Following the outbreak of COVID-19, working professionals fled office buildings and retreated to kitchen tables, living rooms, and home studies around the world. Business leaders—most navigating the remote workplace for the first time—reacted quickly and decisively. After all, business continuity depended on it.
As some employees continue to work from home and others venture back into the office, a transformative work paradigm emerges: the HybridHQ, more commonly known as the hybrid workplace. While the immediate threat of the virus forced businesses into a reactive stance, hybrid work warrants a proactive, intentional transformation strategy. Like any transformation, approaching the hybrid workplace requires clarity around purpose and priorities—paired with the corresponding activities needed to realize anticipated value.
This blog series will take you through the journey of hybrid workplace transformation. First, we explored the importance of defining and aligning on your strategy. Then, we highlighted essential workplace design considerations. Today, we cover the importance of technology.
Digital powers the transformation landscape. The right mix of technology capabilities makes it possible for organizations to adapt to rapidly changing—and often unpredictable—customer, workforce, and operational demands. As such, digital is an essential ingredient for businesses as we emerge from the pandemic. According to Gartner, “Through 2024, 70% of enterprises will be forced to bring forward existing digital business transformation plans by at least five years as a survival plan to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world...”
When it comes to the workforce, the emerging hybrid workplace presents a pressing transformation imperative. To address it, business leaders need to evaluate and configure a set of integrated digital capabilities that power collaboration, advance employee skills, and strengthen security—anywhere employees choose to work. At North Highland, we call this set of capabilities the digital core.
This blog explores the role of a robust, adaptive digital core in powering your business’s hybrid workplace transformation.
Hybrid workplace technology means something different for every business
With the future workplace coming into focus, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s little consensus about how “the hybrid workplace” should look. Every business’s definition will vary depending on industry, local regulatory climate, culture, operational constraints, and more. More broadly though, every business will need to manage a unique set of challenges for their customers, workforce, and operations.
Let's zero in on the example of a contact center. With some employees working at home, it's tougher to manage and monitor the quality of customer interactions. Hybrid work also threatens to undercut workforce engagement and motivation, as employees miss out on the highly visible recognition and celebratory environment of a shared physical space. And sending some employees to work on their home networks creates operational inconsistency, particularly as it relates to home network bandwidth, phone call voice quality, and cybersecurity.
These challenges, among others your business might face, can be distilled into a few fundamental technology considerations:
Bandwidth: In the pre-pandemic world, most employees worked alongside one another with a comparable work environment, technology, and connectivity. Disparate work settings naturally create bandwidth disparities. Whether an employee is working off of a hotspot at home or has the speediest fiber connection in the office, poor or inconsistent connectivity may impede process efficiency and continuity.
Security: The corporate office creates a physical security perimeter. Employees’ home workplaces extend that perimeter. When selecting and implementing security solutions, you’ll need to balance the organization’s security interests with employees’ right to privacy. In addition, your security needs and constraints will inform the platforms you select to drive key business processes—from the most administrative (e.g., managing employee log-in details) to the most advanced (e.g., implementing new AI or automation tools).
Collaboration: Effective collaboration drives outcomes in any work setting. For companies with remote employees, digital tools make collaboration possible. Whether it’s Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana, or Jira, every business’s tool kit looks a little different. With any set of tools, it’s important to acknowledge the barriers to collaboration that these technologies can create. For example, it’s tougher to process non-verbal cues on video calls, leading to “Zoom fatigue.” Mural is a strong co-creation tool for remote employees, but it’s not great for interpersonal interaction in physical office settings. You’ll need to consider the optimal mix of tools by use case, in order to mitigate those collaboration barriers.
Training tools: Virtual work has transformed training, especially for roles that typically involve on-the-floor coaching and hands-on guidance, such as contact center reps. As we enter the world of hybrid work, businesses need to crack the code on digital tools that create consistency in institutional learning across home and office settings.
The digital core brings new opportunities to IT and the business
How can you tackle all these considerations as you plan for the hybrid workplace? Reimagining your technology—in the form of an integrated and adaptive digital core—is an essential first step. This function integrates and automates activities across customer, workforce, and business operations. It delivers the rapid insights required to transform and thrive in the hybrid environment.
With a digital core, your business will have a common set of integrated platforms that seamlessly move data and execute processes with end-to-end visibility—regardless of where employees choose to work. What does this look like in practice?
Let’s continue with the contact center example. Enabled by a strong digital core, contact center reps have the ability to access all the same programs and systems (e.g., CRM software, payment portals, etc.) they need for seamless customer interactions. The right internal communication applications (e.g., employee messaging tools) ensure the workforce continues to feel engaged, collaborative, and adequately skilled—no matter where they choose to work. And finally, the right end-to-end application architecture makes certain that customer and employee interactions—such as collecting payment information or exchanging sensitive customer data—remain secure. Adequately managing connectivity also minimizes disruption to the customer experience through consistent call quality.
Approaching hybrid work, the digital core is also an opportunity to resolve long-standing challenges resulting from projects commissioned within organizational silos. These projects often worsen technical debt in the process—in one case study, that legacy technology infrastructure limited a company’s ability to operate and drive profitability. With an integrated digital core, IT can improve speed of delivery, systems reliability, and data availability. Together, these outcomes make the business more cost-efficient and accelerate the speed of innovation.
To configure a digital core that unlocks your business’s potential in the hybrid world, there are three sequential steps to consider:
- Align on desired outcomes. Identify your strategic objectives and target business outcomes. From there, map the necessary business and technology capabilities you’ll need to achieve those outcomes. Finally, what are the metrics you’ll use to measure and monitor success? When measuring value creation, consider how your digital core can enable agile ways of working. Enterprise agility is about connecting remote and office environments through more collaborative ways of working and teaming. It’s also about creating seamless and integrated processes that use data to learn, measure, and build capabilities that drive continuous improvement. For instance, you can even capture valuable data on soft skills, such as collaboration and influence networks. Not only will this data help you understand ways of working, but it’ll also equip you with predictive information about key segments of your workforce, such as those at risk for burnout. These insights can also shed light on the employees who are most effective at navigating organizational politics and making their voices heard, versus the behind-the-scenes influencers who get the most work done.
- Design for adaptability and reliability. You can achieve these results by focusing on four dimensions: (1) connectivity, (2) security, (3) reliability, and (4) recoverability. First, connectivity, powered by adequate bandwidth, is essential for minimizing disruption to customer and employee interactions. It also ensures operational continuity across work locations. Consider work-from-home wireless internet packages to improve connectivity and uphold key processes. From a security perspective, seek ways to simplify and integrate your platform stack—involving fewer tools and vendors—making it easier to manage and mitigate any vulnerabilities. In addition, reimagine IT infrastructure management processes, skills, roles, and tools to improve security and incident response, no matter where employees work. When it comes to reliability, select the combination of platforms and architecture that most effectively and efficiently integrate real-time information about your end-to-end business operations. Recoverability should be the final consideration. Modern, cloud-based platforms are often a great option—the cloud makes it possible to create a robust backup and recovery model that used to require significant investments in real estate and data center infrastructure to accomplish.
- Implement and measure. Deploy the new technology and operational functionality that comprises your digital core. Measure business outcomes, focused on the metrics that tie to tangible value (e.g., revenue, operational efficiency, employee experience, and customer satisfaction). Be selective; avoid measuring things simply because the technology exists. For instance, an employee productivity app may tout the ability to monitor and analyze employee collaboration time. However, it is likely not sophisticated enough to account for all the nuances of workplace collaboration, including time spent on phone calls, meetings on a different video conferencing platform, informal hallway conversations, etc. Instead, empower your employees with the autonomy to define how working patterns and collaboration will be measured and evaluated. For example, allow geographically distributed hybrid teams to define the time periods throughout the day (e.g., four hours per day) in which collaboration will be analyzed.
As you can see, digital is powering transformation’s course. For the latest example, just look at the world of work. By investing in a dynamic and streamlined digital core, you’ll be positioned to maximize the value of hybrid work—all while paying down legacy technical debt. The result? A stronger muscle to adapt, no matter the next disruptive trend that comes your way.
 Market Guide for Digital Business Agencies, Consulting and Implementation Services, Gartner, May 12, 2021.
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