The Rise of Digital Workplaces

By Gibu Mathew 

In 2020, thanks to the world’s largest work-from-home experiment, business continuity plans and crisis management strategies were tested. Businesses of all sizes – from multinational companies to small and medium-sized enterprises across the globe had to act fast and implement remote work arrangements to minimise the disruption in operations while safeguarding the employees’ health and safety.
For essential services like healthcare and critical operations in the energy and manufacturing sectors, physical operations had to continue with safe distancing measures. However supporting and business functions had to be conducted remotely. Remote work was a critical enabler for business and economic continuity during the pandemic, where digital solutions and online collaboration tools kept most operations running even when physical movements were restricted. Employees have also stepped up, and reports show that remote workers have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity with the help of online tools and collaboration platforms.
To ensure business resiliency, some of the contingency plans implemented in the past year will continue and become permanent fixtures for organisations moving forward. According to a Gartner CFO survey, 74 percent of companies will convert at least five percent of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19. Clearly, the attitude towards remote work has drastically changed over the last year. 
With the shift to hybrid work arrangements and increasing adoption of collaboration tools, companies will need to revisit and reinvent many processes and policies to understand and prepare for the changing nature of work. Unavoidably, these changes will impact the culture of the company. Here are five ways remote working and collaboration tools are reshaping the workplace culture.

The rise of digital workplaces in the cloud

With data and applications accessible using the cloud, employees will have the flexibility to work from anywhere, and physical offices will decrease in value as the centre of all business activities. By utilising technologies supported by cloud environments, teams are collaborating, communicating and becoming more productive regardless of where they work. For organisations, this opens up a vast opportunity to access a global pool of talent, tapping into the creativity of a culturally and demographically diverse workforce to be more resilient, agile and dynamic.

Access to tools and apps anytime, anywhere 

With the shift to remote work and the growing reliance on mobile devices, businesses that leverage applications that are designed for a connected, mobile-first lifestyle will succeed. Access to productivity tools including notes, emails, event calendars, as well as documents, presentation files and spreadsheets through mobile devices, will become essential. With the flexibility and connectivity offered by mobile-optimised applications, employees increase productivity while remaining connected getting work done, anytime, anywhere.

Improved productivity through seamless collaboration

Effective digital workplaces integrate people, processes, data, insights and infrastructure while focusing on connectedness, collaboration and personal productivity to achieve common goals and business outcomes. The ability to collaborate and coordinate efficiently will become critical as organisations embrace remote work for the long term. Businesses will rely more on tools that enable efficient and seamless coordination both within and between projects. With collaboration tools that support seamless file sharing, communication channels that enable contextual conversations, and cloud-based project management applications to monitor projects efficiently, teams will focus on turning ideas into reality faster than ever.

Communication channels to boost culture, employee engagement and well-being  

In a remote work setting, agile organisations will utilise their communications tools to create avenues for conversation, encourage the free flow of ideas, set up feedback channels and create opportunities for employees to bond with peers. Tools including intranet platforms will serve as a digital space to share information, discuss ideas and communicate business updates. Through virtual coffee sessions and surveys, managers will gather feedback, recognise and appreciate exceptional work, and keep their employees motivated and engaged. Employee well-being is definitely a key concern for employers as well. In the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 80 percent of respondents identified that well-being is important to organisational success, workforce experience is seen as the key driver for qualifying wellness. As such it is critical that despite the lack of physical interactions, companies need to continue to foster a sense of camaraderie and create a healthy workplace culture. This may be enabled by solutions like integrated communications platforms.

Consistent online customer experience across channels

With the surge in online transactions, businesses are investing in tools and resources to be able to provide a consistent customer experience across multiple touchpoints and manage customer journeys efficiently. With the help of analytics, sales and marketing teams can derive insights from data, surveys and previous customer interactions to create data-driven campaigns and automate offers. On the customer service front, tools such as a ticketing system, chatbots and access to content provide customers with basic account information. Keeping in mind that customer service employees are likely to be working from remote environments as well, the right customer relations management tools will ensure that the service experience meets consistency and excellence standards. 
The shift to remote work has required the upgrade of people’s expectations, understanding of technology and capabilities, to which many organisations have responded. However, beyond tools and digital solutions, there is a call for companies and business leaders to ensure that organisations recognise the emotional impact of the changes and invest in building a culture centred on people.
Technology is an enabler and tools that support people doing their tasks. Technology cannot define or dictate a company’s culture but most certainly aids and enhances the experience for many employees. Deployed intelligently, technology can shape positive outcomes and help build a strong culture in our digital future.  

About the author: Gibu Mathew (pictured above) is the VP & GM APAC, Zoho Corp.This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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