Organizations may be focused on a return to the office, but in the rush to deploy new working models (or even attempt to move back to pre-pandemic styles of working), they may find that further investment is needed. Whether hybrid, fully remote or predominantly in-office, now is the time to consider whether they have the right tools and infrastructure in place to deliver a workplace fit for a post-COVID world.
The continuation, not the beginning, of workplace transformation
In the early days of the pandemic, many businesses acquired applications and services that help employees collaborate and communicate with colleagues, irrespective of location, to maintain business continuity. Yet companies that think those investments will be sufficient to enable new working models could find themselves struggling to adapt.
That’s because those solutions were deployed with one strategy in mind: keeping the company operational. Now, with competing priorities, a new strategy is required, one that accommodates user needs and preferences while supporting the objectives of the business. The strategy needs to cover everything, including apps and devices, reorganizing infrastructure to support this new, flexible workplace, and redesigning supporting processes. It is also vital to recognize that it is not a standalone project; workplace transformation is deeply intertwined with the organization’s wider digital transformation program.
There needs to be a shift from a set up that has evolved organically, to one that has been specifically designed to meet the needs of the entire organization. It is a complex process that needs much consideration.
The areas to consider when building a flexible workplace
Although the strategy will differ from business to business, there are a number of common themes that decision makers should be considering when designing and implementing a strategic flexible workplace.
1. Putting the user at the center of the workplace
First and foremost, the focus has to be on the user. While much of the discussion will be on technology, the end goal is to support people to work effectively. Whether starting from scratch or adapting existing workplaces, every decision needs to be informed by what suits individuals, from the types of devices they will or are using, to how they want to use the office.
User adoption is also critical. Through workshops, ongoing coaching and enhanced self-service support, businesses need to make sure their users can get the most out of apps and services. It is no good investing in a completely new way of working if people quickly revert to traditional approaches that fail to make the best use of the apps and services available. This isn’t just to ensure return on investment, but also to drive engagement; workers that feel unable or ill-equipped to work properly are more likely to be disengaged, have low productivity and ultimately impact business performance.
2. Transitioning back to the office
Many businesses are considering what their future of work looks like as they head back to the office. Whatever working models they chose, the fact is that the office needs to change. Less fixed, assigned desks and more collaborative spaces that incorporate advanced health and safety measures are becoming more prevalent.
But it also requires aligning the technology infrastructure and network to support new floor-plate design. That might mean more meeting rooms with easy-to-use audio-visual setups to support effective videoconferencing; it could mean better coverage so that employees can work from anywhere in the office without stepping into Wi-Fi dead zones; or ensuring that the bandwidth available meets the expectations of workers used to domestic broadband speeds. Whatever the need, companies cannot expect to simply come back into the office as they left it.
3. Assessing maturity
Changing ways of working need to be supported by an understanding of the maturity of both the business’s operations and its people. From an operational perspective, that means asking questions such as: Do they have the right underlying infrastructure? What investment in applications and services needs to be made? How far along their overall digital transformation journey are they, and where does the workplace fit in that timeline?
With people, companies need to know what their workforce wants, how they work and what tools they need to achieve that. Even if the business intends to have everyone back in the office full-time, they need to be conscious that expectations have changed, and that employees may consider leaving if they don’t feel the user experience meets their requirements.
4. Dealing with in-office challenges
It is likely that even the best-prepared organizations will face problems upon their return to the office. For instance, meetings that involve a mix of in-person and remote attendees might fail as office bandwidth struggles to contend with large numbers of off-site connections. Apps procured when everyone was remote may not integrate effectively with on-premise solutions. Personal devices that worked when everything was virtual may struggle to connect with corporate networks in the office.
To combat this, organizations need to run a 360-degree assessment of their technology stack. It starts with local and wide area network audits, goes through data center and cloud platforms, and finishes with quality-of-service analyses. This complete review not only identifies problem areas but should provide the basis for an improvement plan that fixes the issues, whether that means network upgrades to improve office bandwidth, transforming or replacing solutions to improve integration, or revising access policies and procurement to support the use of different devices in the office.
Changing the fabric of work is a significant undertaking for any organization, no matter how well resourced. As with any major transformation, it will require input from partners. But businesses wanting to create a future-proofed, flexible workplace that suits their requirements should consider how external, strategic consultancy could not only identify the right solutions, but cover everything start to finish.
From initial fact-finding and maturity assessment, through design and into the provisioning and integrating of the infrastructure and apps, all with ongoing guidance and technical support, it is the sort of counsel Orange provides to our customers as they navigate new ways of working.
As Managing Consultant at Orange Business Services, I accompany our multinational customers on their IT infrastructure transformation journeys. I am passionate about people and innovation. In my spare time, I enjoy mountain hiking and photography.