Nagendra Bandaru, President and Managing Partner, iCORE, Wipro Limited.
What will work look like after the pandemic?
This has been a popular question in 2021. After months of disruption and large-scale changes in effort to adapt, businesses and individuals want to know what will last.
At Wipro, we’ve identified a few trends. One, flexible work is here to stay. Remote work created new job opportunities, offered much-needed flexibility for families, increased productivity and cut out lengthy commutes. The talent landscape has also fundamentally changed, with talent pools expanding as individuals apply to jobs in different states and countries.
Hybrid work models hold tremendous potential for businesses and their workers, but accessing that potential requires conscious effort from business leaders and a focus on employee experience. The following three tenets of the future of work highlight the relationship between business operations and employee experience and offer a guide for business leaders looking to increase the success of their remote work programs going forward.
1. Communication And Collaboration
When the pandemic forced many businesses to make operations remote, it also forced them to explore new ways of communicating. Platforms like Microsoft Teams showed businesses it’s possible for employees to stay connected and productive even if they aren’t in the office. Going forward, organizations are likely to explore solutions like these in more depth, further integrating them to enable more resilient operations and a more flexible workforce.
Essential to the success of these solutions is a focus on the employee experience as well as the desired business benefits. Open floor plans, for example, were introduced to increase innovation by encouraging employees to collaborate throughout the day. Instead, employees felt burnt out from all the distractions.
Collaboration software can provide employees the tools they need to connect, but organizations need to consider how these tools are integrated to ensure they’re helping employees rather than getting in the way. Businesses may find it best to connect via low-tech routes (in person, over the phone) for certain tasks while allocating others to more high-tech or remote-first options.
The best virtualization solutions tackle productivity challenges and aid intuitive collaboration, bridging the physical and digital worlds. Organizations are also re-imagining their on-site meeting rooms to accommodate virtual employees and new remote-friendly work habits. More screens and modular setups will allow for dynamic configurations and encourage more natural communication between on-site and virtual employees, while in-room technologies to accommodate collaboration platforms will make it easy for participants on either side of the screen to collaborate in real time.
2. Employee Well-Being And Productivity
In the early months of the pandemic, some businesses reported increased productivity from employees who had started working from home. One potential reason for this is that employees felt happier at home than in the office and were, therefore, more productive.
Digital well-being is essential to a successful hybrid work model. Business leaders need protocols to prevent digital exhaustion among employees and help them set healthy boundaries between work and home life. This will likely be a challenge, as it runs counter to how many businesses have run for years, but leaders need to set a healthier precedent by exploring ways to reduce workloads, encourage breaks when needed and embrace synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
Artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics can provide HR teams deeper insights into employee performance to help prevent burnout while keeping the business running. Software can suggest workers take a break after a certain amount of time or help allocate talent to offer more support. Employee performance data can also drive policy changes to ensure a better work-life balance, which helps attract and retain employees.
Developing teams in this hybrid-work environment also requires employers to rethink their approach to networking. Attracting, retaining and developing talent remotely takes additional time and effort. Teams need to take a more proactive approach to talent development, encouraging managers to prioritize building social capital at work and to create a truly supportive culture.
3. Security And (Zero) Trust
Fully remote and hybrid work models also require updated cybersecurity programs to secure remote employees, protect their digital assets and manage rising cyber threats.
Zero-trust frameworks are on the rise with remote work because they provide increased security and flexibility simultaneously. Traditionally, organizations built a security structure around their on-site operations and employees accessed company data primarily from within that perimeter. All access and operations within that perimeter were assumed to be safe.
The shift to remote work moved operations beyond that perimeter and made it clear that companies need a more flexible security program that can keep up with a mobile workforce. Rather than assume all actions within a network are safe, a zero-trust framework operates from the idea that all transactions must be verified, even within a network. This trust-nothing-but-verify-everything approach strengthens organizational cybersecurity while allowing for more flexible network perimeters.
Companies are also looking to zero-trust architectures for help securing their supply and value chains. Hackers frequently target weak third-party vendors to gain access to larger organizations that would be difficult to infiltrate directly. Rather than trust that all transactions are secure, zero-trust frameworks verify all transactions, moving organizations away from a passive cybersecurity program to a more active one.
Other promising security updates include password-less authentication, single sign-on for all applications and self-service sign-up flows. Weak passwords are easy targets for hackers. Using alternative authentication means or adding steps to the verification process reduces the risk of breaches. Single sign-on and self-service flows make it easier for companies to enforce proper security protocols as employees access the many applications and endpoints necessary for remote work.
Central to the future of work is a focus on creating more supportive, intuitive operations — for employees, for employers, for customers. Technology helped businesses adapt throughout 2020, but the next stage of development will require business leaders to engage more with their employees to fully integrate any new technologies and develop a more sustainable way of working for the future.