Originally published in the 'Future of Work' edition of the Business Reporter in November 2020. 

The pandemic has changed working patterns for good. Research by the British Council of Offices found that 46% of office workers blend home and office working while over a quarter work exclusively from home according to the ONS.

This blended way of working has meant that businesses have had to adapt, and fast. Having a digitisation strategy has become top priority for many who realise they must evolve to maintain competitive advantage. In fact, 27% of Global Executives say digital transformation is now a matter of survival.

What does the hybrid future look like?

Being digitally agile to support hybrid working may no longer be a choice but a necessity for many companies to remain fully operational under today’s ever changing Covid restrictions.

Talent is now being onboarded virtually, customers are being won remotely and teams need to be better connected than ever, no matter their location. On the flip side, remote working isn’t for everyone. It’s within our nature to prefer human interaction while some business is better done in person, safely.

But in or out of the office, today’s workplace is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do. An omni-channel structure where employees can simply and securely connect from any location and through multitude means -video calling, chat, cloud telephony etc - to suit the business and employees’ needs.

This means moving legacy, on premise technology to the cloud to turn your business into an agile, digital-first operation that can support a remote, flexible workforce. This is by no means an easy feat.

What the pandemic has shown is how customisable cloud technology is, allowing companies to adapt swiftly to changeable environments. Businesses can quickly scale back when resources aren’t used or accelerate in line with changing demands all while supporting a geographically diverse workforce. Business continuity remains robust, the customer’s experience is uninterrupted, and even enhanced, and employees stay productive even in an ever-changing world.

We’ve seen these benefits in the companies we’ve worked with. Recently we partnered with the British Red Cross to help them swiftly adapt to the demands of the pandemic by implementing a world-class cloud contact centre. Executed within a tight timeframe, the cloud contact centre solution was simple, scalable and easy to use. It is enabling the 100 geographically dispersed and remote British Red Cross volunteers to handle up to 2000 enquiries a day, to answer calls from any location without complexity. Calls are directly routed to their home phone or mobile via Olive’s cloud call centre platform, with the ability to rapidly scale up if needed. A separate support line was also set up for volunteer well-being.

With many businesses reactively experimenting with cloud technology in the wake of Covid-19 to ensure business survival and continuity, many considered these as temporary adoptions to an unexpected crisis. Thankfully the majority, as we’ve seen with the British Red Cross, have come through the pandemic with a desire to build an agile and scalable digitally-led infrastructure which is resilient to change.

So how do you do this?

Starting your digital journey

Your business goals are a good starting point. Consider how automating your capabilities through technology will help the company to achieve these. Are your goals to gain competitive advantage or to ensure remote employees are better connected, or both? Or does it stem from a need to better serve customers through a more intelligent contact centre?

Whatever the objective, digital journeys must have meaning. They need to be fully integrated with the company’s purpose with the entire organisation clear on the transformation roadmap or confusion will occur. What it mustn’t be is a simple ‘sticking plaster’ to fix a short term problem.

We saw a lot of organisations during the height of the pandemic swiftly setting up what they hoped to be temporary solutions whatever technology they could to enable their employees to work remotely under the UK Government’s Work from Home directive. But now with hybrid working here to stay, the future workplace requires more thought and planning to achieve a successful digital strategy that supports its long term evolution.

Culture shift

But technology is only half the solution to building a hybrid workplace of the future that reaps the rewards of flexible working – which, in some cases, is reported to increase productivity by over 10%.

Successful digital transformation also requires a cultural reshape, an employee support framework, and a new style of leadership especially when you think of the world at large and the fact the majority of employees have never worked from home.

Even here at Olive, where we’ve always operated a flexible workforce, we appreciated the impact of 100% home working through lockdown and launched a series of employee support packages including tips on productive home working, a financial support line and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

There’s also the assumption that managers and colleagues are more easily and readily available when working remotely, as they’re outside the normal day to day office distractions. Gone are the visual cues of the office that gauge when to hold off from approaching others - like head down at the desk, on a call, or having just finished a long meeting.

Leaders become ‘on demand’ managers responding to every voice or video call, while colleagues feel they need to join every Teams meeting or reply to email instantly which ends up being unproductive. Having a clear set of rules and best practice guidelines for remote working and virtual meetings is just as important as having the right technology infrastructure in place.

In fact, according to Gartner 46% of companies say culture is the biggest barrier to scaling digital transformation. But for digital transformation to succeed, effective user adoption must occur. And this requires the entire organisation to be aligned, engaged and on board with the technology and the new way of working to reap the rewards.

Appointing champions for change can help – communicating the company vision and purpose for transformation, keeping employees updated on progress, and delivering online training collateral on the new cloud communication systems.

Digitally adapting to support the future blended workplace can throw up many technical and cultural challenges as with any change process. But with strong leadership, a clear corporate vision and a solid strategic foundation, the business will soon have an agile and resilient digital workplace that keeps their teams connected and ready for whatever the next phase of the ‘new normal’ brings.

Discover the key to enabling hybrid working through the power of innovative technology in Olive's Shaping Cultural Dynamics ebook.

TOPICS: Remote Working, Operational Efficiency, Collaboration Tools, Digital Transformation, COVID-19

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest views and insights on business transformation directly into your inbox.

Subscribe today