Long before the COVID-19 outbreak organisations were rumbling about the future of work, trying to establish the foundations and boundaries that would define how they engaged with employees and productivity.
Technology had already been pushing its way into the cracks of traditional working practices, changing the dynamics of workplace culture and workforce interaction. Solutions wrapped in the delicate layers of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), the rich potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the extraordinary capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) were transforming the ideas of work and how it was to be managed.
According to Francis Hook, Regional Consulting and Research Manager at IDC East Africa, the organisation needs to look ahead at how its future of work initiatives can become an integral component of its overall digital transformation strategy.
“The pandemic, and the resultant changes to working practice and behaviour, has precipitated the need to re-examine how companies operate and how they can do so with minimal disruption,” he adds. “The virus has underscored the importance of technology in shaping the future of work and has caused plenty to pause for thought when they consider digital transformation, and investment.”
Any digital transformation plans that sat on that proverbial back burner are suddenly right up front and centre. Those that had already implemented some form of digital transformation were tested by the pandemic and some saw their strategies in business continuity – that leverage cloud infrastructure and applications – justified by the demands of the new normal.
In the background, the negative effects of the pandemic around economies and markets have also forced organisations to rethink their expenditure and to focus on leaner operations across critical business areas such as premises, staffing, connectivity, and disaster recovery.
“As economic shocks continue, the issues around staff retention and the wage bill make it even more important for organisations to review these business areas and to focus on keeping their people,” adds Hook. “This is also the right time to review current or planned digital transformation initiatives as there will be increased consumption of infrastructure and applications in the cloud.”
Not only is this highly relevant at a time when lockdowns and shut downs could re-occur at any given moment or wave of infection, but it will likely be a mandatory requirement for many skilled employees as they look towards a new way of working in the future.
“The ability to work from home has not, as so many predicted, resulted in reduced productivity and poor performance, but rather in longer hours, better deliverables, and improved results. The flip side has been a marked increase in employee burnout – a factor that is as important to consider in any digital transformation strategy as the technology that enables it.
“Despite the gradual easing of movement restrictions, the resumption of office work and the way that business is conducted is being affected and these effects will very likely become part of the so-called ‘new normal’ for most organisations,” says Hook. “They are adding a new dimension to the future of work in terms of remote working; drastic departures from brick and mortar models due to reduced office spaces; business interactions with increased video conferencing and reduced international travel; and other digital capabilities.”
In many cases, these changes have offered the organisation the opportunity to benefit from major savings without having to compromise on productivity or bring the business to a crashing halt. While this new normal is still in a state of flux – uncertainty is the only certainty right now – the responses to COVID-19 over the past few months hint at what the future of work may well look like.
“Workspaces that focus on productivity, technologies that enhance employee and customer experiences, and a highly adaptive workforce – these should be shaping the way the business manages people and work,” concludes Hook. “Organisations that can tap into this zeitgeist and that provide the tools that employees need to work remotely are more likely to build a culture of innovation and adapt to whatever curveballs the ‘new normal’ may throw its way.”