The past couple of years have seen companies experimenting with different work policies and employees trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The new normal is here to stay and we all must build our lives around that fact. While companies and employees were earlier contemplating about how they would shift to a completely remote model, they are now assessing the feasibility of a hybrid working model where a percentage of employees can work from the office and the rest operate completely remotely.
The new normal is all about providing flexibility to the employees while achieving the same levels of productivity as a fully in-person workforce. To lay the foundation of a hybrid workplace, the primary focus for employers is their workforce. Remote workers need to be equipped with the right devices, tools/applications, and better connectivity, while those returning to office need to be assured of a safer return by leveraging the right technologies. At our recently concluded roundtable, conducted in partnership with HARMAN, we brought together industry leaders from the software industry to share their thoughts and perspectives on the new hybrid digital workplace model, and how the future of work will evolve.
The panelists included Claudia Backus, Head of Future of Work Partnerships, Facebook; Muneyb Minhazuddin, VP Edge Computing, VMware; Frederick Ros, Head of Digital Workplace Services, Amadeus; David Jaworski, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft; Rishi Sahni, Sr Director, ISV Business Unit, HARMAN; Mahabaleshwar Bhat, Head of Products, BlueJeans by Verizon, with Sidhant Rastogi, Managing Partner, Zinnov as the session chair. Here are a few pertinent insights that emerged from the discussion.
The world is witnessing an investment shift – we’re moving from a static way of working to a more dynamic model. With this shift, it’s becoming imperative for employers to build better Internet connectivity and solve the network and bandwidth issues employees face while working in a remote setup. Earlier, companies were working on a more centralized model of operations where the IT architecture was centralized at a data center. They are now building architectures that are more distributed – such as edge-native architecture, edge-native solutions, and edge-native applications. Work From Home has evolved into Work From Anywhere, and companies are building capabilities around making it feasible for all employees to work from quite literally anywhere – home, traffic, airplanes, you name it. Industries such as airlines are taking initiatives to ensure a seamless connected experience for its employees while on a plane, on the tarmac or in the maintenance bay. Such initiatives to connect the field workers have resulted in greater employee satisfaction, increase in productivity, and improved profits.
Organizations are revisiting their strategies around people, processes, and places to build a hybrid digital workplace. Companies previously focused majorly on customer relationship management to keep their clients satisfied. However, they are now also focusing equally on their own employee experience to retain the talent in the era of ‘The Great Resignation.’
Presently, a very small percentage of meeting rooms across the globe are video enabled. Such meeting rooms that lack video camera deployment can now have video connectivity with the help of applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Bluejeans, etc., which can be installed on a personal computer, laptop, tablet, or simply a smartphone. Consumer electronics manufacturers have been quick to fill this lacuna with solutions such as intelligent cameras to focus on every participant equally; intelligent speakers to identify the speaker among many people present in the meeting; and intelligent web content cameras to provide everyone present in a meeting a sense of presence. There is also an inclination towards reinventing the use of Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) in the workplace.
The use of Extended Reality is being realized in industries such as Manufacturing, Hospitality, Travel, Healthcare, etc., to bring forth an immersive experience to the employees and customers. Employers are also investing in making the workplace safer to return for their employees by deploying technologies such as IOT in offices which are connected to a central system and keep track of the occupancy and availability of shared workspaces at any point in time. This can help ensure that social distancing norms are adhered to. Solutions such as Anywhere Workspace by VMware, enable employees to work on a software defined wide access network, so that employees can make use of Cloud services from a remote location. Microsoft recently launched many features in Teams which provide inclusive, immersive experience to the users. Artificial Intelligence enabled avatars can mimic your voice keeping privacy at the back of the mind. Both Microsoft and Meta have made their respective plans clear on Metaverse. Next-generation enterprises will be relying on AR, VR, and Digital Twins concepts for engaging virtual employee experiences.
People are at the center of all solutions that technology providers need to enable. Companies are working towards keeping their employees connected, and technologies such as AR and VR have found their use in this digital workplace era. Devices such as AR glasses are finding their use in workplace environments for virtual meetings and customer demonstrations.
However, to make the adoption of such technologies more sustainable and intuitive in the longer run, companies need to work on providing the employees with an experience which is more genuine and comfortable for them to use for long durations. This is essential for activities such as hiring, training, client meetings or just peer-to-peer collaboration. A popular use case for this is a virtual interview where the interviewer and the candidate use AR glasses to get a genuine interview experience. Combined with the AR device, platforms/applications that help analyse the facial expressions of the candidate are deployed by the employer to take a calculated decision for hiring the right talent.
Companies are now focusing on designing and offering new technology solutions based on the needs and safety of people, be it devices to suit the mobility needs of employees, network to ensure employees are connected from anywhere across the globe, or tools and applications that make the collaboration smoother and at the same time, ensuring device, network, and employee security. HARMAN has taken initiatives in this direction and has developed AccuAlertMe, a contact tracking device to ensure employee safety when they return to work. HARMAN is also an implementation partner to business communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams to provide custom employee experiences and increase productivity.
Although the world is moving towards a hybrid work model, challenges remain – duplicating the office environment in a remote setup, lack of learning through osmosis, lack of personalization in employee experience, to name a few. However, companies are rapidly innovating to make the hybrid model of working a reality, to make it comfortable for employees whether they operate from office, home or while on the move. Organizations need to be prepared to build a new workplace model that is balanced both structurally and culturally, and provides increased freedom and autonomy to the employees to work from the place they want and at the time that doesn’t spill over onto their personal lives.