google Workspace Education Fundamentals is free for all qualifying institutions. Solutions such as Google’s Classroom, Teach from Anywhere hub, roster sync, mobile grading and EdTech tools aim to enable better learning and teaching experience for students and educators.
Tech Companies Revamping their Collaboration Offerings
With more companies rethinking their work policies, leaders in the collaboration space are also stepping up their game to evolve their offerings for the hybrid norm. Microsoft’s Viva unifies the experience across Teams and Microsoft 365 for employee communications, wellbeing, learning and knowledge discovery. Similarly, Zoom too has upgraded and integrated various utility, sharing, and management features to support a hybrid workforce. Tech companies are being forced to invest in creating next-generation tools to stay relevant, as Future of Work models continue to shift and evolve.
As tech companies evolve their capabilities, Bhogaraju warns organisations on how they should leverage them. “While technology companies continue to deliver feature rich suites – in reality the uptake and embedding of these programs into the day-to-day business processes is still in its early stages. Business, HR and IT teams continue to struggle. They tend to operate within independent thought silos and there is limited consensus on which feature is really needed and how it can add to the productivity and efficiency. Without this crucial context and an effective change management program – they remain rich features and not impactful ones.”
The hybrid workplace model is gaining popularity in 2021. Check out Ecosytsm’s top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021. Signup for Free to download the report.
So for your company, once employees re-enter the workplace, how will your company create those processes, that level of trust and faith, that would allow movements and health status to be tracked by office automation? For example, how often should employees overtly be aware of their temperature being scanned?
Abilities of Buildings to Manage
Facilities management is trending towards intelligent building management systems (iBMS) which know about room occupancy, room hygiene and are tracking who has been where and with whom. Elevators will limit occupancy and direct users to the correct lift going to the correct location. I have already seen this in our city hospital where you get directed to the correct lift once you have entered information on your destination. This combines user interface devices such as touchless pads, system hardware, and access control management software.
The building can also possibly direct you via a building app to request a place to work. You could swipe your personnel card and then be shown several options based on your personal profile and job role, including private quiet rooms, communal areas, and outside meeting tables. Previous occupants can be noted to share hygiene tracing if necessary. Intelligent buildings already offer direct support to the employees who interact with them for HVAC, lighting control, and occupation sensor. They have the ability to reduce user friction while raising workplace experience metrics to create a measured environment.
User Trust & Participation
Users should be willing to participate to get access. To create the trust that is required for employees to be willing to participate in the process, companies need to share policies and demonstrate stewardship of the data accessed. Who is holding my locational data, for how long, and for what purpose?
Trust facilitates successful data sharing, which in turn reinforces trust. Trust is built when the purpose of data sharing is made clear, and when those involved in the process know each other, understand each other’s expectations, and carry out their commitments as agreed. Trust increases the likelihood of further collaboration and improves core surveillance capacity by supporting surveillance networks.
Will we put our trust in buildings and facilities management on our return to the office? If communication is clear and policy well articulated, the building can play a role in engaging users to return to some standards of in-office participation. But if communication is muddy and policy not made clear, people will make their own way to safety – potentially impacting the environment of others.
Transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands in 2021. Download Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021.
Human-centricity Will be Front and Centre of Organisational Priorities
2020 saw immense humanitarian disruption. Enabling remote work was a key component of business continuity. Both organisations and their employees have a better understanding now of the implications of remote working and how it can be made to work. They are also aware of the challenges of remote working. Monitoring productivity, maintaining the right work-life balance and ensuring employee emotional well-being have been challenging. Despite the challenges, hybrid/blended working is definitely here to stay. Employees will expect more options on the location of their work, often choosing to work where they are most productive.
All decisions related to the organisation, filtered through the lens of human-centricity, will drive better employee engagement – and engaged employees provide better customer experience. Organisations that will operationalise this at scale and across cultures will emerge as success stories.
Technology Will Bond with Facilities and Operations – Connecting with HR Will be a Challenge
There has to be an alignment between the Business, People, Work Environment and Technology to make an organisation truly empowered to handle sudden pivots that will be required in 2021 as well (Figure 1).
This will require cross-departmental coordination and synergy. Tech teams have traditionally driven the Digital Workplace strategy; now they will have to work closely with Operations and Facilities Management teams on “Smart and Safe Office” strategies. That may not be the real challenge given that there are overlaps between these three teams – they have a shared language and similar KPIs. The real challenge will be the need for Tech teams and HR to work more closely to improve the overall employee experience, including a focus on employee productivity and wellness. Human-centricity makes the role of HR even more important – IT will find it challenging to find common grounds as there have traditionally been few shared KPIs between these two departments.
Office Spaces Will Become Truly Digital
The hybrid/blended workplace model means that the physical workplace is not disappearing soon. Even as the model evolves for each organisation, what becomes clear is that employee expectations have changed drastically in the last year, and the traditional employee experience expectations of Salary, Recognition, and Job Satisfaction may not be enough. Employees will now expect flexibility, social cohesion, and effective communication. If they are to return to the physical office, they will expect the same benefits as working from home.
This will drive the adoption of digital tech to ensure the office space is safer, more effective and a productive environment for the employees and the business. Two key areas of focus will be on seamless access to information and employee control over work environment.
Providers Will Deepen Digital Workplace Offerings, but the Market Will Not Consolidate
Key tech providers in the digital workspace space (such as Microsoft, Google, Zoom, Cisco, AWS and so on) will broaden their capabilities and make it easier to procure and use solutions. It will no longer be a “tool-centric” approach (chat, video, document sharing, online meetings, whiteboards and so on) – it will become a platform play. Information workers will be able to choose the approach that best fits the problem they are trying to resolve, without being limited by the capabilities of the tool. E.g. documents will be sharable and editable within chats; whiteboards will be integrated into all other communication services and so on.
Tech providers will deepen and strengthen their capabilities organically and acquisitions will mostly be about buying market share, customers and not the technology.
Industry-centric Digital Workplace Services Will Emerge and Witness Rapid Growth
The Services industry has been leading in the adoption of digital workplaces – but blue-collar roles and front-line employees will also start benefiting from these technologies. In 2021, new digital workplace capabilities will extend beyond the employee base to systems that drive better connectivity and communication with customers. This will open the market up for smaller, niche players (and this may well run counter to the previous trend). Tech teams will focus on employees and a platform-based approach to collaboration, while Customer teams and others will implement tools and platforms to better communicate outside of the business. The next few years will bring the traditional “employee-centric” collaboration players into direct competition with the “customer-centric” ones. Those that play across both today (such as Google) will be better positioned to win the enterprise-wide “Future of Work” style deals.
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Employee Experience at the Core of Customer Strategies
It has become increasingly clear that customer experience (CX) is not just about good sales skills or customer service. It is about the overall experience of the customer from start to post-purchase. Customers are focused on not just what they are buying but also on how they are treated along their entire journey. Good CX has consistently shown to help increase price premium, impulse buying, and loyalty. Consequently, one bad experience can drive a customer away forever. Customers pay for your products or services, but it is your people who can really deliver the experience.
Audrey says, “As it becomes clear that we are headed for a hybrid/blended model of work, employee experience (EX) has to be a key focus area for organisations. Organisations will have to support remote work and simultaneously evolve their physical workplaces so that employees have the choice to come into work. But business leaders and HR will definitely have to come together to re-evaluate their policies around employees and improving EX – irrespective of where they choose to work from.”
The Role of Productivity in the Digital Workplace
Productivity has been at the core of an organisation’s desire to be a digital workplace. Tim says, “A digital workplace is one that has the capability to support any employee to access the process, information or system they need on their device of choice, in their moment and location of need. In the wake of the pandemic, the digital workplace went from being a ‘good idea’ to an ‘absolute necessity’ – and the seeds were sown to build true digital workplaces, years ahead of plan.”
This is the time to retain that focus on productivity. A lot of energy is being spent in defining and measuring productivity. The focus seems to have shifted to how to get the best out of the remote/hybrid workforce. It is time for business leaders and HR to go back to the drawing board to re-define what productivity means to their organisations.
Tim says, “The focus should be on enabling productivity rather than on monitoring activity. Productivity is an outcome, not a process. So, measure the outcome, improve the process. Productivity will be driven at an organisational level through removing friction from overall operational processes, to make things more streamlined and effective to create more value.”
The True Implication of Flexibility
There has been a rapid shift in practices around working from home and flexibility. But it is time now for organisations to create a framework (policy, performance expectation and management) to manage these practices. Many companies do not really understand the implications of flexible working to their business. In fact, they may be unaware of shifts in work patterns that have taken place in the last few months and the impact these shifts are having on the business.
Framework around flexible working should be backed by data and an understanding of the feasibility of such practices. If your employee has to work on her compulsory day off, then you do not have a truly flexible work practice. This will have a negative impact on employee experience and ultimately on your business.
The Evolution of Employee Engagement
Audrey says, “One of the areas that business leaders and HR will have to bear in mind is that despite flexible working hours, employees might be overworked – it is emerging as a common problem with working from home. It is common that many employees are working longer hours.”
Ecosystm research finds that some organisations have been evolving their HR practices, since the start of this crisis (Figure 1).
But more needs to be done. Organisations have to work really hard to replicate their employee engagement and social hours in the virtual world. It is critical that organisations design mechanisms of keeping employees connected – to each other, as well as to the organisation. “Virtual social groups” not only provide this connection, it can also be a rich source of input for HR and wellness teams to quickly adapt their programs to meet the changing needs of employees.
Shift in Managerial Styles
Performance management has been traditionally done through annual cycles, and by monitoring and tracking. In the Future of Work, organisations will have to increasingly give their employees the choice of working from home. Meetings, check-ins, 1:1 and team huddles for close monitoring will not work in this remote/hybrid model.
It is time to stop close monitoring and really focus on outcome-based management. And this will have to start with re-skilling people managers. Training should be provided on softer skills such as emotional intelligence, being able to sense across boundaries and digital spaces, and being able to be responsive to employees’ needs. The people manager must evolve into being a coach and a mentor – internal coaching and mentoring networks will have to be established. Line managers, business leaders and HR teams will need to collaborate more to ensure that these skills are developed and that the right support system is in place.
For more insights on how organisations should evolve their Future of work Work practices to strengthen their agility and market competitiveness, read the report.
How will video calls work with employees in the office and at home? If employees in the office are docking their laptops, they immediately lose access to the camera. If they have monitors on their desk, they might not even be able to work with the laptop open. If they are in an open-plan office, the regular video calls might be distracting.
What is the role of meeting rooms in the hybrid workplace? With social distancing an expectation in many countries today, the role of meeting rooms has changed. They will cater for fewer employees, and there is a growing need for them to be video-enabled.
How do you manage hybrid meetings – where maybe 3-5 employees are on a single camera? How do you ensure every voice has equal weight – and that the right employees have their fair share of voice on the calls.
How do you support employees who are moving between locations? You must focus on self-help services and automating as much of your Service Desk capabilities as possible.
How can IT support social distancing in the office? Many companies are scaling back their hot desk environments to ensure there are fewer shared working environments.
How will the changing location of employees impact business processes? Many of your processes were designed assuming employees were on site. You then redesigned many of them to assume they were not. Do you need to rethink them again?
Does the application strategy work for all employees? There has been an increase in employees accessing applications from mobile devices – sometimes that was because it was a better experience, but too often it was because it was the only option. Is it time to rethink access and interfaces to make them relevant for all users?
How do you keep employees and their data secure? Employees might move between secure and unsecured networks, work and home devices, on-premise and cloud applications. How do you keep them secure, backed up and synchronised – regardless of their device or location?
The move to hybrid working might not be a smooth one. The last thing you want to deliver is a poorer experience at one location versus the other, so you have work ahead in keeping your employees productive and secure – and hopefully, you’ll also move further down the path towards a Digital Workplace that can enable and empower all of your employees.
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For more information on Ecosystm’s “Digital Priorities in the New Normal”, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org