After Covid-19 shocked the world into a total overhaul of working practices overnight, the past year has opened up a multitude of new opportunities to make work more positive, productive and profitable.
From FTSE 100 and Nasdaq leaders’ new hybrid working strategies, to the plans and recent actions of CIOs, CTOs and HR leaders across industries, here’s how companies can prepare for the future of work.
What Will the Future of Work Look Like?
Popularity of Remote Working in Tech
The sudden shift to remote working as the norm across many industries was embraced by millions across the globe. Employees cite a wide variety of benefits to home working, including:
- Work/Life Balance – Flexibility and control over one’s own schedule, enabling individuals to attend doctors’ appointments and matching work hours with available childcare
- Time Gains – Dedicating hours of time per day that were previously taken up by commuting to more productive and enjoyable activities, such as additional hours to invest in work or spending time with family
- Physical Health – Fitting more time for exercise and sleep into every day, and the ability to prepare healthier foods at home rather than grabbing fast food near the office
- Mental Health – Reducing stress and distraction from office noise and interruptions by colleagues
- Financial Savings – Saving hundreds per month that were previously spent on train tickets, petrol, coffees and lunch
- Independence – More autonomy over each day creates a feeling of being trusted and respected, and individuals are able to create the work environment where they feel most comfortable and productive.
Employers also benefit significantly from offering home working options to employees. 30% of employers report that their teams have been more productive and 38% more collaborative, and 58% of individual employees have seen higher productivity in their own work. Businesses across sectors also stand to save hundreds of thousands each per year by downsizing offices, paying reduced rents and lower office electricity and utility bills. Just one in ten companies expect their staff to return to the office full time; the list of global businesses shutting office buildings and offering some degree of remote work includes Nationwide, Hitachi, Novartis, Deutsche Bank, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Ford and British Airways.
The success of remote employment, which was steadily increasing in popularity even before the pandemic, will remain the status quo for many due to high demand. Only a very small percentage of staff want to return to offices full time as before, and nearly three in four employees (72%) expect to work remotely for at least half of the week. Work location and remote working are now the top most important factors for jobseekers (second only to pay) for the first time.
Long compatible with and receptive to remote working, the tech industry has been particularly swift at embracing the ‘New Normal’. Developers, programmers and engineers are all able to work anywhere with a computer and an internet connection. Spending a large proportion of their time working solo, teamwork is also fully compatible with remote and hybrid working due to tech’s early adoption of online project management, digital team communication and virtual meeting software. Tech companies are at the forefront of the new wave of businesses offering remote and hybrid employment, with Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Siemens, Basecamp, HubSpot and Atlassian some of the big names already committing to more permanent flexibility.
Compatibility and readiness will be joined by growing appetite amongst tech professionals and increased prevalence of purely remote jobs as drivers for more flexible working trends. IT specialists are even more interested in remote working options than those in other professions: 95% of tech specialists want to work from home for 2-5 days per week after the pandemic.
Employers are fast embracing changes in candidate demand. Since March 2020, the number of remote technology jobs posted has risen by 149%. Hybrid and home working positions will become the norm in 2021 and beyond, meaning that employers providing flexibility will capture the best tech talent – and those that insist on office presenteeism will lose out.
With rapid advances in technology and businesses processes requiring urgent adaptation, how can tech leaders prepare organisations for hybrid working as a permanent offering? Here are five ways that CIOs and CTOs at leading global companies are implementing digital transformation and workforce strategies to prepare for the New Normal.
6 Ways CIOs, CTOs and HR Leaders Can Prepare Employees and Organisations for Hybrid Working
With employees spread further geographically, more systems existing in the cloud rather than in physical storage facilities, and the increased need to communicate and share sensitive data across networks, the Future of Work must involve a greater focus on safer systems and processes. VP and Chief Security Officer for Palo Alto Networks Greg Day sees an urgent need for cyber security investment: ‘Analysis by Palo Alto Networks uncovered that 98% of all IoT network traffic is unencrypted, whilst 57% of IoT devices are vulnerable to medium- or high-severity attacks. In a connected world where sensors that cost pennies support multi-million-pound businesses, it is clear how their increasing prevalence poses a serious security issue for organizations and headaches for CISOs.’
Following a recent data breach, online estate agency Rightmove is heavily investing in cyber security software and education. Chief Information Security Officer at Rightmove, Tim Harding, is implementing two-step verification for all areas of the site at all times, and going a stage further to help customers improve their own security processes. Harding is reaching out to independent estate agents to arm themselves with expert knowledge, and promoting the benefits of training employees to recognise phishing scams.
In addition to investing in software and infrastructure, tech leaders are focusing on the following initiatives to improve cyber security practices:
- Simplification – Reducing the likelihood of data breaches and errors by reducing the vast volume of applications in use, which in turn frees up cost and resource to be better allocated elsewhere. ‘For every one new solution, remove two legacy’
- Automation – Identifying the highly repetitive steps in every process to automate where most effective, shorten processes and reduce the occurrence of human error.
- Executive Communication – Day reveals, ‘Whilst many had strong control of IDAM and DLP tools in their traditional infrastructure, the move to the cloud has left many with multiple tools from each SaaS or cloud provider, which don’t interoperate, leading to gaps. We have already seen an increase in breaches due to simple cloud credential management mistakes.’ Communication with Boards and management is crucial to help CIOs and CTOs explain to stakeholders the benefits of each security investment, and the reasoning and actions needed for each new system or process, in the language that most resonates with stakeholders in non-tech roles.
- Training – Creating training programmes that appeal to individuals of all abilities and education levels, working in a tech-related role or not, and ensuring training focuses around compelling reasons for individuals to prioritise cyber security practices in their role.
- Collaboration – Working with each individual employee and across departments to ensure passwords are unique, as secure as possible and never shared with colleagues. Close partnerships between tech and people departments will drive robust password changes, strict access limitations, antivirus adoption and data compliance regardless of new hires, abrupt employee exits or security compromises.
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Engaging Employees in New Virtual and Remote Processes
Whilst all leaders know that change is most likely to succeed when those involved are most engaged, this is more difficult to implement in practice than in theory. As a popular trend, hybrid working in theory will be much welcomed and well received, however such large-scale change will need to be managed effectively to ensure office-based, home-based and hybrid workers are using systems and processes correctly and working most effectively.
Chief Digital and Information Officer at KPMG, Manish Tomar, provides insight into the successful digital transformation at the consultancy firm: ‘Change is difficult, especially during a time like this. CIOs need to be engaged with their business to make sure changes to people, processes, tools, and technologies are directly aligned to their business goals. Change isn’t just about IT: it involves the entire organization. CIOs need to work with other leaders to understand the organization’s culture and how its objectives are evolving.’
Collaboration with HR can deliver a communications plan across the company, that can help each employee to visualise the changes delivered by hybrid working practices, what the New Normal means for them, and how culture and communication will be maintained across the business. Involving employees from all departments in the creation and delivery of this plan will ensure the strategy caters to all needs and working styles. Providing regular updates on the success of hybrid working implementation will keep staff bought in to support every process update and new system implementation.
Levelling Up Employee Engagement for True Equality & Inclusivity
The best leaders prioritise their people, and ensure they support and engage all their direct reports, whatever the circumstances. CIOs and CTOs are starting to work with Chief People Officers and HR departments to create a level playing field for their people, wherever they work.
In-person workers may be more likely to get promoted, purely due to their visibility: unconscious bias could see office workers receive preferential treatment if they are perceived to work longer hours, have more to say in conversations or spend more time collaborating, simply because they are within physical proximity of management. HR and IT can work together to ensure fairness across departments by upholding a transparent promotion structure reliant upon KPIs and tangible outcomes, with progress tracked regularly, to eliminate favouritism. Regular 1-2-1s will help to identify any employees who feel underrepresented or unsupported, allowing managers to rectify issues as soon as possible.
Rewards and benefits can no longer revolve around team drinks, dinners or monthly social events, but must incorporate benefits that people at home can use, from childcare vouchers and discounts on entertainment to extra holiday or technology products. A rewards and benefits overhaul will also increase fairness across existing physical offices, different age groups, those with disabilities and introverts, who either cannot access physical benefits or derive little relevance or enjoyment from them.
Microsoft have committed to implementing a hybrid working model for each UK and US campus. In addition to building dedicated hybrid meeting spaces, the tech giant is offering flexible working hours for those working remotely, without necessary approval from managers. Microsoft will cover expenses for those working from home to ensure employees have all the tech equipment and resources they need.
A lack of physical presence need not make employees feel absent from their companies or disconnected to colleagues. Regularly highlighting the achievements of remote teams alongside those of permanent workers, in company emails, calls and meetings, will reinforce the value of remote employees across the business.
Adapting Existing Processes to Accommodate Remote Employees
The new era of hybrid working will introduce a wealth of opportunities to make business cultures more diverse, equal and inclusive. Virtual hiring processes will help companies reach remote candidates, plus those who (after Covid-19) are away on a business trip or holiday but can better fit a video interview into their schedule, dramatically widening the talent pool and capturing candidates before competitors.
Virtual interviewing will be much more convenient for all workers, whether based in the office or remote or a mix, particularly those who are working parents and carers, who are overwhelmingly more likely to be female. Skilled candidates with disabilities or mental health challenges such as anxiety can also be better reached and served by remote interviewing techniques as standard practice.
Hybrid working doesn’t have to mean half the communication: virtual conversations can be just as, if not more, informative and effective. Project management, team communication and productivity tools are increasingly applicable inside and outside of offices, as managers who spend days in meetings can harness instant visibility of project progress and employee output. Written updates tracking project stages can identify issues that would have been missed if information had not been shared with teams electronically.
Turning all events into virtual calls can perfectly align office-based and home-based employees for a true hybrid culture. Monthly company events mixing organisation-wide updates with fun, social activities can remove barriers between remote and office employees and create a culture that transcends physical location. Virtual communities such as Intranets and message boards provide an online space for all employees regardless of location to create a sense of connection anywhere in the world.
Creating New Work Environments, Physical Spaces and Culture
Tech giant Salesforce has seen arguably one of the industry’s most dramatic changes to its working culture and environment in the past year. The brand’s culture built through ‘immersive spaces’ such as the Salesforce Towers in San Francisco became irrelevant to employee engagement and connection during Covid-19. Following the pandemic, President and Chief People Officer Brent Hyder stated that, ‘The nine to five workday is dead, and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks. ’The fast dissolution of an office-focused culture encouraged Salesforce to look outside of its physical spaces in order to continue to differentiate its employer brand from competitors, best serve existing staff and attract potential talent in the future.
The physical office space is being completely revamped. Seas of desks are being removed in favour of new hubs resembling studios. The new physical environment will be redesigned specifically around collaboration and breakout spaces, to facilitate teamwork and creativity. The company believes that this approach will foster all the human connection and idea generation that can’t be replicated remotely, whilst providing all the benefits of home working half of the time.
Employees were at the heart of the conversation to change the physical environment from the very beginning. Salesforce surveyed its employees, of whom 80% reported that their ideal New Normal would be a hybrid working style with the ‘connection, camaraderie and innovation that come from gathering in-person’.
Whilst some staff will be permanently home-based, the majority will benefit from a hybrid model that sees their schedule revolve around team collaboration, customer meetings and presentations for their time in the office. Home working will enable each employee to create their own quiet space without distractions, that facilitates detailed projects and tasks, admin and activities that require high concentration such as writing and coding. The company has also implemented flexible start and finish times, and in a radical move aiming to improve productivity, will do away with the requirement for an eight-hour day. Employees will be assessed on performance and outcome rather than hours worked, enabling individuals to put in far fewer hours in less busy periods and amp up activity as and when needed.
Adding More Value through Technology & Tech Specialists
Rockwell Automation CIO Chris Nardecchia predicts the greatest areas of investment for the New Normal: ‘Underlying cloud operations, software defined networking transformations and investments in digitising the employee and customer experience will be the most significant initiatives.’ The automation provider is seeing growing numbers of client businesses deploy new business operating models focused on subscription-based strategies to drive recurring revenue. This approach will require significant investment in new technology, across data management, analytics and telemetry, and the specialists needed to implement this transformation.
Hybrid skills are already in high demand to deliver hybrid working. As businesses shift away from working time and further towards productivity and output as performance metrics, and companies dented by Covid-19’s financial constraints seek to improve cost efficiencies, requirements for specialist IT roles are rapidly diversifying. In the past year, there has been a 52% increase in demand for system administrators who can satisfy customers, a 51% increase for software developers who can establish customer rapport, and a 42% increase in web and multimedia developers who can provide customer follow-up.
In 2021 and beyond, businesses across industries will increasingly require tech professionals who possess niche skills and can proactively address multiple business challenges simultaneously.
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