I miss connecting face-to-face across the boardroom table and the physical interaction in a meeting. The real-life eye contact, hand gestures, body language and physical contact that has been reduced from shaking hands to a bump of the elbow. All those little idiosyncrasies that make us human also help us read each other. Currently, however, we have to operate for the most part virtually.
Operating in a virtual world
Lack of social contact and disjointed communications are concerns with remote working. However, without videoconferencing, we would all be lost in both our work and private lives. This is highlighted by the increase in meeting minutes at videoconferencing provider Zoom. In January 2020 it carried 100 billion, while three months later, the figure hit two trillion meeting minutes!
Without advances in technologies, it is clear that our lives would not be as rich, especially in the current unprecedented situation. But we must not forget that digital transformation and innovation serves a human purpose – and the human dimension must not be overlooked.
Take the digital workplace. By 2021, only a quarter of midsize and large organizations will successfully target new ways of working in 80% of their initiatives. Why? Because companies treat them as an IT initiative and don’t factor in the human aspect. They frequently forget that we humans are creatures of habit and don’t like change. Any change needs to be carefully managed. We need to learn how to collaborate and interact in a digital world.
Technology is not a magic potion
As with all trends, everyone is rushing to get on the videoconferencing and digital workspace bandwagons. Although, in this case they are being propelled by external, unexpected circumstances. But, as with other emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, we must not forget the most important ingredients in transformation success – people.
Take AI augmentation, which Gartner forecasts will create $2.9 trillion worth of business value next year. The analyst firm defines augmented intelligence as a “human-centered partnership model of people and AI working together to enhance cognitive performance.” This encompasses learning and smart decision making.
As Gartner points out, augmented intelligence is all about people taking advantage of AI. The ultimate goal being enhanced automation complemented with the human touch.
It is paramount that technology companies and their co-innovation partners step back and consider the technologies employees need and will actually use. At Orange, we put the human touch first and foremost in innovation projects. Without engaging all stakeholders from the beginning of a transformation project, it is impossible to judge if it will work or fail. If a technology is too complex and difficult to use, chances are it won’t get adopted.
The value of humans in the new different
We are moving into a very different world and one that looks like it will be this way for some time to come. Businesses are increasingly moving to contactless technologies to protect employees and are looking to co-innovate with tech companies in this sphere.
But as McKinsey points out, these contactless customer journeys must still retain human-focused interactions. While ensuring customers and employees are safe, you still need to provide them with a sense of human contact.
Ultimately, getting the balance between technology and the human touch right will be essential to the advancement of our society and getting used to the “new different.”
Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.