Remote working worked - in large part - for most organizations, both from employer and employee perspectives. As such, as the Vaccine Economy emerges around the world, one of the key questions regarding the Future of Work is whether this is now the norm? If it is, to whatever greater or lesser degree that might be appropriate depending on context and circumstance, then the next question in line is even more vital - are you ready for it?
In other words, we can see the principle and it was forced upon most of us in practice by the pandemic, but has the planning been done to make it a long-term reality? That was the discussion aired at the recent Citrix Future of Work conference by one of the company’s solution strategists, Sasa Petrovic, whose first advice was, in essence, not to rush, but have a think:
When a change happens, we often start immediately to think about the solutions first, without really knowing what the underlying problem is, what the root causes were, or what the change implications are. Therefore, I really like Albert Einstein’s statement saying that if he has one hour to solve a problem, he spends 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and then only uses five minutes to really think about the solution.
That being so, the root problem now is that staff want to work remotely as a de facto state, a change in operating model that brings associated dependencies and implications. It means planning needs to stretch across many different teams and departments that staff engage with.
Wrestle with Pestle
The Petrovic solution is to use Pestle Analysis, a framework which highlights external factors or implications. He starts with the broad brush of legal and political factors, though in this case these are few and far between. They are, however, likely to become more prominent as remote working grows in acceptance, however. He noted that Germany is just one country already trying to identify ways to formally introduce – and legislate for - remote work.
Infrastructure changes will have a big impact on budgets and financial metrics, with the IT budget set for significant changes as the back office grows to encompass more front line services, such as managing and monitoring collaborative communications.
There are also huge implications on the employees themselves, no longer working in the office and likely to need additional equipment in order to operate long term from home. For reasons of uniform collaboration, regulatory compliance and the like, the costs of this is likely to be part of the overall IT budget or will need to be part of the employee expenses budget. In most cases, there will need to be some measure of control or guidance over what equipment and resources are made available.
Another factor here is real estate. Because there are fewer people in the offices, the opportunity arises to either divest or re-purpose office spaces, such as providing collaboration group spaces, properly equipped meeting and conference rooms, and social activity areas, where deliberate efforts are made to promote both work and non-work social interaction.
This is an area where Petrovic foresees closer collaboration between IT and HR. Both groups, supported by underlying communications technologies, have to ensure that the employees overall experience of the company and their productivity targets, can be met while working remotely. The infrastructure, and in particular the datacomms, must be able to support this and scale to continue supporting it securely and reliably:
The social aspect is very, very important. All of us have experienced this last year, we've seen how interactions and collaboration has changed massively. And this is also something where it has to work with the different people managers, and also HR. Another point is we can't see each other in person anymore. This means it's also more difficult to keep up the organisational culture. Therefore, we have to identify new ways to establish a new virtual culture.
Part of that process will have to accommodate a wide range of individual work patterns. People will stop working a rigid 9-to-5, often starting earlier and/or finishing later, and may well take more breaks during the day for a range of reasons including, of course, the inevitable school runs. There will also be far greater use of collaboration tools, balanced against some restrictions imposed by more cybersecurity applications required by employers.
Sustainability is an unavoidable hot topic and in many ways the move to remote working, with scope to reduce office space and in-house IT infrastructure, meets the growing targets here that will certainly be placed on businesses. Companies will, however, also need to take full account of the fact they are off-loading some of the responsibility for meeting such goals onto remote workers of all types, who should not then be left to carry the burden unsupported.
Then you can strategize
Only when those problem areas are set out in terms of metrics, such as frequency, scale, quantifiable impact, cost and the rest, is it possible to start strategizing in order to achieve the long term goals the business needs to set to both accommodate them and move forward effectively. Petrovic said:
What I have seen in the past is that many companies and customers have created a long term strategy, but they always tried to approach everything in one step, actually try and conduct everything in one piece. In my eyes this is not possible today anymore, especially in large enterprise customers where we have multiple streams. A small delay in a small stream can have a chain reaction and will cause delay in all in all the other streams. Therefore we need to have smaller teams, smaller streams.
His recommendation is to adopt a dynamic planning approach, with multiple paths already open at the beginning of the project. This might be regarded as very complex and time-consuming, as it takes a lot of time to create this more sophisticated strategy, but Petrovic counters this by suggesting it is a very simple process to create these alternative paths.
The only thing that you have to do is to ask one simple question, what can go wrong? Ask this question at every element, every segment, every milestone. Every subject will automatically identify your risks and what can go wrong, but we will also be able to identify ways you can mitigate these risks.
From here it is then possible to consider the wider future and accommodate the changes based on the discovery and planning work already done. For example, he identified one pretty obvious development over the coming years: an on-going re-imagining of the way people will work, and what will be the impact on any business or organisation.
For example, consider the resources staff will need, whether they work remotely or in an office. Petrovic pointed to the comparison between the tools people have available personally at home and what they currently have at the office. In the latter case, staff normally have one main tool, whereas at home they often have an array of devices. In his view, businesses need to be prepared to allow that freedom of choice to staff, particularly if working remotely, which would require the necessary flexibility and operational agility to be built into the core systems.
The other way of looking at this, of course, is to view the flexibility and freedom of choice as a function of the way applications can be consumed and exploited. In that context, it is possible to see that individual remote workers (and even consumers) can gain from reducing the number of devices to those that can give the greatest level of usable access to consuming those applications, ideally just one device.
It will also be necessary to ensure that the employee experience is consistent, wherever it is they are working at that moment. And it must be both a frictionless, and secure, user experience. Everything needs to be under the umbrella of security. In addition, this has include finding new ways to increase the employee’s efficiency and productivity.
Petrovic said he sees this a part of an on-going Industrial Revolution where machines have been used to relieve the human and increase employee productivity. The use of machine learning and AI follow in that same vein, allowing employees to focus on more sophisticated works and activities.
We live in a performance metric world and employee productivity and efficiency are going to be top priorities. So therefore, we need to introduce automation and also Artificial Intelligence.
Food for (collaborative) thought.