Needless to say, this year has witnessed a workplace transformation like no other. Before the pandemic, leaders designed their business models based on the convention that office space was paramount to corporate success and wellness. Productivity, satisfaction, and company culture used to depend on employee proximity and in-office camaraderie with slower, more careful implementation of digital transformation strategies.
Having never experienced, nor prepared for such complex circumstances, organisations had to compress their digital transformation cycle into a matter of months – if not weeks or days – due to increased customer demand and limited in-person communication. Necessity fast became the mother of invention, and leaders who never deemed dispersed working practical – or even possible – were awakened to the need to adapt their way of thinking alongside evolving business priorities. Moving forward, the number of permanent remote workers around the world is expected to double in 2021, meaning digital technology initiatives will reside at the top of directors’ priority investments. The New Year will also present a significant opportunity for leaders to reflect on, and enhance, the quality of team cohesion and engagement achieved throughout the pandemic.
As leaders reassess their priorities for the future of work, they should be looking to align with specific transformation trends to avoid falling short in the face of future waves of disruption.
Accelerating digital transformation with the cloud
Ensuring largely dispersed teams can still do their work effectively, whilst maintaining service delivery for customers, has highlighted cloud-based platforms as the most available solution. The growing power of the cloud to drive innovation can’t be overstated. As the primary force behind ensuring business continuity in the new normal, the cloud has effectively overcome age-old concerns over security, budget, and value – those that have held executives back from implementing flexible working for years prior. Next year, almost a third of total IT budgets will be allocated to cloud computing, as organisations increasingly look to aggregate all tasks and communications in online workflows, and make these accessible and secure on employee devices.
As companies rethink their digital strategy in the context of their employees, they should reimagine how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can allow them to connect more effectively with their work. 35 per cent of global corporations are predicted to double down on workplace AI in 2021, as they’re expected to push the technology to new frontiers in remote working and streamlined operations. For employees working-from-home, this will augment and automate tasks that typically leave customer service teams overstretched, such as form-filling and resetting passwords. Ramping this capacity up and down will be invaluable in creating a self-driving infrastructure in the more permanent remote working era.
Digitizing employee experiences
While technology remains an enabler, chief among an executive’s interests will be people, with an emphasis on enhancing employee collaboration, motivation, and social connections. Expedited by the pandemic, an overarching trend even before the crisis was the preservation of humanness within the employee experience. 42 per cent of CIOs shared that a major challenge of COVID-19 was less visibility and collaboration, due to the siloed nature of remote working. 2021 will see the next generation of cloud collaboration tools, armed with internal social networking and resource management, heighten the employee experience and ensure workers feel included. An influx of cloud investment will allow teams to work collaboratively when they’re separated, but also develop deeper rapport and facilitate more frequent conversations than ever before. These systems are allowing leaders to recreate the socialness of an office floor, and adapt learning-based programmes to suit employees who would otherwise struggle to learn virtually.
With technology now a primary, if not totally exclusive means of recruiting, leaders will also become more empowered to tap into talent pools outside of the radius of their urban offices. Cloud-based recruitment is extending virtual hiring practices across borders, and laying the foundations for the future environment for hiring, onboarding, and developing teams. In 2021 and beyond, recruiters will spend less time screening applicants, freeing them up to invest more resources in training team members and creating personalised, more inclusive employee experiences.
The future working environment
In the unpredictable next normal, leaders can’t afford to take their finger off the pulse in terms of digital transformation and critical capability building. Business and workforce strategies are unlikely to ever return to a pre-pandemic state, and will require continuous reimagination to keep pace with evolving labour market dynamics. With digitalization of internal processes and employee experiences mission-critical – during and long after the pandemic – executives will be required to respond in an agile way and accommodate the accelerating cultural shift.