“The hybrid workspace is here to stay,” says Betty Rhiger, Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft, speaking at CDW’s BTEX 2021 virtual event. “I don’t think we’re going to see a future where we all end up back in the office the way we used to be.”
“It’s pushed us to be more inclusive, to think more about where people are, and as we push into the future, we’re going to be in situations where the meeting room of old has got to go away.”
Rhiger was one of three guests joining CDW host Tolu Osho at a panel discussion about the digital workspace during the latest edition of CDW’s annual tech expo.
“Digital exhaustion is very real,” says Rhiger. “We have a lot of folks that are exhausted from online meetings, constantly being on video. We need to make sure we’re giving our teams space to step away, and to turn the camera off.”
The biggest challenge for enterprises today
Joe Mukherjee, Director, America’s Channels & Canada Sales Engineering at Poly sums up the workforce evolution over the past year in three words: “Survive, Alive and Thrive.”
“Survive was when everybody just had to get working from wherever they were. It didn’t matter if you were wearing consumer earphones or using the webcam on your laptop. But as we transition to Alive, and then Thrive, it’s about presenting yourself in the best possible manner.”
According to Poly’s market research, 60 percent of organizations will have some form of hybrid workforce in the future. Going forward, businesses will need to focus on providing a seamless user experience for employees who aren’t in the office every day.
“Leveraging cloud platforms, having a modern hub for work, is what the future holds,” says Mukherjee. “The synergy of doing digital work, and not limiting the opportunity for people to be collaborative, is the biggest challenge enterprises have to face today.”
How priorities have changed during the pandemic
“If you’re waiting around for the old way of working to come back, you’re looking at it the wrong way,” says Kevin Janke, Webex SMB RM Canada at Cisco. “We have a huge opportunity right now to recreate the way we work and improve upon some of the things we could have been doing better.”
“The things we’ve been talking to customers about for the past decade – do more with less, travel less, work-life balance – for better or worse, coronavirus has changed that priority list, and now these are at the top of the list.”
“We’ve lived in this world for a year, and we should be able to look at what’s been going on for the past 12 months and make assessments as to what we should be doing moving forward. Let’s make sure we can collect this data around who’s doing what, when, where, why, how inside of our organization.”
The role of artificial intelligence in a hybrid work strategy
“AI has a huge role to play in recreating the workforce in your work environment,” says Rhiger, speaking to the importance of workplace analytics. “Workplace analytics can help you understand if you’ve got a team full of people that are working way too many hours because they’re always online. Analytics can help you pinpoint and start to correct some of these issues.”
AI can also help with accessibility in the workplace. “Because we are getting to do a fundamental reset, we can design accessibility into every aspect of our work,” says Microsoft’s Rhiger. With AI-generated transcription and translation included within key software tools, the workplace can become more accessible to all employees.
Janke from Cisco mentioned how the transcriptions provided by Cisco’s virtual meeting software have helped him keep up with his daily schedule. “I’m leveraging these tools at the end of each day to go back into my meetings and see what were the highlights, action items, and what am I expecting back from other team members. If I didn’t have that digital stenographer following me around from meeting to meeting, keeping my priorities top of mind, I don’t know how much of an effective leader I would be.”
AI is also coming into play with collaboration hardware. “Imagine a day where we can ship a VR headset to a facilities planner, and they’ll be able to see the space and use technologies to manipulate the office floor space in real time to show where microphones and cameras would be more effective,” imagines Poly’s Mukherjee. “How are we able to make sure our end users can make smart decisions, leveraging AI, so they can prepare for that eventual return to work?”
How to use digital workspace tools to improve productivity
Mukherjee mentions three themes that he sees from employees in the new digital workspace.
- Being distracted, including by children or family members
- Socially disconnected from colleagues, peers and customers
- How do I get help? What tools do IT staff have to diagnose and fix technological issues?
“In a remote environment, those tool sets are very different than from when everyone was connected to a corporate cable at their corporate desk,” says Mukherjee. He also offered three different considerations when it comes to these issues:
- People. What tools do they need, what application access is required, and how do you secure that data?
- Places. Whether employees are in transit, in the office or working remotely, being able to communicate effectively, regardless of location, is crucial.
- Technology. Cloud-based tools can help erase the geographical distance between users, who are no longer located in the same office.
Rhiger notes that “A lot of times we see organizations put the tools in place, and not take the time to work their employees through adoption. You put all of this functionality into the platform, and a lot of people just don’t know that it’s there.”
“The job of rolling out the tools and technology is no longer an IT job. This is a job for a champion in each group. Find somebody in each group that’s going to embrace learning about new tools and help their coworkers figure out what the use cases are.”
How can digital workspace technologies help shape organizational culture?
“Organizational culture is woven into the fabric of an organization,” says CDW host Tolu Osho. So how do digital workspace tools affect the culture of most organizations?
“We’re all hyperconnected,” says Mukherjee. “How do you change that culture to recognize when it’s time for a hydration break? How about a popup that says, after 20 minutes on video, now it’s time to shift to something different?”
But culture can also refer to how the public views an organization. “Contact centre reps are absolutely critical in this new world of working,” Mukherjee states. “When I’m picking up the phone and trying to get ahold of a contact centre rep, I’ve exhausted all the other digital methods to try to get help. I need to reach out to a contact centre agent who’s effective, efficient and able to answer my question as quickly as possible.”
Using a timely analogy at the start of the NHL playoffs, Mukherjee mentions that the best hockey players aren’t the ones who score all the goals. “They’re the ones helping their teammates put the puck in the net.” That’s why it’s key to build a collaborative environment where everybody has the chance to grow and develop together. “Social tools from both Cisco and Microsoft have a dashboard to guide leaders and managers where to focus to get the desired results.”
Cisco’s Jenke admits that while some of their dashboards can seem like “Big Brother is watching you,” there could be very good reasons for organizations to collect this data. “Sometimes there’s people in our organizations who have talents and capabilities that we don’t know about. But, because of the personalities we have in these virtual meetings, sometimes those people don’t get their turn at the microphone.” That’s why Cisco is planning to roll out templates for roundtable meetings, where everyone gets 10 minutes to speak, and after those 10 minutes are up, the conch gets passed to someone else.
“It’s great that we can have transcription and translation so that everyone can understand what’s going on, but how do we make sure that these people are then able to contribute? We need to be looking at how we can leverage these tools to extract the best out of employees,” Janke says.
“The Human Resources department of most organizations should definitely start thinking about new strategies for them to leverage the tools that are available today to ensure that we have a very connected workforce,” says Osho. They should ensure that “people are being catered to emotionally, and in every other way that might not be measurable.”