Verizon: work is changing and our workspaces must follow
Antony Tompkins, Managing Partner Global Integrated Solutions at Verizon explains the changing landscape of work and how the work place must evolve with it.
As the modern economy grows more technologically interconnected, a new phenomenon has emerged: a growing number of people who feel isolated and disconnected. Technology connects us, but it also divides us. The ‘always on’ generation is particularly sensitive to the moments of exclusion, not least as ‘always on’ ignores the benefits of the unspoken inference of body language in face-to-face interaction.
This is not just a challenge in our personal lives, it’s also a particular challenge in the workplace. Over recent years, organisations have embraced hot desking, remote working, mobility as a means of improving productivity – as well as saving on expensive real estate costs. But has this gone too far? Have we lost the connection with our co-workers? Can we properly collaborate if we’re all in different spaces – and has multi-tasking won over focus in online meetings?
Future workspaces present an opportunity to look at how we want to interact with our colleagues in the future, and reverse the divergence between connectivity and connectedness. The question is, what sort of workspace will best support the future of work?
Quality of connection matters
Through modern technology and digital ways of working we are now more connected than ever before. However, there is a growing awareness that the quality of human connection in society and in the workplace is declining, and loneliness and isolation are on the rise. In its Global Risks Report 2019, the World Economic Forum cited technology as a major cause of loneliness, social isolation and diminishing empathy with wide ranging implications for society.
This is probably particularly relevant in the context of work. We are in an unprecedented era of technology-driven change. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, business needs are changing rapidly as organisations look at how they can thrive in the digital economy. They require greater agility and flexibility from people, systems and processes to deal with the everyday unknowns. Diverse teams need to form rapidly, perform effectively, and dissolve periodically. Physical and virtual working needs to combine seamlessly. E-mail, instant messaging and global video connectivity have enhanced productivity, but they have also created an ‘always-on’ culture and diminished in-person interaction – and ironically diminished time to think, due to information overload!
Work is no longer a location
This has also led to a change in the way that businesses use physical space. The rise of e-commerce, social media, online working and automation have created economic opportunity, but also diminished the opportunities for physical commerce and social interaction upon which our communities have historically been built. We’ve all seen the impact this has had on the high street, where empty premises too often define what used to be the centre of the town.
So, work is increasingly an activity, not a location. And if that’s the case, we need to consider if ‘the office’ needs to exist at all – or certainly the office as it exists today. What do organisations need to consider to create a workspace that supports productivity – and attracts the best talent? For the workspace is increasingly a key factor in job choice. Given how much time we all spend at work, no one wants to have to spend that time in an uncomfortable location, which is difficult to get to, and hampers their ability to live the rest of their life.
Don’t compromise productivity for gimmicks
Over the past few decades, we’ve already seen transformation of office space – from the city centre to the out of town business park to save on real estate; from owned-offices to open plan, and hotelling; from the dull but functional location to pool and table tennis, collaboration spaces, free food, slides and sleep pods. But open plan is noisy, and people like to be able to ‘own’ their space. Slides are a gimmick, not a benefit. And the out of town business park is not necessarily where diverse talent wants to be.
So, the first thing organisations need to think about is who they want to work for them – and what do they need? Diverse talent is a goal for just about every organisation today, to enable diversity of thought, create innovation, and drive business success. And diverse talent has different needs. Flexibility is key to the workplace of the future.
Flexibility also means flexible hours, mobility and trust. Why start meetings at 9am, which necessitates a 2-hour journey through rush hour, when you could start half an hour later, or hold the meeting virtually instead? Why insist on having the whole team in the office when the work can be just as easily done at home? But you also need to create the opportunities to bring the team together face to face. As said previously, people are social animals. An in person meet up is still the best way to get to know someone, and it can do wonders for productivity.
In the future of work do we still need an office environment with four walls, or can you harness people power from wherever they are? It would seem we need a bit of both. We need a workspace of the future that can enable collaboration, support those who want to be there, enable easy connectivity for those who don’t, offer quiet spaces alongside interaction hubs, and also offer services to make it easy for employees to work there. And that’s not a traditional office.
Connectivity vs. connectedness
The challenge is, if you dissolve the office, what does this mean for society as a whole? ‘The office’ is at the centre of societal construction today – roads lead there, people travel there, service industries from food to parking to dry cleaning grow around it. And what will happen to business parks, city centres, transport infrastructures, support services, in the city of the future? Again, people are social animals and, until technology arrives at the point where face to face interaction is indistinguishable from interaction via technology, business will potentially be less rich.
Recognising this divergence between connectivity and connectedness creates the potential to change this very dynamic, by developing inclusive, human-shaped workspaces and experiences that re-connect people. Holistic thinking about activating community spaces, new models of ownership and use, applications of technology, and unifying people with a greater common purpose could yield new concepts of the future workspace.
The future workspace will be dynamic, agile and interesting. But it will also be built to meet my needs – and yours. Only then will business be able to get the best from its people.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”