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Remote working bubble? Okta’s VP and GM, EMEA, reviews the Future of Work

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Martin Heigan

The future of work is again a business-critical question. COVID-19 has been a pivotal event in reshaping not just where we work, how we work or who we work with, but what works.

The future of work is once again a business-critical question. COVID-19 has been a pivotal event in reshaping not just where we work, how we work or who we work with, but what works. No team has had a larger hand in this rapid shift than the technology team. Technology leaders therefore now have the responsibility of protecting their businesses and nurturing a different company altogether through the crisis. Their priorities pre-COVID19 were to maintain a productive workforce, a secure system and an agile culture. Have those changed in the weeks and months since? To understand how these technology leaders are leading in a time of crisis we committed to asking them.

Throughout the series HotTopics.ht has learned much about the state of the industry immediately after a near-global shutdown. From Bourne Leisure’s Guy Mason it was clear that certain sectors were faring better than others—Bourne sits in the UK’s holiday sector, and for Guy the priority was a secure workforce and a triage of his technology projects.

Next, Wellcome Trust’s Eileen Jennings-Brown mused on the nuances of working from home in a pandemic. What works? Her style of leadership is hands-off and she espoused a vision where people empowered themselves in a remote working environment. Cathy Mulligan of Fujitsu also added her view from a wider perspective: as a visiting researcher at UCL and Imperial College’s DataNet CTO, not to mention a Blockchain Fellow at the World Economic Forum, her vision for the industry was cultural in its ambition. “Beyond productivity, employee contribution will be the guiding principle for businesses,” she said.

The Hut Group’s Joanna Drake sits in a far rosier position. The e-commerce industry is well crafted to adapt quickly to market changes because of its digital-first make-up; The Hut Group itself is one of Europe’s leading players in the space and is seeing remarkable growth, even during lockdown. Joanna put it to applying agile principles even as far back as two years ago.

These were just the start of four fascinating interviews with technology leaders and their experiences navigating the tricky waters of lockdown and industry disruption. Plenty more covered the complexities of investment, culture, leadership and change. Jesper Frederiksen, Okta’s VP and GM, EMEA, has oversight of these, as his organization partners with companies to capitalize on their investments, making him well placed to debate a number of these insights.

Upon reflection, does he agree with the aforementioned views?

“It’s interesting to hear Guy [Mason] is limiting change at Bourne, because from where I’m sat, there is much change on the horizon. New technologies, applications, collaborative tools—these are all being implemented by change leaders to help their organizations survive the year,” Jesper said.

It’s true that certain CIOs are behaving more cautiously than others, but when it comes to leadership, Eileen Jennings-Brown is not. He reflected on her belief that working from home is the future but “needs tighter definition” with some hard facts.

“Eileen raises a good point: working from home is only working when done right. We conducted a far-reaching survey of remote workers in different industries. Around 24% of remote workers said they couldn’t access the software they need to fulfil their jobs, on average.

“That figure rises to 41% for retail staff. It’s a challenge for the technology function,” he added.

Frederiksen then had opportunities to reflect on Cathy Mulligan’s experiences.

“One of digital’s next challenges is working to create those interactions in a remote working context so individuals feel they have the capability to contribute,” she said.

The other challenge for technology leaders is what Mulligan calls the “hybrid workforce”.

“In the last three months we’ve had to transform to the same effect as the last two years. What was impossible suddenly became necessary; staff are now implicitly trusted to work from home. What does that mean for the future of work? It means some staff working permanently in the office, some permanently at home and still others a blend of the two.”

The increasingly pastoral care of technology leaders is front of mind for Okta’s EMEA GM, too, as he noted the proliferation of applications entering the market to help CIOs manage their teams with empathy.

Finally, Okta and The Hut Group have a long history as partners. They’ve worked together to help secure the latter’s widespread acquisition of new companies and well as onboarding of new talent. And Okta has been a key technology aid for the e-commerce platform as it has scaled over the last five years.

The future of work, Frederiksen says during the course of the interview, is at best exciting and at worst disruptive. Covid-19 has catalysed or accelerated many of the changes technology teams, and wider, are experiencing right now. And it’s up to its leaders to learn fast and move faster. Productive, agile and secure workforces are still required, he asserts, but how you make them has changed forever.

To watch the full interview and listen to Jesper Frederiksen’s insights, experiences and reflections in full, click here.

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