What's the future of remote work?

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Ganesh S, Futurist – Digital Workplace, Australia and New Zealand, answers key questions senior leaders are asking about how to adjust workplaces to thrive today and what they could look like in the future.

Posted: May 2020

This year’s unpredictable environment has ushered in the biggest ever digital transformation in remote working and it’s caught many organisations off-guard. I’ve spent the majority of my career working with research and development on creating best practice in remote working, I’ve seen the benefits it brings to organisations and their employees.

Recent events have forced organisations to rapidly upscale their remote working capabilities, but many aren’t sure what the best platform to adopt is and how to implement it. What’s more there’s a lot of uncertainty around how best to support staff to make the change and foster the right culture for it all to work.

Here are the answers to some of the most important questions that Chief Information Officers and Chief Digital Officers are asking.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to enabling remote working?

Until recent months, many companies never had the impetus to scale up remote working capabilities. Infrastructure has been designed to support only a small proportion of people to work from home, rather than a majority of workers for extended periods. This has meant that most organisations haven’t developed optimum frameworks and solutions to reap the full benefits of remote working en masse.
Some companies are now hamstrung by legacy structures. These include the frequent use of one-off line of business applications which have been developed on custom technology platforms. These present many challenges including difficulties when it comes to scalability. Even more problematic is that some applications have been designed to work only on custom hardware.
Today working from home is the norm rather than the exception. And that means companies need to take a holistic approach to implementing structures and technology to support remote working.

Companies should be keenly re-assessing their choice of technology to see what the best solution or platform is for their needs.

Q: What do I need to focus on to successfully transition to remote working?

There are four key pillars to successfully transition to remote working:

Cloud based apps
There has never been a more important time to transition to the cloud. While many companies have invested in custom video and audio conferencing solutions and chat-based platforms, these have not been easy to scale up.

Rapid Cloud Migration gives you a robust governance framework, complete functionality and visibility, while also reducing your overheads.  Cloud-based applications give your staff the tools to communicate and collaborate seamlessly from wherever they are. Importantly, the cloud facilitates secure access to your organizational network, file-sharing and using software and systems.

The next important consideration is readying your network for transition to the cloud. The current scenario is a critical stress test of all your enterprise networks. It’s important to thoroughly assess whether your enterprise network is capable of holding vast increases in data transfer.

For example, in the past, project meetings/stand-ups took place in physical meeting rooms in the office space. Now, its all shifted to virtual meeting spaces such a Teams, Cisco Webex, Zoom etc. That audio/video data load will now be shifted to your network and it must be capable of flowing through easily at any point in time. Even post the current crisis, we don’t expect to see 100% of the workforce back in office. Virtual meetings is here to stay.

Strong security is a must to ensure Zero Risk to valuable company data or assets.

Investing in custom hardware and rolling this out to staff is expensive. The beauty of the cloud is that software solutions are accessible on multiple platforms. To truly maximise the benefits of remote working, your infrastructure must empower your staff to work from anywhere and on any device and that includes personal devices, whether they choose computer, laptop, tablet or mobile.

Q: How can I incorporate remote working into my strategic planning framework?

Many companies are looking at immediate costs and benefits when implementing remote working capabilities. It’s important to take a near-term view of how it will impact on your business.
But it can also be a mistake to plan too far ahead. Why? Digital technology is rapidly evolving and disruptions are too massive to plan too much beyond five to seven years.

Q: How do I make the most of my investments to enable remote working?

The challenges of recent events have led to budgetary constraints. Companies may prefer to assess how they can squeeze greater value out of their existing investments rather than deploy fresh funding towards new infrastructure.

It’s timely in this case to take a fresh look at the licensing for your product bundles. Many companies have best of breed product bundles but only use few elements of them. It’s time to assess any untapped functionality of these platforms and how they can be used to drive remote working more effectively, without additional spending. This is where I believe, workplace analytics is of huge benefit.

Company leaders used to think how productive an office space was if it was buzzing with activity. It’s a common and outdated misconception carried over from the manufacturing era.
Since then there’s been a great deal of focus on analytics and more specifically - customer analytics. This has given companies a 360-degree view of their consumer base. Big data is producing insights into consumer personas and needs which has been useful to inform business strategies and how to best tailor products and services towards micro-segments. But, when it comes to analytics, the same level of attention hasn’t yet been given to the workplace employees. Only recently have Chief Investment Officers and Chief Digital Officers started scaling up workplace experiences to enable digital transformation and empower staff to provide better customer focus.

Working from home or remote working will foster new working behaviors. Workplace analytics can be used to identify the successful behaviors and promote it across the organisation. For example, by analyzing daily work patterns of a high-performing sales lead, companies can identify practices that other sales leads can adopt to improve performance.
Most importantly this isn’t analytics coming out of data captured from employee satisfaction surveys (that gets captured once or twice in a year), but rather this is real productivity data that gets generated every single minute of the day.   

Q: How can I promote employee wellbeing and a sense of connectedness in a world of social distancing?

Providing facilities that foster employee wellbeing and improvement have been important to attract and retain top talent. Companies have devoted resources towards creating vibrant workspaces with gyms, learning and skills development, rest and recreation facilities as unique selling points.

One of the biggest challenges of remote working is ensuring people feel connected. We often overlook the value of tea-room conversations in encouraging happiness and productivity. Today and beyond companies will need to refocus on creating a differentiated experience in a virtual workspace. Part of this is promoting a sense of togetherness and encouraging a positive organisational culture. More communication, more regularly is the best way to keep people feeling part of the team. One easy way to achieve this is by scheduling regular virtual coffee sessions, virtual wellness sessions such as Yoga to help staff bond and reach out to each other. 

Companies have been used to publishing updates via email or intranet. A more interactive and engaging approach is to use digital cognitive advisors (with a human in the middle for those tricky questions). These combined with Leadership connects, virtual townhalls can assist in keeping people abreast of the company’s values. The channels of employee connect will be diverse, but messaging would be singular.

One example here at TCS is that we’re constantly communicating with our employees about the impact of recent events on the organization and our industry via a Teams app. We’re helping clients establish similar apps to foster connectedness and information sharing.