How technology best serves hybrid working
Bill Zeng explains how technology is now helping small to medium businesses transition to hybrid working. The world never expected to see the events of 2020. Who would have thought only 12 months ago that global travel would no longer be possible? That many businesses would be forced to close their doors, and people ordered […]
Bill Zeng explains how technology is now helping small to medium businesses transition to hybrid working.
The world never expected to see the events of 2020. Who would have thought only 12 months ago that global travel would no longer be possible? That many businesses would be forced to close their doors, and people ordered to stay in their homes?
Thanks to technology, the business world has managed to keep going. With the internet, most companies have managed to remain connected, allowing staff to collaborate and customers to access products and services through online stores.
Now, as we emerge from the crisis and shift to the next phase, it’s clear that we won’t be exactly returning to the way things were. Social distancing and higher hygiene standards are here to stay, as is remote working. The workplace of 2021 and beyond will be unrecognisable from the pre-pandemic office.
Creating the “new normal” and powering new workflows
IT has experienced unprecedented demand and pressure to keep systems running. With millions of people working from home, via a wide range of often personal devices, security became an immediate priority. HR departments had to make policy changes to accommodate the new working style. Connectivity was also an issue in many places. Organisations were forced to accelerate and/or refocus digital transformation initiatives.
The top measures implemented to counter COVID-19 included introducing shifts for employees, revamping service delivery using digital technologies, enabling remote working and cutting down non-essential business expenses – this was the top priority for six out of ten New Zealand firms, according to a study by Ecosystm on Digital Priorities in the New Normal. Emerging companies in particular were forced to scale back, downsize and cut salaries (36 percent vs 26 percent of mature companies).
Technology trends in the age of hybrid working
With restrictions easing in some cities, staff returning to the office and some furloughed employees resuming their services, the workplace of the future is essentially going to be a hybrid workplace. Employee demands for flexibility as well as its benefits for employers, reduced real estate costs and easier hygiene management will see a mix of remote-workers and office-based workers, and people alternating commuting with working from home (WFH).
This all puts increased pressure on IT departments to facilitate the change. To support remote working, over half of organisations in New Zealand implemented VPN infrastructure with 46 percent rolling out collaboration software, and with 40 percent making changes to data protection and compliance procedures. Managing larger, disparate fleets of devices has in turn led to increased helpdesk function, with many companies hiring more IT staff.
Video will be another major change in the hybrid workplace. Many businesses that never used video to engage with customers are now making it the norm, in sectors ranging from banking to education and health. Before, video use was occasional and only used by some individuals. Many people preferred to only use the voice function in meetings. Now, video has gained company-wide acceptance and those that previously avoided video are now using it daily. It’s no surprise that cloud videoconferencing applications have grown multi-fold.
The biggest retained change for New Zealand businesses will be the increased use of digital technologies for customer experience, followed by increased use of collaboration platforms and tools. Process automation, employee experience and using digital technologies for product development and delivery are other enhancements that look set to stay. The migration to cloud is more critical than ever, with other new trends such as desktop-as-a service making inroads.
How to design productive, connected workplaces
For hybrid working to be successful, remote workers need to be supplied with the right technology and given appropriate support. This means not just a laptop, but professional grade conferencing devices, security solutions, collaboration platforms and HR policies that ensure those working remotely don’t end up “second tier”. With virtual meetings replacing face-to-face – something that 40 percent of organisations predict – audio and video quality become paramount. Over 60 percent of organisations invested in conferencing devices and headsets to better facilitate their meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Team Meetings and other platforms.
One of the main areas that businesses struggled with in the pandemic was the scale or capacity of existing IT solutions: this was a top challenge for companies in New Zealand. Not having the relevant technology solutions, IT skills and support from technology partners were also significant issues. Going forward, over half of organisations expect increased use of technologies for employee experience, and nearly half anticipate increased use of collaborative platforms and tools.
Organisations will need to think through how to set up and integrate video in their work, as well as evaluate security measures for video. Seamless communication and collaboration will be critical; IT and HR will need to re-think the possible ways to drive high employee engagement.
Above all, the major learning from COVID-19 is that this won’t be the last shock event the world faces. While New Zealand organisations are relatively bullish about recovery, with most expecting to return to pre-pandemic performance levels by early 2021, if not before, they still need to prepare for the next eventuality. Whether that’s a future pandemic, natural disaster or global cyber-warfare. Business continuity plans must be kept updated as a constant and top priority.
Bill Zeng (pictured) is Chief Technology Officer and Director of Sales Engineering of Asia Pacific for Poly. In this role, he is responsible for leading Poly’s technology vision in the region, as well as for crafting product and solution strategy for the region.