The Human Side of the Digital Workplace
The spread of the coronavirus has taken an enormous toll on human life around the world and violently rattled the global economy. The impact is changing how people live and work while unveiling the full potential of digital tools and those who use them.
As entire cities and regions were quarantined, tech conferences were quickly transformed into virtual events by digitally advanced companies, including Google and Microsoft. In the workplace, virtual meetings and working from home have become the rule rather than the exception. A Gallup poll found that 62% of U.S. employees worked from home during the early months of the pandemic.1 In Brazil, nearly half of employees said they were working remotely.2 Meanwhile, more than one-third of workers in the United Kingdom were performing their jobs from home by early April.3
This crisis is teaching many companies the importance of an agile, digitally enabled workplace that can manage such emergencies. Not long ago, this type of remote work was still relatively rare. It was a way to manage work-life balance, promote diversity, or address talent shortages. Now it’s a necessity that saves lives and jobs.
Executing in a crisis
Organizations had almost no time to brace for one of the most disruptive global economic crises in decades.4 When quarantine and stay-at-home orders were issued, businesses knew generally what was required. Well-prepared companies already had continuity plans in place, but at this unprecedented level, a rapid digital transformation wasn’t easy to institute.
In a snap poll by Gartner, 54% of human resources leaders said that poor technology or infrastructure was the biggest barrier to effective remote working.5 Enterprises need to examine their core capabilities and answer some fundamental questions to assess their digital workplace readiness:
- Employee productivity and workplace mobility — A larger number of employees need the ability to connect to the workplace via mobile devices and trusted apps anytime and from anywhere. Many people already were capable of working from home, but remember, not all employees are back-office staff with laptops. Companies generally provide remote connectivity to knowledge employees while ignoring their first-line staff, from bank clerks to oilfield workers. Gaps exist in most organizations. What percentage of data, enterprise apps, and employee services are made available for staff to work remotely and to provide a comparable user experience?
- Team collaboration — Teamwork is often most effective in person, but that proximity isn’t always possible and shouldn’t always be necessary. Employees need to be able to work together effectively through virtual meetings and video conferences. Cloud-based tools are mature enough to enable people around the globe to work side by side. However, those services must provide ways to collaborate simultaneously; sharing a screen or presenting a PowerPoint deck is not enough. How effective are your conferencing tools? Do they include digital whiteboards and other ways to work together on projects? Can they truly replicate a classroom or team meeting?
- Employee well-being — For most employees, working from home is only temporary. Once this pandemic ends, digitizing the physical workspace can help improve the health and well-being of employees as well as increase visitor management security. Do you have health pods that could provide fever checks at the start of an epidemic as well as more routine services? How do you manage employee, visitor, and vendor access to your campus?
- Extended workforce — Companies should understand which of their extended workplace staff, including gig workers, contract employees, and third-party providers, are required to be physically in the office to do their jobs. Businesses also need to ensure that most of their customer care staff — often outsourced workers — have virtual desktops. Cloud-enabled business services should allow this broader workforce to protect data and ensure security and controls without being on-site. How well is your extended workplace ecosystem digitally integrated with the rest of your workforce?
In times of crisis, a digital workplace not only amplifies human potential but also actually protects people. Today, chief executive officers and other top executives have an appreciation of the needs and benefits of a digital workplace. While realization is a crucial first step, it’s far easier and faster than execution. Based on CXO interactions, here are a few notes about the state of their readiness:
- Remote services — Most Infosys enterprise clients have enabled remote connectivity and have bring-your-own-device programs that offer anytime, anywhere access. However, the quality and availability of services — not just business applications but also internal employee care services — vary greatly among companies. Many firms have only basic virtual private network connectivity, while early digital workplace adopters already have a rich set of tools to deliver the mobility experience.
- Collaboration — Apps such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Jabber are easily available on mobile devices. However, employees still frequently are using WhatsApp and other social media platforms to collaborate. Disparate technologies, regulations, and varying usages are still limiting employee collaboration with one another and clients. Industry standardization across devices, collaboration technologies, and voice and data communication platforms is needed in order to work more effectively.
- Augmented and virtual reality — These technologies offer great promise for immersive, collaborative experiences across locations. However, their adoption is still mostly limited to the manufacturing, medical, and oil and natural gas industries, due to the significant costs. Commercial availability at a price point that drives large-scale adoption is still a couple of years away. In the meantime, companies must decide how best to put these technologies to work when the barrier to entry is lower.
- Immersive experience — Businesses have been slow to digitize their physical workspaces, even though that can help increase employee productivity and well-being. However, the influx of millennial workers is driving the consumerization of the workplace. By the end of this year, millennials are expected to make up 35% of the global workforce, tied with Generation X, according to the Manpower Group.6 This younger group of workers expects employers to provide the same level of immersive experiences that they get at home with virtual digital assistants, such as Alexa and Siri.
- Partners — Organizations must find ways to extend their digital workplace to ecosystem partners and service providers. That will determine an enterprise’s real agility. Virtual desktops and thin clients, along with unified device management, can help enterprises jump-start this effort.
Future of the workplace
Even when the world and economies have stabilized, the need to digitize will grow as the workplace of the future approaches. The blend of employees, gig workers, and robots will define a future where our digital workplaces continuously evolve, learn, and innovate to become live enterprises with sentient capabilities.
As machines take over mundane tasks and grow intelligent enough to learn, it is imperative to ensure humans are empowered and remain central to our workplace. Responsible artificial intelligence requires humans to govern the decision-making process. It is incumbent upon us to ensure the human side of the digital workplace is preserved as we transition into the new normal.
1U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work, Megan Brenan, April 3, 2020, Gallup.
3PandemicEX: How UK Employees Feel About The Pandemic, Martin Gill, April 8, 2020, Forrester.
4Flatten the curve, flatten the recession, Isaac LaBauve, Chad Watt, April 2020, Infosys Insights.
5With Coronavirus in Mind, Is Your Organization Ready for Remote Work?, Jackie Wiles, March 3, 2020, Gartner.
6Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision, Manpower.