by Joe Aherne, CEO of Leading Edge Group
If you weren’t familiar with the practices of hybrid work before 2020, there is a good chance you are now. The pandemic drove the swiftest and quickest transition to online work formats we have ever experienced.
Despite the overall success of the transition, many vital business practices got lost in translation. Additionally, the nature of work-from-home (WFH) has variable effects on productivity levels and employee communication. Not to mention company culture has been lost in the shuffle for many teams veering from in-person collaboration. Organizations now must deal with expanding teams and inadequate process improvements to maintain communication and collaboration amongst team members.
As it stands, adjusting to hybrid work is simultaneously an effect of and challenge for digital transformation.
The Current Digital Landscape
At this point, it almost feels difficult to remember the technological reluctance that many organizations had prior to the pandemic, because, for the last three years, everyone has been depending on IT leadership for solutions to WFH issues. Whether related to internal processes issues or external customer concerns, there has been accelerated dependency on IT support teams to help others troubleshoot issues and errors. Due to many organizations being rushed to carry their business processes into a hybrid working model, there has been limited time to dedicate to advising teams on best technological practices.
Many organizations have still not properly trained their team members on tech and security best practices for a hybrid model. For many teams, this has resulted in overall process deficiencies and a day-to-day work culture of simply trying to ‘keep your head above water’, so to speak.
What has changed in the workforce?
The first thing to change in the workforce during the digital transformation is company culture. As teams switch to hybrid or fully remote environments, the values and practices that support culture can become less accessible and harder to practice in the new remote environment. Many companies struggle with higher employee churn, which is compounded by the new accessibility to larger talent pools through exclusively remote work. People switching positions more often and working without a centralized location often comes at the cost of writing off in-person collaboration altogether.
However, hybrid work environments supported by adequate technology and policy can ultimately elevate company culture. The remote environment provides more accessible policies that promote an agile culture, such as flexible start and end times and working from anywhere, which helps mitigate organizational costs and promotes a positive culture. Cultural change can be an incredibly positive thing for an organization, especially if it means that new digital processes are being implemented that save the company money and give the employees more flexibility. Use available technology to ensure your company’s culture is driven in towards positive change rather than stagnation.
Processes & Productivity.
The changing of company culture is a byproduct of changing processes and productivity. Processes can be streamlined with online project management tools and communication platforms that mimic in-person collaboration. Through the use of these tools, many teams have found that there are new ways to collaborate without the need for constant communication. In heavily collaborative environments, those who prefer independent working styles often feel that their mandatory meetings could have just been through email. In hybrid environments, digital platforms help make this switch while encouraging collaboration.
Streamlining processes to support different working styles is more accessible in the remote environment and can be capitalized on with the right technology. Using project management tools, secure instant messaging services, and even intranets and internal newsletters can increase productivity and keep the entire team more connected digitally.
While culture, processes, and productivity are all internal operations affected by increased reliance on technology, customer experience is an external element that has also been altered. Fortunately, increased digitization provides improved accessibility for communication between customers and businesses but creates heightened consumer expectations. The new and improved customer experience landscape relies on the IT team and corresponding technology to provide 24/7 access to services, no matter the organization. Mechanisms like live chat boxes are already leaning into artificial intelligence to serve customer demands better. However, with this new territory comes more concerns over privacy and security which must be addressed internally to ensure customers’ data is not compromised.
Leveraging Agile Principles in Digital Goals
Now that we have established how internal and external elements of work are changing to cement new digital transformation goals, we can explore the best practices for CIOs and IT teams to tackle this.
Since the turn of the century, business philosophies have focused on incorporating agile and lean principles into all facets of operations to better meet demands in the changing digital landscape. While both have a healthy obsession with the end result, agile encourages dividing the job into manageable, value-driven chunks completed in brief iterations while encouraging creativity along the way. Agile embraces change, while lean focuses on linearity. With change being a cornerstone of digital transformation, it calls for an agile response from IT teams.
Many different businesses are looking to be agile to optimize development processes. This requires a focus on cooperation between people working on each moving piece within the project. Digital transformation provides resources to promote creativity, a key pillar of agility training. Providing teams with the technology and training to improve and constantly innovate new ways to adapt will help to optimize your hybrid work environment.
Promoting Agile Digital Platforms In The Hybrid IT Landscape
If your organization still needs to embrace cloud technology in the hybrid space, this will be the first step in scaling your business and promoting agility for teams. Mixing the public and private to scale what information needs secure infrastructure versus what can be off-loaded to the cloud will greatly increase team flexibility. Additionally, when scaled appropriately for the organization’s size, the overhead cost should be less than that of traditional data infrastructure.
Even with integration into cloud computing services, security can remain the Achilles heel for IT teams, especially with remote and in-person work environments operating simultaneously. As discussed, one of the major benefits of the hybrid workspace, which has remained post-pandemic, is the flexibility it provides employees and employers alike. Therefore, to mitigate security challenges with employees using different hardware from anywhere worldwide, implement one digital workspace where employees’ devices can be added and discontinued as needed. This implementation will help maintain flexibility and security to improve teams’ agility.
Implementing these programs will put the IT team to work, but for great long-term rewards. Firstly, with cloud integrations, the company, through the extension of its IT team, has greater control over sensitive data. The noise from day-to-day tasks will remain on the public cloud allowing security to be scaled down and focused in one space for IT teams. Additionally, when it comes time to scale cloud services in either direction, this is much easier than traditional infrastructure. The agility provided by digital workspaces such as VMware cannot be understated either. Employees can securely access their workspaces from anywhere, at any time, and on any device, making the hybrid workspace a truly accessible place.
Digital, transformation, and agile are all loaded buzzword terms that have gained traction since many businesses shifted to remote work. Regardless of your opinion on these terms, the shift has dramatically affected how we think about hybrid work. On the surface, a digital transformation implies technical advancements and training, and many organizations have embraced remote and hybrid work using the technology available. At its core, however, leaders’ adoption of agile practices will help keep the humans behind the technology on track to meeting goals and ultimately transforming the workplace.
Joe Aherne is the CEO of Leading Edge Group, a leadership training and consulting organization focused on business transformation. As CEO he acts as relationship manager for many of the company’s continuous improvement consulting projects.