Smooth move from panic to productivity

Businesses are tooling-up for another round of digital transformation

Conall O’Kane, practice manager, modern workplace at Storm Technology: ‘Most organisations that have implemented a hybrid policy are still figuring it out’

During the early stages of the pandemic, the world saw a rapid uptake in technology to enable or support remote working. Now that something resembling normality has resumed workplaces have reopened – but not quite as before.

The embrace of hybrid and flexible work practices has continued, said Conall O’Kane, practice manager, modern workplace at Storm Technology, a digital workplace transformation specialist. However, he said he has seen a significant shift in focus towards the optimisation of day-to-day activities and continuous business improvement.

“The initial panic that set in has subsided, for sure. That panic was really to get the technology to support the business. As time has passed, people are now [instead] asking: ‘Are we doing it the right way’,” he said.

Indeed, organisations are seeing the impact that panicked rollouts of cloud technologies such as Teams or SharePoint are having now when there was little focus on compliance, data governance and training, and are trying to retrospectively fix this now.

The positive side of this is that it is leading to a great deal of flexibility and learning, however.

“Most organisations that have implemented a hybrid policy are still figuring it out, the pandemic has pushed organisations to be more agile meaning regular policy changes may be needed to remain competitive. We're still in the early phases of really understanding what the hybrid workplace will end up looking like, so it's important to be open to change,” O’Kane said.

Asked if hybrid complicates the job of human resources (HR) staff and departments, O’Kane said it did, but not only HR. One significant issue is that the absence of face-to-face causes new and unexpected problems.

“It’s not just HR; hybrid can cause complications for all functions within an organisation. We've seen a huge increase in the number of meetings since the pandemic, and I think issues like virtual meeting fatigue have proven a big challenge,” he said.

Longstanding HR tasks such as staff recruitment, retention and onboarding have had to evolve quickly to use the technologies available to keep organisations competitive.

“In a candidates’ market, a slow recruitment process could be the difference in hiring the best personnel,” he said.

A necessary shift in HR is to focus on employee experience and engagement, and to be agile to take advantage of opportunities in the market to help drive these areas.

“Microsoft has released a number of products under the Viva umbrella that are employee focused. These products include apps for a personalised comms and collab portal, personalised health and wellness insights app, knowledge management app that's driven by AI and an eLearning Portal and now they are introducing Viva Engage which is an evolution of the Yammer Communities app to drive employee engagement and build company culture,” he said.

Remote done right

O’Kane said that was essential to get the basics right by first providing communications and collaboration tools that can enhance productivity regardless of where you are working. Doing so will create strict boundaries that fight fatigue and confusion as well as put an end to unauthorised so-called “shadow IT”.

“We've seen applications like Microsoft Teams experience a massive increase in adoption since the start of the pandemic. There needs to be clear boundaries of when to use what, as there can be a lot of overlap,” he said.

In addition, it is important to review current processes and ask if they are fit for purpose in a hybrid work environment. Key questions include: is there value that can be created using automation or AI technologies? Are legacy systems now a security risk?

Business intelligence systems are key, O’Kane said, and he noted progress in this area over the last few years. One area that is less talked about, however, is knowledge management – and while technology can help, this is as much an issue of company culture as it is IT.

“Organisations that had systems, tools and processes in place previously will need to ensure these continue to work in a hybrid environment. Those that relied more on a knowledge sharing culture are at greater risk,” he said.

Naturally, company culture can be harder to maintain in a hybrid environment, not to mention that some organisations are witnessing a rise in staff turnover, something that can quickly erode the knowledge built up and shared by experienced staff.

On the positive side, automation has created an opportunity to review existing processes and a move away from legacy paper-based ones.

“A lot of people have re-evaluated their roles and are no longer happy doing manual repetitive work. They want to feel like they add more value and focus more time on creative activities, O’Kane said.

Alongside this, a shift to low-code automation solutions can play a role in removing the reliance on overworked IT teams or waiting on budget approval, instead empowering staff to build the solutions they need quickly.

“Moving away from legacy processes can also help us move toward more data-focused solutions where integrated systems provide data driven insights and enable better decision-making allowing organisations to adapt and respond in an agile manner to the market changes around them,” O’Kane said.