Most organisations have introduced remote working options till the end of 2020 and beyond; while some others have made working from home a permanent option. Organisations will have to re-evaluate when employees can be realistically expected to come back into the office, and many will extend their work from home policy. Amazon recently announced the extension of its work from home policy till June 2021, from January 2021. Other organisations are expected to follow suit as the virus continues to be active in many countries.
The Experimentation will Continue
Companies will continue to enable seamless collaboration that spans across virtual and physical realms. But what will be important is to see how organisations can successfully incorporate a remote working culture across its different locations. Dropbox has announced a new ‘Virtual First’ remote working policy which includes features such as the ability for employees to decline unnecessary meetings, and a way to open source their learnings with the wider business community. Dropbox will still retain some physical spaces called Dropbox Studios, that will either be repurposed office space or entirely new spaces designed for meetings, group events and special offsites. The core collaboration hours will typically be between 9am-1pm, as employees are no longer expected to be in the same locations or time zones.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Ravi Bhogaraju says, “Flexibility (Work from home or Office Anywhere) is a company strategy and not a tactic. It needs to be evaluated within the context of the overall strategy of the company, how it creates value and how technology and talent can help provide better customer experience.”
Another experiment that was announced last week was Dubai’s efforts to revive its tourism industry. Remote working has been associated with stress and organisations are increasingly having to monitor employee emotional well-being. To overcome this, Dubai is inviting overseas remote workers to expand their workplace and remote working environment. Dubai’s new remote working program is welcoming remote workers with a valid passport, health insurance, proof of employment and a minimum monthly salary of USD 5,000 to visit and work from Dubai. Programs such as these highlights the potential change in the work environment that we might witness.
Talking about the implications of such moves on organisations, Bhogaraju says, “having everybody as free agents within the network working from anywhere – without fully enabling the process and workflows across teams and the entire organisation – will require a lot more patching or coordination. It can impact the customer experience, and also opens up the firms to compliance, tax and regulatory risks if not carefully managed – especially when cross-border work is involved.”
With experiments such as these, it will become even more important for organisations to ensure that they have the right technology in place that can not only ensure seamless access to company resources irrespective of the location of the employees but also that IT and cybersecurity teams are not overburdened by the need to secure the endpoints and network.
Other Factors to Consider
While organisations must keep working on understanding the right model that will work for them, there are some other factors that they should consider.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Mike Zamora says, “what employees are learning is that their home expenses are increasing – E.g. electricity, connectivity costs, and even food where employers have previously provided snacks, beverages and lunches. Increasingly this needs to be addressed by Businesses in order to maintain a strong connection with employees. If not, when the economy recovers, companies might find their talent moving to other companies.”
“As some companies have limited return to the office, the Business and Employees have learned what is essential to be completed at the office. This is usually collaborative tasks which cannot effectively be done through remote collaboration. In addition, there are some specialised assets (special work rooms for some industries) which cannot cheaply or effectively be recreated in the home environment.”
Bhogaraju also cautions, “an advantage of working from anywhere is that it opens up talent pools that were not available or accessible to employers before. However, without knowing what kind of employees would be needed to sustain the strategy on a mid to long-term basis the hiring would probably result in poor fit to the working environment – and lead to a spike in attrition as the employees would not be able to cope with the working arrangement.”
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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.
Here we focus on the Work Environment, and its intersection with the three other components.
Work Environment: A Component of the 360o Future of Work
Companies and people have learned work can be performed in many types of environments, just as business is conducted in varying venues. Each space will have a different impact and outcome. The three primary commercial areas are: office, industrial and retail. While industrial and retail commercial areas will be addressed later, we talk here primarily of the office environment. The office environment is designed to enable both collaborative and individual work. It has historically been densely packed. Post COVID-19, this environment will probably be modified. For the past few years, an alternative to the office environment has been co-working – a shared work environment with other companies, in open plan arrangements. It provides a way for business to save capital by minimising the expense of fit out. The combination of using both office and co-working environment is what will begin to be called “the Blended Environment”.
The Work Environment and its Intersections
While the Work Environment is an important component of the Future of Work, it is a co-enabler with Technology to support the People and Business.
Work Environment – Intersection with the Business
The Business’s role is to provide Strategy and Direction. If done effectively it can take on unknown challenges. Examples of how the Business intersects with the Work Environment would be:
Providing agility to the Business in preparing for any future crises. Some examples of how this can be done is by looking at how the space is controlled by the lease conditions, and how it is used by the occupants and the type.
Aiding to minimise risk from excess space. An example would be space options for a lease. This will enable both spatial and financial flexibility for the company to expand or contract as needed.
Work Environment – Intersection with People
A critical component of the Empowered Business is its People – its workforce. For any company, the People are the key asset. They have to be able to grow and develop, in order to provide collaboration and idea creation. Examples of how the Work Environment can empower the People would be:
The focus is on aligning the space with the employee’s task.
The focus is on aligning where a person needs space to be effective, and the task the person needs to perform.
Work Environment – Intersection with Digital (Technology)
One of the important enablers of any Business, especially the Empowered Business, is its Digital Tools. They support the Business and its People, along with the Work Environment. They allow the Work Environment to be productive and effective. Examples of how Technology and the Work Environment intersect would be:
This is where the two enablers (Digital Tools and Work Environment) work together to aid the employees and the business.
This relates to how to manage the Business’s portfolio of space from a remote location.
These four components working together will enable an Empowered Business. The Work Environment as an enabler allows the Business to pivot, adapt, and thrive in the most challenging environment. It allows the Empowered Business to be better prepared to meet future crises head-on.
Schedule a time to speak with us on Future of Work
Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy & Audrey William (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Work Environment) provide a holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.
We enable businesses to adapt, pivot and thrive in their ecosystem; provide holistic access to data and insight across People, Technology and Work Environment; help businesses transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands.
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.