Empowering The Hybrid Office

Everything has changed when it comes to the office, and remote work is going to be part of the way we do business, at least some of the time. What do workers, companies and customers need for maximum efficiency and security?

One of the most important revelations to come from the otherwise largely devastating COVID-19 pandemic is that, yes, many of us and our teams can accomplish everything we need to remotely.

Our teams now can avoid needless lengthy commutes, achieve better work-life balance, and mostly structure their workday as they so choose – each a vital change to employees’ well-being, output and success. Meanwhile, we have realized that we are able to communicate with our customers in new and different ways, still deepening those relationships while distributed from those partners due to COVID.

These have been vital acknowledgments by organizational leaders. But vital doesn’t mean easy, and it’s been even more challenging to adapt to and execute on new engagement and execution strategies in this newly distributed world.

The hybrid office has implications for all company stakeholders, from employees to customers and everyone in between – and there are several key considerations for company leaders so those stakeholders can adapt effectively to the evolving ways we work and communicate.

Engage frequently and effectively

Engaging with employees has become more difficult as workforces have become more distributed, while engaging with customers and partners has become, if not easier, more accessible: Those organizations and individuals within them have grown more accustomed to communicating virtually and the many tools with which we’re now equipped to do so.

Given those changes, how can you engage with each group more effectively while doing so remotely?

Employee engagement remains vital. But the office is no longer the glue that brings everyone together; corporate culture must be shown and brought to life for all employees through micro-interactions. The physical space and grand gestures have always helped demonstrate culture. Those will still exist, but more important now is that everyone feel culture through small moments and engagements in their day.

Those engagements may take many forms: They could be clear, transparent, consistent communication from the CEO, or senior HR leaders giving employees a voice. It could be lighter fare – virtual happy hours, fitness classes and cooking tutorials; workshops or resources with tips for employees to stay involved while working remotely; and more. And it could be – and should be – leaders listening to employees’ points of view, on employee culture matters, or return to work strategies, or recent current events like social unrest.

And while companies may not offer virtual fitness classes and cooking tutorials to customers and partners, those same engagement principles hold for these groups, too: On-site visits to customers in many cases are taking place far less frequently, as COVID concerns linger or, often, companies realize those touchpoints can take place virtually.

Micro-interactions have become vital here, too: More frequent and in some cases, more creative, touchpoints are welcome and necessary so customers and partners feel connected through small moments and engagements.

Consider hyperautomation to impact internal and external parties

With those engagement ground rules in place, now you must get to work on actually making those stakeholders’ work lives easier.

One way: hyperautomation, which is, you guessed it, a hyper version of the automation trends about which you’ve heard so much. To put it simply, this concept enables businesses to leverage the performance of existing technologies, to automate the entire end-to-end workflow process. Helping to overcome internal boundaries of a business, the strategy empowers staff to focus on more strategic, client-focused tasks, while creating a greater return from existing technology assets.

Hyperautomation is such a powerful toolset because of the multiplier effect an enterprise can achieve from integrating tools that are normally found across disparate systems, such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These are the core enabling technologies of hyperautomation which, when supported by event-driven software architecture, business process management and a content services strategy, can create a transformative infrastructure with the power and flexibility to automate.

By eliminating delays from incomplete processing and reducing the need for manual handling and potential errors, hyperautomation ultimately improves the experience of both staff and clients, ensuring they are and remain happy in every interaction.

The data illustrate the challenge you’re trying to solve for – and the impact of actually doing so: Recent research shows that 92% of survey respondents – 92%! – admit they waste up to eight hours a week searching documents for information they need to serve customers; 31% agreed AI skills would help them be more responsive to customers; and 41% said AI skills would free up time for more creative tasks, thereby keeping them better motivated.

Due to those issues they’ve encountered, 52% of employees agree that AI-powered software that understands data like a human makes their lives easier. A further 32% agree this can help improve not only employees’ experiences, but customers’ experiences also.

Help customers become more agile 

Recent IDC research shows that companies are far more comfortable now than ever before in mixing their commercial software tools with open-source and low- or no-code options. Forward-thinking organizations are increasingly identifying and employing those solutions that they can rapidly deploy to help achieve greater efficiency and security, ensure authenticity, and act more quickly and decisively.

To wit: 56% of IDC respondents said investing in software development tools and capabilities to drive broader app-based innovation was a priority or top priority tech investment over the next two years, to ensure the long-term resilience and success of the business. But to achieve these benefits, organizations aren’t putting all their eggs in a one-size-fits-all basket: they are employing a broad variety of commercial, open source and low-code software where each makes the most sense, and they’re looking for any opportunities to customize their software stack to meet their needs.

While 27% of IDC respondents said they’d deployed commercial software over the past 12 months, low-code (15%), no-code (16%), open source (17%) and custom software (25%) together accounted for the lion’s share of software products, applications, services and features respondents are using.

The name of the game? Agility, and meeting customer expectations.

Treat yourself – organizationally, that is

So you’ve engaged better with your employees and customers: You’ve made their experiences better by automating processes that eliminate needlessly tedious tasks in their day-to-day lives, and you’ve armed them with new technology that allows them to be nimbler with their customers. Congratulations!

They say, though, that self-care is just as important as taking care of those around you and your loved ones. So what can enterprises do to take care of themselves and position themselves for continued growth and process improvement as trends continue to shift?

While the automation deployment detailed above is one element of a broader digital evolution strategy, that process runs so much deeper: A thorough evaluation and re-envisioning of all your internal systems and processes is appropriate, to ensure you’re squeezing every bit of efficiency and value out of your solutions. Usually, this takes place by redefining what outcomes mean success and then replacing, rebuilding and eliminating with a laser focus on those outcomes.

There’s intense pressure to digitally evolve and become more agile, as there’s an intensifying need for those internal systems to deliver continuous value to employees and a customer base that expects seamless experiences from afar. This process ultimately improves employee performance by removing barriers and allowing teams to self-serve both within and outside these IT functions.

Lock it up!

If remote work and its impact is a lukewarm topic right now, then security is absolutely scalding – and a topic that impacts customers, employees and the entire enterprise, with the stakes around securing the intellectual property of yourself and your customers never being greater. The rapid digital enablement detailed so far in this piece has resulted in employees working from across the world, off-site and sometimes off-network. The idea of dark data is very real.

More IT capabilities, then, now lie on the business side of an organization, and balancing that with the increased scrutiny and oversight rightfully being applied to security takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. That only will continue to increase as the sophistication of attacks and maturity of the groups behind them has begun to rival any well-led organization. We are getting far away from the idea of fringe groups and individuals – like well-meaning employees, for example — being the main drivers of risk.

The groups responsible today are well funded and well trained, and have developed well-thought-out roadmaps of technology and targets. Especially in the B2B space, organizations are part of someone’s supply chain so coordination between companies is key in your ability to defend against these risks.

Companies must continue to protect themselves through many layers of protection in their security suites with well-developed teams and practices. In security, you can never rely on just one solution; instead, you need overlapping functionality that creates a web of protection. Continued research and investment in AI/machine learning security capabilities, meanwhile, is key; while that technology may not be mature enough yet to stand alone, it is beginning to significantly augment the capabilities of existing teams as the mountains of information and the speed of that information becomes exponentially harder to filter and correlate to threats within the environment.