The working world has shifted irrevocably. Over a matter of weeks the majority of the global workforce were sent home in order to quell COVID-19’s infection rate. And even though trends had pointed to working from home becoming more normal over the coming decade, few could have predicted how long we would be encouraged to work from our houses, flats, kitchen tables, bedrooms, or the set of challenges business leaders faced and continue to face as they try to maintain productivity.
Technology, team culture, mental wellbeing and collaboration also now feature highly on executive pain points that need solving quickly. Now that we have learned more about our new way of working in 2020, how should leaders prepare their teams for 2021? Mark Brincat, CIO of SHL, Andy Caddy, Group Technology Director of The Collective, Conor Whelan, CIO of Experian, and John Bailey, Director Higher Education & Research Institutions, UK Public Sector at Dell Technologies, came together at The Studio @ Home to debate just that and more.
The remote transition
“We’ve worked hard, as most companies have, to ensure everyone is able to work from home remotely and it’s been a relatively easy transition for us,” said Whelan. “Now we have to think about the individual; remote working will become new normal from a full or hybrid perspective, which gives us a new challenge about the home environment.”
From Experian’s point of view, he went on to say, the technology set-up at home needs reconsidering, as does the comfort of his staff who are now working eight to ten hours a day from home.
“We’re learning a lot from our teams through surveys, feedback sessions, workshops. Most interestingly different demographics have different needs. This year was focused on that, the next evolution is to interconnect different teams, from sales to development, and build them the right collaborative environments.”
The Collective gained its technology lead far more recently.
“I had just started during lockdown,” said Caddy, “and I haven’t known anything else [at the company]. It’s a unique experience. We’ve been in a coping phase in early 2020, making do and making sure things work. Now and into 2021 we’re in an optimize phase.
“We want to ensure the employee experience will be great for 2021. That means we have to adapt our security policy, for example, and rewrite it for a hybrid world.”
Mark Brincat of SHL agreed, although seeing as the technology and workforce specialist already has a wealth of tools to help their clients solve staffing problems, they dug into their own insights when lockdown hit their global offices one by one.
“We took the approach to use some of our own toolsets. We have an assessment that is able to assess the aptitude to be able to work remotely and we ran that across the organization to find out the teams that may need more support or are facing different challenges.
“We also started a working group around assessing tools and technologies that were able to make the home working experience better.”
Brincat continued that the onboarding process across 2020 was “interesting”—one challenge leaders of any function is facing is making sure new hires effectively gel with their teams and company in a remote context.
From Dell Technologies’ perspective John Bailey is content with its ability to manage a remote workforce: “we already had the technology.”
For him, the next steps fall into three categories: productivity, trust and safety. Once you solve all three, continuously, he believes an organization will be able to run the marathon that is remote working in today’s context. A positive of the experience however has been the empathy experienced between team members and leaders.
“I thought I knew my team quite well,” said Bailey, “but now we have Zoom calls with dogs and kids. Historically that wouldn’t have been allowed but some individuals can’t have that space to work quietly. As a result you become more empathetic of those challenges and those personal interactions have allowed us to get to know each other even more.”
Those still to be solved
The roundtable shifted their focus then onto challenges they haven’t yet been able to solve. One thing they all agreed on was that remote technology had not yet solved the “fullness of conversation in a physical setting.” Or, good-old chatting round a whiteboard.
“There’s still much to learn about how we work and operate,” explained Whelan, “but one thing I’m curious to know is on collaboration. Getting around a whiteboard has a speed of interaction and a fullness of conversation; video is sequential though.
“We’ve trialled this. I went to the office for the first time in months and had a socially distanced whiteboard session. In three hours we got through the same amount of work that had previously taken almost a day in a remote scenario.
“I’d love to work and speak with technology providers to share our data on that and work to improve that part of the technology because we need to solve it.”
Closing the roundtable debate, the technology leads reflected on the year just passed and what it tells us about our priorities in 2021.
“Top of mind for me? This is a cultural shift,” said Bailey. “You get a richer understanding of someone when you’re in front of them so we now have to work to make [virtual] the norm.”