Organisations and employees have been living in a rapidly changing world since the turn of the decade. Today, work is more likely to be digital-first and remote-first. For both employees and customers, touchpoints are increasingly digitalised. Consumers expect intuitive digital interaction to be a more prominent part of the product and service experience.
Many of these digital-first solutions, including technologies required for hybrid working, were deployed at speed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisations are typically now more digitally resilient but evidence shows that employees are suffering from burnout. Many are still struggling to achieve work-life balance in the context of hybrid working. With that in mind, how should organisations address the aftermath of this extended period of transformation in work and consumption? What does a strategy designed to make hybrid working sustainable look like? And how can organisations ensure the right conditions are in place to continue the drive towards digital transformation?
For Gartner, the analyst firm, the response to these questions can be condensed into a single concept: the distributed enterprise. In their view, the distributed enterprise starts off by rectifying challenges that many organisations haven’t yet had time to address. Most obviously, the approach involves studying employee user experience to identify the sources of friction that remain embedded in digital interactions. Ideally, the distributed enterprise will also find ways of detecting employee burnout and fatigue. (The appropriate responses include re-architecting processes, workspaces and collaboration tools.) Finally, this concept will also provide employees with the tools required to build better experiences for customers.
The distributed enterprise is very clearly a human-centric agenda designed to improve user experiences for enterprise employees. Ideally, this approach will be implemented by managers who can develop their teams, adopt a communicative approach and foster innovation. By doing so, they will be more likely to solve the challenges posed by location-independent service models as more of us choose to work and consume in ways that are remote, hybrid and flexible.
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Yet there are clear causes for concern. According to Accenture’s sentiment analysis, nearly half of its large survey sample had a tendency to describe the future of work in ways that were “disgruntled” or “apathetic”. This mirrors the findings of a major research study recently conducted by Dell Technologies. Based on the survey responses delivered by 10,000 respondents around the world, Dell’s survey focuses on the barriers confronting digital transformation at the intersection of people and technology. The resulting report, overseen by a panel of behavioral and cognitive scientists, user experience researchers and psychologists, divides attitudes within a typical workforce into four categories:
- Sprint: trailblazers seeking innovation (10%)
- Steady: employees ready to adopt technology selected by others (43%)
- Slow: those more inclined to observe, rather than take action (42%)
- Still: employees that take a pessimistic view of innovation (5%)
This is a classic pattern associated with technology adoption. After the period of accelerated change many organisations have recently experienced, it should remind corporate leaders of the need to move beyond one-size-fits-all strategies for communicating with employees about technology deployment. Instead, organisations now need to adopt a more considered and differentiated approach to managing employees.
Accenture’s Future of Work survey discovered that the ‘productivity anywhere’ model is popular among high-growth companies.
Here, too, however, there is another side to the story. Respondents from seven out of 10 companies generating slow growth or no growth, told Accenture that their organisations are still fixated on the location where work occurs (i.e. favoring all on-site or remote working, rather than enabling hybrid working). According to Dell’s survey, 44% of employees are still waiting for their leaders to empower them to choose their preferred working pattern and provide the necessary tools and infrastructure. For these employees, the concept of productivity anywhere remains an aspiration.
In many cases, these organisations face deep-seated challenges. In Dell’s research, over half of respondents admitted they worry that their organisation will fall behind the digital curve due to a lack of people with the right mix of authority and vision. 60% said that organisational culture is restricting innovation.
For all organisations aiming to implement flexible hybrid working, here are five recommendations from the team of academics behind Dell’s research project:
- 40% of employees want clarity from their managers, a commitment both to flexible working and the practical steps required to make it work.
- Many businesses have shifted office-based work to the home without changing their operating model. Work remains based upon logged hours, rather than outcomes. This may help explain why 58% of respondents told Dell’s researchers that hybrid working hadn’t yet resulted in a better work-life balance.
- Dell’s research indicates that 58% of respondents with conservative attitudes to technology (the Still and Slow groups mentioned above) find it difficult to collaborate remotely using existing tools.
- Less than four in 10 respondents told Dell that their work was mentally stimulating and varied. Automation has the potential to eliminate repetitive tasks, leading to work that engages employees more completely.
- Hybrid and flexible working requires significant levels of trust between management and workers. Yet one-third of respondents told Dell that their managers treat staff as dispensable, and 83% said leaders overlook diverging perspectives and viewpoints. In these circumstances, managers can end up neglecting employees who feel left behind by technological change.
Hybrid working is not a set-and-forget strategy that organisations deployed under duress between 2020 and 2021, and which can now be left to run mostly unattended. By contrast, the ultimate objective of the distributed enterprise is to fully exploit the potential of remote working, making it a permanent and sustainable source of competitive advantage.
To achieve this, it’s very clear that enterprises need to bring their employees with them. Accordingly, successful enterprises will first need to address the human impact of radical solutions deployed during the pandemic. As Matt Baker, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Dell Technologies, suggests: “Now is the time to start the healing process and turn a human capital deficit into a credit”.
Learn more about Dell Technologies and VMware solutions: Unified Workspace | Dell Technologies United Kingdom