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Building a digital workplace fit for the future

By: Tim El-Sheikh, CEO and Chief Architect at Nebuli

122 | Business Express

With the end of lockdown restrictions in England, many businesses are starting to map their return to the office. While some will look to recoup what the office was like before the pandemic, some may want to take advantage of this moment to adjust their workplace for the new world of hybrid and remote working.

Recent research has found that hybrid working – a blended approach with employees either working remotely or in the office – is set to be the modus operandi for most people, going forward. Three in 10 UK organisations told XpertHR that all employees will be working on a hybrid basis, while one in 10 will have a mix of hybrid for some employees and fully remote working for others. Another report from April this year found that 60% of women and 52% of men would quit if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely at least part of the time.

With remote working set to stay in one shape or another, the workplace needs to evolve to meet the challenges of a dispersed workforce. One such way is implementing a digital workplace before reopening your office.

What is a digital workplace?

A digital workplace is a modern virtual environment for an efficient and highly productive distributed workforce. In simpler terms it is all the technologies an employee needs to get their job done, ranging from core business tools like email, all the way to virtual meeting software and AI tools.

While you may immediately recognise the significant cost savings of applying a digital workplace strategy that is not dependent on physical locations, the most critical benefit of this virtual distributed workforce is superior employee productivity, improved work-life balance and personalised support.

Boosting productivity engagement and operations

Let’s look at the traditional physical office environment.

For a team to operate fully, effectively every team member needs to be physically present. Perhaps, the team needs to hold regular meetings for customer updates and business and marketing strategies. This is, of course, in addition to customer meetings, interviews of job candidates, supplier meetings, and the list goes on and on. From our point of view at Nebuli, regular meetings are the key barriers to productivity.

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Why? The answer is straightforward, time!

There are many digital tools and data strategies combined with AI and automation tools, where action plans can replace meetings with minimal to zero preparation. For example, we all know the time needed to prepare individual meetings, including agendas and PowerPoint presentations of the latest sales and marketing campaign charts and figures. Then, spend more time holding the individual meetings, discussing and interpreting your data, planning the following steps and agreeing on the agenda for the next meeting, followed by some small talk (i.e. more time).

Instead, for this scenario, you can have sophisticated live analytics of your daily sales and marketing performance, with KPI indicators that allow your team and managers to understand the outcomes and the next steps within minutes. Of course, a few points can be confirmed via a quick instant message (via such tools as Slack) and, if necessary, hold a brief (and timed) Zoom meeting. From our experience helping customers build such a setup, they save an average of 7 days per month. At Nebuli itself, we hardly hold any meetings. We use Slack as our internal communication tool where the team manages itself very efficiently, promptly and with very high productivity levels.

According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review in 2017, surveying 182 senior managers in a range of industries, a staggering 71% stated that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. The same study also found that 65% of managers said meetings keep them from completing their own work, 64% find meetings come at the expense of deep thinking, and 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.

How to implement a digital workplace

Implementing a digital workplace is not as simple as some might think. It does not simply involve replacing all face-to-face meetings, for example, with Zoom. Quite the opposite. Digital workplaces are an integral part of an enterprise’s overall digital and data strategies. The process involves such critical aspects as data privacy (of both employees’ and customers’ data accessed remotely), data security, personalised support for individual employees, ensuring compliance with digital ethics and much more.

But the most challenging transition that enterprises may face is the significant change in business culture. Suppose, before the pandemic, you are an enterprise that relied heavily on physical locations and regular face-to-face meetings. Switching to an all-digital and remote-work policy does require a significant change of mindsets throughout the organisation, from senior executives to managers and employees.

Humans are creatures of habit, and we are not very good at changing our habits very quickly. To tackle this, you need to develop a behavioural change strategy within the organisation. These blueprints for behavioural change need to be developed before you even start thinking about the software setup requirements. These blueprints should analyse how a digital workplace plan fits within the organisation’s current digital and data strategy (if any) and the overall business culture. In some cases, digital workplaces might not be a suitable model. Perhaps, you need an asynchronous working model of a distributed workforce in different time zones, which also involves many aspects of a digital workplace.

It’s vital that this change is managed correctly and that a digital workplace is implemented in a way that is efficient for your business. If not, it can be costly and, more critically, can expose many weaknesses that could severely compromise the organisation’s integrity as a whole.

While some may want to return to how things were before the pandemic, many are looking to keep the change enacted during this time, or even are searching for ways to evolve how we work for the better. This transition between pandemic working and the return to the office can be used to create a whole new world of work. With a digital workplace, businesses can tackle the challenge of keeping their productivity, engagement, and operations performing strong, and even boost this performance.


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