From a somewhat abstract concept, the Future of Work is now a daily reality for countless people around the world. And the old paradigms of business may never fully return. That’s because along with the many other seismic shifts it’s driving, the COVID-19 pandemic placed a glaring spotlight on the need for workplace transformation — in particular, to support remote work — in all organizations.
Remote work has moved from a luxury and a competitive advantage to a fundamental necessity. It’s no exaggeration to say this is what’s keeping the world running — from businesses and schools to front-line workers in hospitals, testing centers, media, and government.
What’s more, these changes will be just as critical in the future. Because transforming the workplace opens the door to the highest levels of flexibility, anytime/anywhere collaboration, and fast innovation that every organization needs. And not just for work, per se, but for true co-creation. Enabling teams to brainstorm and innovate in the most natural and intuitive ways empowers organizations to continue firing on all creative cylinders.
As the current crisis highlights, organizations today have to be ready for anything. Who could have imagined the current situation even a few months ago? The organizations that are farthest along in their transformation journeys are faring the best. They are able to respond quickly to changing conditions, their workers have moved home with the least disruption, and their network foundations support business continuity and security no matter the challenges.
In a study of workforce transformation driven by Cisco, however, only 26% of US organizations were considered leaders in workforce transformation, with 28% in APJC and only 18% in EMEA. However, that appears to be changing fast. An overwhelming majority (84%) of the survey’s 1,500 senior IT and business professionals said they were active in the area of “workplace transformation.” Given the extreme pressures of our current situation, I expect those efforts to only increase in the months and years to come.
But just what does it mean to drive a successful workforce transformation effort? And what are those mature companies doing right? From my perspective, they are successful across three key pillars:
- First, they took on culture change. That meant creating a more creative, responsive, and less hierarchical work experience. One that encourages flexible collaboration across boundaries and borders; work/life integration; open communication; and creative freedom at every level of the organization. In a culture built on trust, the best talent thrives… and is less likely to leave!
- They rethought the very concept of a workspace. While physical offices were redesigned to support dynamic teams, group brainstorming, and solitary creative work, the very concept of a workspace was expanded to include everything from home offices and quiet cafes to airplanes and hotel lobbies.
- They upgraded their technology. A fast, modernized, secure network is the foundation for new paradigms of work, including the ability to handle massive amounts of data, employ cutting-edge collaboration tools that enable video and real-time team iteration, while preparing the organization for the next wave of innovations and emerging technologies.
These changes add up to a more informed, agile, creative, and responsive organization. In Cisco’s survey, for example, 4 of 5 respondents highlighted the benefits of adopting modern workplace tools including improvements in productivity, innovation, human capital management, and rapid decision-making. And more than three-quarters of all respondents saw clear benefits in competing for talent, talent management, top and bottom line, and business advantage.
Let’s take video conferencing. Remote meetings are suddenly more critical than ever. And video reveals important non-verbal gestures that are such a key part of human communication. Understanding those kinds of nuances is essential to managing a team or collaborating successfully from afar — a situation that many organizations have had to adapt to recently. You need the ability to see your peers, your colleagues, your manager. Because when you’re in the office, the gestures and facial expressions are all very visible. But remotely, if someone is not particularly vocal, you will only be able to understand how they’re feeling if you can see them on screen.
It takes more than just video to reach a heightened level of co-creation, however. It demands embracing a new way to work and adjusting your culture to support work from anywhere. Today, we are facing unprecedented difficulties across the business world and society — along with daily human tragedies. But we are also seeing great courage and generosity. At Cisco, we’re proud to be enabling the hard work, ingenuity, and collaboration that keeps us moving forward.