Technology in the Workplace: Remote Work and Digital Transformation
Sunny Dhami, RingCentral
Remote working isn’t a passing phase. Rather, it’s a signpost of our capability. The way we communicate in our personal lives – multi-device, in micro-moments, with video playing a more prominent role – is helping to lead the way we communicate in our professional lives.
When we assess the work we do, we recognise that a large portion of the work in many fields can be done from anywhere with a decent internet connection. Sales, marketing and tech-related jobs are prime candidates for the application of remote working. Today’s technology enables many workers to work from anywhere, with face-to-face communication replaced to a degree by real time video conferencing. Thanks to modern speeds and reliability of internet connections, many workers don’t need to be physically present in the office in order to complete most of the tasks required in their role.
Thus, the mobility of modern communications enables trends such as remote and flexible working. Mobility is a thread in the digital transformation of businesses as they take advantage of technology that facilitates fast communication and collaboration in response to opportunities and threats.
While the approach was pioneered by businesses with a disparate presence across multiple locations, it’s now a vital component of many businesses’ modern strategy. People who have operated in organisations going through, and benefiting from, digital transformation take those ideas and lessons into subsequent organisations as they move through their career.
While digital transformation is centred around the application of technology, the key to successful transformation is to regard technology as a means rather than an end. This idea was echoed in our CIO Watercooler discussion, as IT leaders confirmed the discussion around the “future of work” is that it’s not simply about installing tools, but is dependent on the outcome the business is trying to drive. Realising the “future of work” is about identifying a business goal and plotting a path to get there that incorporates the tools that enable the business to achieve that goal.
Making such a shift successful comes down to the culture of an organisation. Because digital transformation can require fundamental change in terms of processes and behaviour in an organisation, adoption isn’t always fast and easy. Some businesses still struggle to accept the change in work styles, or leave implementation to the discretion of individual managers, underestimating the importance of consistent application.
As I discussed in the last piece in this series, this is an opportunity for CIOs to enable a culture of digital transformation. Decisions that enable such a culture need to be made company-wide as genuine strategies intended to achieve business goals such as increasing productivity and lowering costs.
Moving to adopt specific practices such as remote working are policy decisions that should be based on a business case. The logic for this makes financial sense – if you recognise that employees are customers of the business, you have more chance of getting the best out of your employees in terms of performance.
Customer-facing brands have already found that the consumer has been one of the key catalysts of digital transformation. The customer’s desire to engage with a brand at any time, anywhere and anyhow has forced brands to develop omni-channel presence that is made possible through the development of technology. The same principle applies to the workforce – if these are the conditions demanded by the customer, there shouldn’t be any reason why the workforce can’t operate in exactly the same way.
In fact, in our CIO Watercooler discussion Ade McCormack – Founder, Digital Readiness Institute argues that enabling your workforce through policies such as remote and flexible working is more important than attracting customers through digital transformation, because if a business attracts the best talent, the improvement in service and product performance will then attract the customers as a result.
Business recruitment used to be bound by geographical location and overcome with expensive relocation procedures. It no longer needs to be that way. Businesses are able to build a more global presence thanks to the technology that provides the connectivity to do so. Enabled by the right technology, a business is able to hire employees based in different geographical locations and adapt the way they work to make that a success. IT therefore enables you to attract the best talent regardless of location.
The conversation around work/life balance is changing because work used to be a place you used to leave home to go to, whereas work is now more a thing you do, and employees have more options of where and when to do that. During our conversation, Harvey Neve explained that remote working isn’t a reactive practice.
“Remote working is an opportunity for people to embrace the way life is nowadays,” said Harvey. “There isn’t work and life; there is life, and outcomes you’re on the hook for at work are part of your life. The ability to work where you’re able to, dependent on what role you’ve got has to be built into the offer for the best employees. Remote working isn’t something that is done to you or something you have to react to, it’s an opportunity for companies to attract and retain the best people, and technology will enable that.”
One of the concerns of providing employees the capacity to work remotely is the question of whether they are too remote, whether they can still collaborate with colleagues and remain engaged at a distance. Putting tools in place is only one step to ensuring success in this area. The CIO must consider an entire workflow and deliver an integrated environment that encourages a workforce to stay connected over distance. The process must be managed well to ensure collaboration is working effectively and that the company and its employees are connected in everything they do.
Work-life balance and productivity shouldn’t come at the cost of someone else’s. Employees need to take responsibility, and be held responsible, for the way they work with colleagues and customers and ensure the process benefits not one person but the whole business. The big change is around behaviour and culture. That’s the step change that is required with the executive.
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