Are too many online meetings and notifications getting you down?
Online communication tools – from email to virtual chat and video-conferencing – have transformed the way we work. In many respects they’ve made life easier. Without them we could not have made the shift to remote working during the COVID pandemic.
But are we now overly connected?
I and my colleagues have interviewed 120 experts from around the world to get a handle on the effects of 2020’s working-from-home revolution.
What they told us suggests the desire to compensate for the lack of physical interaction is compounding digital overload – the phenomenon that technology researchers Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel described in the Harvard Business Review way back in 2015 as perhaps “the defining problem of today’s workplace”.
As Rosen, a pioneer in the “psychology of technology”, explains in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, his 2016 book co-written with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, our brains have not evolved for media multitasking. So many technological innovations have enhanced our lives in countless ways, but they also threaten to overwhelm our brain’s goal-directed functioning with interference. This interference has a detrimental impact on our cognition and behaviours in daily activities. It impacts every level of our thinking, from our perceptions, decision making, communication, emotional regulation, and our memories.
This interference is increasing as we embrace ever more tools that facilitate virtual communication and collaboration, always “on” and in touch through a barrage of messages and notifications.
Using nine tools a day
Our research is part of a global project on the future of work and education involving 14 university, corporate and non-profit partner organisations.
We interviewed managers in the private sector (from start-ups to corporations), the public sector and academia. We talked to each for an a hour about how their work environments had been affected by the pandemic, and how they imagine the future.
Almost all agreed digital overload had increased due to too many digital tools, too much information and too many hours spent in online conferencing.
On average, they reported using nine collaboration and communication tools every day. If that seems excessive, count how many you use. More than likely you have software for writing, email, instant message, calendars, file sharing, conferencing, work organisation and password management. That’s nine just there.
More online fatigue
Our respondents also reported increased fatigue from being online all the time, and from being expected to send and respond to messages. As one of interviewee put it, the old problem of lack of information has been overtaken by how to keep up with all the information we are expected to take in and provide.
Online meetings were cited as particularly exhausting. This concurs with research showing the demands of constantly observing ourselves as performers leads to “Zoom fatigue”.
3 tips to manage digital overload
You may not have much influence over the number of tools you use. But you can control how you use them. The key is to reduce “goal interference” – anything that interrupts or distracts you from the task in front of you.
Here are three simple principles to manage the load.
1. Switch between tasks less often
Research shows the idea of multitasking is a myth. Maybe we can cope with two things at time, such listening to music while working. But for any task requiring focus we have to make a cognitive switch. Studies show the more we switch, the worse we get at focusing on what’s relevant to the task before us. Make fewer switches to maximise your ability to filter out interference from thoughts about other tasks.
2. Schedule set times for regular tasks
Behavioural experiments show those who check emails just a few times a day report lower stress than those who constantly check throughout the day. Make the effort to do related tasks in set times blocks (say 30 minutes). Give yourself the opportunity to really concentrate. Switch off unnecessary notifications and other distractions.
3. Limit unnecessary communication
Sharing information is important – knowledge is power, after all. But too much information becomes just another distraction. As another adage goes, data isn’t information, information isn’t knowledge, knowledge isn’t understanding, and understanding isn’t wisdom. Information in the digital age is a bit like food. Tens of thousands of years of scarcity has conditioned us to crave it. But abundance means we have to consciously check ourselves from consuming too much.
Changing work culture
These three tips are far from a complete solution, of course. As our interviewees underlined, addressing the problem of digital overload at work requires radical reflection on the temptations of technology – including thinking yet more technology will solve the problem.
There have been many lessons to learn from 2020.
From our unplanned leap into a work future long predicted would come from digital technology, we have the opportunity to understand the pain points. We’ve had a technological revolution in workplace communication and collaboration. Now must come a cultural revolution.
Cast your mind back to January 2020. It feels like it belongs to another age. Squeezing onto a packed train or bus first thing in the morning, sharing a joke with a colleague across the desk, or gathering in a meeting room with your team – many of us haven’t done anything like this for months.
And while we all hope to see this pandemic go away as quickly as possible, there are aspects of traditional working that haven’t been missed. Many people have spent years commuting an hour or more each way, while there are countless examples of talent going unfulfilled due to the prohibitive costs of relocating to where the work is. As the question of how and when we return to physical workspaces dominates the opinion pages and our LinkedIn timelines, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider whether we can use this opportunity to not just return to what we had, but instead to create something better.
Our vision for the future of work is that it can happen in any place, at any time, on any device in a secure and flexible manner. This will enable employees to make their jobs work for them, with greater scope to adapt their working patterns – and location – to their lives. Rather than the employee going to where the work is, the overwhelming dynamic in what we call the “omnichannel workplace” will be work going to the employee, enabled by digital technology.
This trend will play a huge factor in a business’s future success or failure. Just as the retail industry experienced its own omnichannel revolution, causing big problems for companies that didn’t adapt to the rise of online shopping, organisations that think they can return to what normal looked like in January 2020 will get left behind. Moving to new, digital-first operating models will allow businesses of all kinds to take full advantage of their talent and make the most of the growth opportunities that are out there.
Putting people first
This new way of working will mean that we are not tied to rigid working times in particular locations. People will be able to choose how often they go into a workplace, and will be under less pressure to live in expensive cities such as London. This period of lockdown has proven that many can work very effectively from home and, while some of us are keen to return to the office at least part-time, the benefits of flexi- and home- working have been made clear.
We’ve seen these benefits ourselves here at TCS. Within a few weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak, we moved more than 95 per cent of our workforce to an operating framework we call Secure Borderless Workspaces™ (SBWS), while enabling essential industries and leading businesses around the world to do the same, as well as UK customers such as Halfords, Mace, M&S, Morrisons and Seadrill.
For food, clothing and home retailer Marks and Spencer, ensuring the safety of its customers as it continued to meet their demands was the top priority. While its bricks-and-mortar clothing outlets had to be immediately shut, there was a surge in the demand for food essentials. This required quick technological interventions to demand and fulfilment and supply chain systems, back-end distribution set-up, as well as warehouse management – all to ensure that the in-store visitor had an undisrupted shopping experience.
In a move to ensure essential supplies reached its consumers, M&S expanded its online clothing platform to deliver food, and saw heavy demand as a result. A TCS team was put in place to enable customers to purchase M&S Food Boxes – hampers that included a mix of food essentials designed to last a household for roughly a week – which were made available in under a week. The team also developed an online chilled ready meal food service which was implemented within two weeks – requiring intervention with new vendors and delivery partners.
Similarly, for Halfords, when lockdown was first announced, many of its stores were temporarily closed and there was a sudden spike in online sales, requiring rapid and comprehensive changes to stock and personnel. Warehouse management systems had to be reassessed and redesigned, and the movement of some goods was revised, while there also needed to be continual monitoring and liaison with vendors.
Technological innovation enabled the deployment of collaboration platforms, cloud-enabled infrastructure and robust security practices to continue critical operations, and TCS’s customers were seamlessly transitioned to a remote working model thanks to SBWS.
The virtual experience
Of course, the office-centric way of working brings many benefits that are adjacent to employees’ main roles and responsibilities. Conversations in the kitchen or on a lunch break, building new connections and friendships, or creative workshops – it’s “ambient” moments and interactions such as these that do so much to give work meaning.
Technology is making great strides in replicating these experiences and the more employees get used to video calls and chat functions for core work, the more we will start to use them for quick chats and catchups with colleagues too. Technology must enable this human desire for conversation and interaction, not get in the way of it.
Because of this, we believe that, by 2025, just 25 per cent of the TCS workforce will work out of our facilities at any time. Associates will spend 25 per cent of their time in the office and only 25 per cent of a global project team will need to be in the same location.
This is an inflection point – the pandemic has accelerated our thinking and the very fundamentals of work are changing before our eyes. We must all come together to make sure the workplace of 2021 and beyond captures the best of what we’ve seen over the past few months, while preserving the intangible qualities that bring vibrancy and humanity to our working lives.
Find out more about what TCS can do for you here.
by Ashok Krish, Global Head, Digital Workplace, TCS
Why the best sales professionals have a buyer-first approach
B2B selling has changed under the pandemic, with business restrictions concentrating minds on how virtual selling tools can deliver even better results, writes LinkedIn’s Liam Halpin.
Successful business-to-business sales professionals always put the buyer first. And it isn’t hard to understand why. B2B buyers are consumers, after all. They search online for the best products and prices. They have little appetite for advertising, especially when it’s irrelevant. And they want to be treated as individuals.
This means that it’s never been so important for sellers to put themselves into the buyer’s shoes, to understand their needs and to develop a real partnership based on trust.
That can pose a challenge in the current environment. Because of the pandemic, salespeople are increasingly using technology to connect with potential buyers. Email and online ads can be used to contact large numbers of prospects. But without insight into the people you are selling to, this shotgun approach won’t get you far, even if some people do click on your ad or open your email.
Selling in a virtual world
Digital technology can support B2B sales. In fact, there is evidence that most buyers prefer this approach. A recent survey from McKinsey showed that only 20 to 30 per cent of buyers want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic struck. Succeeding with digital technology simply takes the right mindset, and sup- port from the right tools.
You need to talk to the relevant people. So go online to identify your prospects. Tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator are places where you can find up-to-date information on your potential buyers and be alerted to signals that they may be ready to engage with you. Finding prospects from this type of source means that, as well as finding the names of prospective customers, you learn something about them at the same time.
When you have your list of potential customers, it doesn’t mean it’s time to start selling. Sending out mass emails at this point will be ineffective, and even counter-productive, as you could simply irritate your best prospects.
“The important thing that we have had to realise as business leaders is that there is no going back to the way of selling that existed before the pandemic, and that many B2B buyers prefer the new normal”
Prioritise your prospects
Instead, you need to identify those prospects, and find organisations that need what you are selling and individuals who will be open to what you have to say.
There is a lot of freely available information online that will help with this. Monitor what people are posting on LinkedIn, the news in the trade media and announcements on the websites of prospect businesses. When you have identified the organisations with the most potential, you then need to find the right people to talk to in those organisations.
That’s not always simple. The average B2B sales process takes six months to conclude and involves seven people at a target account. All of these people are likely to have at least some influence on the final outcome, so getting to know them is essential.
Again, LinkedIn can be really helpful here. You can use it to identify individuals with particular interests or roles, unravel how people connect together, including how they connect with your competitors, and discover who has recently been recruited by organisations you are targeting: new recruits may be particularly grateful for advice from a trusted partner – which is what you want to be.
All of this takes time. It means being really curious about about both the challenges faced by different organisations and the people who are a part of them. But do this, and you will be able to talk to them about things that will hold their attention.
Engage to establish credibility
Establish your credibility first. Engage with buyers indirectly by contributing to LinkedIn groups they belong to: activity on these has doubled over the last two years, meaning they are a great place to learn more about your prospects and engage with them directly, sharing their posts, tagging them in your posts, commenting on what they have to say and asking them questions.
Armed with credibility, and knowing that you have something interesting to offer, it’s time to reach out to your best prospects. Personalise what you have to say so that it is uniquely relevant to them. And make it clear up front what you want – to talk to them about your products.
Close the deal
You have identified the most likely prospects and you have established credibility with them. Now, but only now, it’s time to start selling. You don’t do that by selling products, though. You do it by providing solutions.
When you understand what they need, be honest. Level with the buyer about the pros and cons of what you have on offer, so they can make the right decision. If it turns out you don’t have the right solution for them, admit it. If that sounds counter-intuitive, it isn’t. You don’t want a client who is unhappy. They aren’t going to be coming back for more or acting as a brand advocate. Quite the opposite.
But if you do have the right solution for your customer, try to uncover anything that might be a potential obstacle to making the sale. Will the client find using your product difficult? Are they likely to face opposition from colleagues who are also involved in the buying process? Are they still leaning towards a competitor of yours? If you know the obstacles, you can address them.
After the sale
Once you have made the sale, you want to ensure customer delight and success. Stay engaged, and make sure the buyer is happy with your solution. Share any updates relevant to their business. Remember, making a sale isn’t the end of the selling process: it’s the start of the next sale.
Pointing the way towards new opportunities for sales
The important thing that we have had to realise as business leaders is that there is no going back to the way of selling that existed before the pandemic, and that many B2B buyers prefer the new normal. Life has certainly been a lot different during the pandemic. And salespeople are having to get used to working differently as a result. But good sales professionals won’t let changed circumstances get in the way. The absence of face-to-face meetings might make things seem a little more difficult. It’s always good to be able to look people in the eye and shake them by the hand.
But the restrictions caused by the pandemic should not be seen as an insurmountable set of problems. Rather, they present an opportunity to make the most of the tools available online. Selling in a virtual world is not just feasible. In many ways it’s preferable: just as flexible as face-to-face selling but more time-efficient and more cost-effective. All you need is the right attitude and the right technology to assist you.
Liam Halpin is Vice President Sales EMEA and LATAM Sales Solutions at LinkedIn. LinkedIn Sales Navigator uses LinkedIn’s network of more than 700 million members and 30 million businesses to connect salespeople to the right buyers by helping them understand their prospects and stay in touch with them www.linkedin.com/in/liamhalpin
The future of work is about management culture
How customer demand is changing the purpose of work
In their books about possible future dystopias – Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World respectively – George Orwell and Aldous Huxley painted worlds where work looked very uninspiring. For both it was the merger of technology and control that defined a miserable existence of workers. Indeed, over the last two decades digital technologies and automation have unleashed forces that will dramatically change jobs. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend further.
However, the future of work could and should be exciting. The ultimate drivers shaping the future of work relate to changing customer demand. As business customers or consumers, we increasingly expect products, services and experiences that are customised and relevant to us individually. We expect new solutions all the time. And we increasingly want to buy from businesses that share our beliefs and values. This means that the future of work will be preoccupied with mastering mass customisation, speeding up innovation cycles and providing support at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Moreover, brands must demonstrate a clear purpose.
The future of work depends on much greater employee engagement
Value propositions are shifting from traditional product sales to providing relevant services and great experiences. More detailed customer insights are essential if you are to address more demanding customers. The ability to react quickly to changing circumstances is thus a core differentiator.
Employees play the central role in this business transformation. The need for greater employee engagement becomes critical for the future of work: great employee engagement drives great customer experiences. Unfortunately, only about a third of employees are engaged at work.
The future of work will bring a cultural transformation
Corporate culture matters as it defines how your organisation thinks about itself and how it tackles the challenges of permanent change. Your corporate culture must be open and flexible enough to adjust to continuously changing customer expectations, market landscapes and technology innovation.
A post-pandemic world will see the emergence of a hybrid workforce. This shift will undermine traditional top-down management and the presence-based office culture. Winning businesses will develop a more agile and collaborative customer-obsessed work culture.
The future of work will bring a new management style
Successful organisations depend on employees that can envisage their customers’ experiences through their customers’ perspectives – from pre-sales to after-sales experiences. Hence, employees should have strong soft skills and empathy. Moreover, managers should empower employees by allowing more independent decision-making and more flexible office and work arrangements.
In turn, this means management needs to broaden its hiring and skill-selection horizon beyond grades and digital skills. People management implies the creation of incentives for more inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional collaboration – including with digital nomads and gig workers. This form of collaboration also contributes to open innovation. Moreover, to attract and retain the best talent, managers ought to shape and support a purpose-driven operating model.
Perhaps most importantly, managers need to communicate clearly why and how transformation is affecting the future of work inside their organisation. This includes preparing employees for the impact of automation on jobs. One way to share the benefits of automation is to invest in the reskilling and upskilling of affected employees and to prepare them for closer human-machine collaboration.
To prepare your own job for the future, it is beneficial to embrace ongoing reskilling as an opportunity for personal growth, to demonstrate greater self-initiative, to strengthen your soft skills and to familiarise yourself with human-centric design practices.
By embracing a new management culture, a future of work can emerge that opens the amazing opportunities that technology can help bring to both employees and customers.
by Dan Bieler, Principal Analyst, Forrester
Why office space still matters to your employees
More than a third of employees still want to work in the office post-pandemic, finds a new survey from Nespresso Professional.
From its partnership with Future Laboratory to its ever-expanding content library, over the past two years Nespresso Professional has positioned itself as an expert in the future of work. In August, the premium coffee provider surveyed more than 500 UK employees across 11 different industries to discover how they felt about returning to the office, what they expected from their employer and their workspace, and what the future of work might look like in light of the pandemic. Nespresso Professional also interviewed a panel of seven industry experts to see what they thought about the future of work.
While it was clear from the results that remote working is here to stay, the survey also found that employees are more eager to return the office than has been anticipated: although 49 per cent of businesses expected to spend more time working from home than before, a substantial 35 per cent of employees said they would be happy to return to their workplace if the conditions were right.
“People work more effectively at home for individual work, but they are missing the community aspect and the sense of belonging you get within the workplace,” said member of the Future of Work interview panel Linzi Cassels, principal and design director at architecture and design firm Perkins + Will.
However, as new technologies enable greater freedom and flexibility for employees to work away from the office, it seems businesses will need to adapt their workspaces to meet employees’ shifting needs.
“Organisations will have to offer more than just working from home to appeal to their employees and future talent,” Cassels said. “They need to offer a new workplace experience which includes more amenities. Space needs to be dynamic and more representative of the value and ethics of the company.
”While employees agree that the future office will need to change, it appears they are divided on what it should look like. Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of employees said a space for centralised socialising and creative thinking was important, while another 18 per cent preferred the idea of a mixed-space building used for multiple purposes by the whole community. Meanwhile, 18 per cent of respondents looked to a “cubiclised” environment where multiple meetings and catch-ups could take place simultaneously.
“Businesses will need to find a way to tempt employees into the office, and away from their homes,” said panel member Adam Scott, founder and exec creative director at design agency Freestate. To achieve this, Scott believes the workplace will start to transform into a “branded home”, which could look like a corporate campus with curated programmes that deliver collaborative and engaging employee experiences through enhanced amenities and multifunctional spaces.
In the wake of the pandemic, many businesses have turned to third spaces such as co-working offices to ensure their employees still have a place to connect, collaborate and socialise. The survey found this trend is set to continue, with 34 per cent of enterprise businesses seeing themselves using collaborative spaces in the future.
As employees familiarise themselves with these spaces, their expectations become clear, with 46 per cent of those already using co-working spaces expecting a kitchen area, and 34 per cent expecting premium food and drink.
These aren’t the only areas where employees’ needs are shifting. Find out more about how Covid-19 has affected the future workplace, how wellbeing and sustainability remain a top priority, and the role premium coffee breaks play in connecting employees by downloading the full Nespresso Professional whitepaper at the link below.
Nadia Moore is public relations manager at Nespresso
How cyber-security will impact the future workplace
Cyber-security remains a top priority for CIOs and CTOs, says a new survey from IEEE
Although the internet is an essential tool within almost every industry, organisations and individuals are still extremely vulnerable to data security breaches. Recent research1 has shown that many network breaches are caused by email phishing, which has increased by a staggering 350 per cent in just one year. Ransomware is also a huge concern. According to recent research2, Q3 2020 saw a 50 per cent increase in the daily average of ransomware attacks, compared with the first half of the year. The significant rise in attacks suggests that the workplace is set to fundamentally transform as people become more educated about the importance of safety online.
Why employees need training
Organisations need to ensure employees are trained on a variety of security aspects such as phishing, data sharing practices, keeping software updated and understanding the importance of unique, strong individual passwords. By thoroughly educating employees on the dangers at hand, companies are at a lower risk of being attacked. Within some companies, a movement has been carried out whereby fake phishing emails are sent to employees, containing links which, when activated, lead to a site telling employees about their mistake. Although this can be an eye-opener, it is not sufficient training – especially for companies hosting valuable trade secrets, personally identifiable information and finance or health data.
Prioritising data in the workplace
When it comes to data protection, all aspects need to be considered. This includes examining the security of physical locations and employee access, data storage and backups, network security and compliance and recovery procedures on all internet of things (IoT) devices. It can be easy to neglect software, but it too needs to be regularly audited and followed by a security architecture survey. This should form part of a larger risk analysis of a company’s infrastructure. Senior IT management staff should have a more holistic approach to cyber-security as an organisational-wide risk issue and ensure there is focus on the legal implications including identifying which risks to avoid, accept and mitigate.
A cause for concern
In 2020, the IEEE conducted a global survey3 of chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) on what they considered to be the top priority or concern for their business following the pandemic. The survey was conducted across five geographic regions, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China and India, with responses from 350 CIOs and CTOs. The survey outlined a number of key issues; however, cyber-security remained a top priority. Across all regions, 11 per cent of respondents claimed it was the biggest challenge to overcome, suggesting many companies will work to implement tighter measures in the near future.
Security software is an essential tool within every workplace and, as we delve further into 2021, employers and employees need to take a much more urgent approach to staying safe online. Now is the time for companies to ensure those using security software are made aware of the tasks they need to perform and can figure out how to successfully perform those tasks, while avoiding making errors and being comfortable with the interface.
This year, it is more crucial than ever for these aspects to be in place and for activity-monitoring tools to be implemented so threats can be detected before any serious damage is done within the workplace.
Kevin Curran is a professor of cyber-security, executive co-director of the Legal Innovation Centre and group leader for the Cyber Security and Web Technologies Research Group at Ulster University. His achievements include winning and managing UK and European framework projects and technology transfer schemes, and he has made significant contributions to advancing the knowledge and understanding of computer networking and systems over more than 800 published works.
Previously the founding editor in chief of the International Journal of Ambient Computing and Intelligence, Kevin was the recipient of an Engineering and Technology Board visiting lectureship for exceptional engineers. He has also served as an adviser on computer industry standards to the British Computer Society and is a member of the BCS and IEEE technology specialist groups and various other professional bodies. Regarded as one of the top cyber-security experts in the UK, he regularly comments on the latest technological developments and cyber-threats, including the internet of things (IoT) and smart devices, cryptocurrency, phishing attacks and ransomware.
The year of hybrid: five workplace trends to watch out for in 2021
For companies with an office-based workforce, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant the greatest and fastest workplace shift ever seen. However, the future of work is not a wholesale move to remote working but a new balance. A hybrid workplace approach encompassing flexible, laptop-centric ways of working tailored for maximum usability and better meetings irrespective of participant location.
Now, with an end in sight, companies need to ask what lies beyond 2020 and how to restructure to prepare for a hybrid future. Here are Barco’s top trends to look out for in 2021…
Appetite for hybrid working has been building for many years – Covid-19 simply brought it into focus. Having survived a period of enforced remote working, corporates must look at how to invest in the technology and infrastructure to deliver this successfully.
Our recent global workplace study, Finding a New Balance, found that, on average, employees wanted to work three days in the office and two remotely. However, our research showed that just 27 per cent of UK workers felt their office was equipped. A lack of investment in hybrid- working technology will hinder many companies. They need to commit financially to hybrid working or risk losing valuable team members.
Deprived of face-to-face interaction, employees long for the meeting room’s return. People are desperate not just for the human connectivity of meetings, but the creativity they foster too. Productivity remained intact during lockdown, but creativity plummeted.
Traditional meeting rooms are hubs of innovation, and 2021 will see them come back with a bang: 62 per cent of our survey respondents want to use meeting rooms over any other setting in a bid to fill the creative void left by the pandemic. Expect to see offices reconfigured for larger meeting spaces ideal for brainstorming and group collaboration.
Right now, employees are less engaged than ever. More used to multi-tasking during remote meetings and suffering from a lack of meaningful communication, workforces are distracted. Employee engagement will become the biggest tool to maintain productivity.
Employers should focus on ways to inspire their teams, and investment in home technology, for example, could prove vital to ensure engagement on remote working days. Studies have shown the benefits of high engagement are lucrative: increasing a company’s engagement by 10 per cent can grow profits by $2,400 per employee annually.
In 2020, Gen Z changed workplace culture. Having entered the workforce remotely, it expects freedom and places a surprising amount of importance on face-to-face connection.
As the workplace Gen Z population grows, the challenge for businesses will be to offer the freedom of remote working without sacrificing the human connection this generation values. We predict an increase in flexible working policies underpinned by collaboration tech, the use of which comes naturally to Gen Z, to accommodate the best of both.
This year saw the most intense period of learning in workplace history. Employees spent months mastering remote-working software, often struggling initially: 65 per cent of our survey respondents said they had difficulties setting up impromptu meetings.
Now that the steep learning curve is beginning to plateau, workforces will demand more from their technology, pushing its boundaries to meet their needs. For example, 56 per cent of our respondents favour working on laptops, therefore new technology will need to reflect this. We foresee rapid development in remote -work ing technology that optimises collaboration.
Difficulties aside, it’s unlikely a single moment will shift workplace culture so dramatically any time soon. After a year of imposed distance, collaboration technology will bridge the gaps between colleagues, providing the tools for better meetings as the workplace finds its new balance.
Communicating without speaking: body language in the virtual world
Our facial expressions, gestures, appearance, body postures, tone of voice and eye gaze express huge volumes of information about our attitudes and our emotions. This makes body language one of the most powerful communication tools we can use on a daily basis, and in every life context.
Indeed, the communication method pioneered by Dr Albert Mehrabian famously showed that 55 per cent of effective communication is conducted through body language and only 7 per cent through spoken words. So, understanding what your non-verbal signals convey can go a long way to helping you communicate more positively with others – and make your presence felt.
Picking up on non-verbal clues
The moment we meet face-to-face, we depend on non-verbal clues to determine how to relate to others. As social beings, we instinctively read and interpret body language as an expression of mood, feeling, or intention, and we unconsciously do this all the time. That includes responding to disconnects, where body language or tone of voice contradict the spoken word.
This has significant implications for our increasingly virtual world of work. Courtesy of the proliferation of video conferencing in today’s Covid-19 day-to-day business life (“you’re on mute!”), people are assessing your body language more than ever before. Which means how you position yourself and behave on a video call will ultimately affect how others perceive you, and how your message is received.
With so much of our working day now being conducted online, it’s easy to become disengaged or suffer from video call fatigue. And that’s the moment when you may find yourself casually slipping into non-verbal communication habits that mean you become a forgettable participant on the video call.
When just being present isn’t enough
With video calls becoming so routine, it is easy to become complacent about maintaining the behavioural and communication etiquette that is appropriate for an online business setting. Especially when during lockdown, so many of our interactions with family and friends have had to be conducted via video.
Taking a few moments to reflect on some of the habits you may have adopted for business video conference meetings may help to elevate both your professional presence and credibility.
Have you decided not to put your video on? What message has this action sent to the rest of the participants? Do you find yourself fidgeting, or leaning back, or slouched in your chair? Do you keep disappearing off camera? Ask yourself – is this the body language I would choose to communicate if I were in the boardroom, rather than the spare room?
Changing habits can be difficult but taking some time out to identify which unconscious behaviours you need to consciously adjust will result in you becoming a better non-verbal communicator and make a bigger digital impact.
Here are five critical body language considerations that will help ensure your participation in video conferences is more polished and notable, for all the right reasons.
Making a positive first, and lasting, impression
Eliminating body language habits that send the wrong message is important, because people typically pay more attention to those non-verbal signs that indicate negative attitudes: that you are bored, angry or lethargic. Even if that is not the case.
The way you hold yourself impacts how others perceive you. For example, crossed arms can suggest defensiveness or irritation, while slumping on the sofa conveys a lack of professionalism or unwillingness to take the task in hand seriously.
Maintaining a proper posture is the key to projecting a positive image and making the right impression from the get-go. That means using appropriate seating to ensure you sit up straight, don’t slouch, and that your head and shoulders dominate the screen.
Sitting up tall communicates to others that you are alert, actively participating – even when not speaking – and confident.
Guard against “resting bored face” syndrome
Our facial expressions are visible at all times on screen, so demonstrating that a neutral response to whatever you see and hear is a must-have.
Things like learning back from the screen can indicate what we are not entirely on board with. Similarly, facial winces, head shaking or rolling our eyes will also convey powerful information to others about our internal feelings. All of which can fuel miscommunication and misunderstanding in a collaborative setting.
Communicating that you are present and mindful at all times is no easy feat during an extended video session when “resting bored face” syndrome can creep in – a facial expression that others register as disassociation or boredom. To counter this, remember to nod, smile and lean forward occasionally.
The eyes are the window to the soul
One of the most fundamental components of non-verbal communication, direct eye contact is difficult to replicate over a webcam. When speaking or presenting, maintaining a focus on your camera, and not the images of the other participants, is the single most powerful way to communicate your message to your audience and enable eye contact.
When in listening mode, guard against becoming distracted by your own thumbnail video image because this gives out a non-verbal visual cue that screams distraction. Instead, focus on looking directly at the feed of the person who is speaking to give the impression you are maintaining eye contact and are interested in what they have to say.
Get to grips with gestures
Gestures provide a visual cue that can help people to really understand what you are saying. But on a video call, you need to be aware that less is more.
Hand motions can be helpful to demonstrate enthusiasm or direct people to focus on a specific point they need to consider. But too much gesticulating can be distracting and overwhelming in a small screen frame – people need time to take in what they are hearing.
When listening to others, glancing at your palms and fingernails, drumming your fingers, fiddling with jewellery or tweaking your hair could all indicate to others that you are either bored or frustrated, or both.
Don’t multitask – be present and engaged
Resist the temptation to check your email or tackle other work tasks when you join a video conference. Even if you are muted, others can see what you are up to.
While you may be confident that you can successfully do two or more things at once, and not lose the thread of what’s being discussed, the non-verbal cues you are sending other participants will say otherwise. Plus, if people can see you are tapping away at IM, they’ll be wondering what you are really thinking and saying to others about the ideas they are presenting.
Video conferences represent a key tool for strengthening relationships with customers, suppliers and colleagues. They are also a powerful platform for building your very own personal brand.
Becoming body language savvy will ensure you are able to present your ideas with more impact, work more collaboratively with others, and reinforce your professional image.
by Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft
Embracing change: customer experience as a business driver
As consumers increasingly turn to digital solutions, supplying a flexible, personalised and unique customer experience is essential. Are you ready?
Lockdowns, social distancing, capacity restrictions, supply chain delays… you name it. Welcome to the new normal: the antithesis of good business.
The 2020-21 pandemic has changed how consumers buy, how they interact with your business, and how you interact with them. It hasn’t been the best year to create a winning customer experience (CX).
The most successful online businesses, however, are enjoying huge profits based on a simple premise: conveniently give locked-down consumers what they want.
For everyone else, the past months have been about ensuring there’s no “physical contact”. And that means no customers. Those with existing digital solutions have fared better.
This doesn’t just mean supplying an online offering, it means creating products that boost the in-store experience (and promote social distancing), such as digital kiosks, item location apps and even virtual assistants.
CX is a journey, not a one-off trip. It’s why your business must prioritise investment in and focus on developing strategies and solutions that promote and enhance the customer experience.
2020 has shown that keeping customers happy and loyal is a must. In its recent State of the Connected Consumer report, Salesforce found that 73 per cent of consumers expected companies to understand their needs and expectations, while 84 per cent said that “experiences are as important as the actual products and services”.
It’s essential to understand both a customer’s expectations at every step of their journey with you and why you need to continuously collect their feedback and test your products against what they want.
A good customer experience leads to more purchases, increased satisfaction, and deeper brand loyalty. Done well, it can deliver a valuable competitive advantage.
This requires five things:
• Understanding the needs and wants of your customers
• Evaluating how your business, services and solutions engage with them
• Adopting strategies and solutions that emphasise and optimise their experience
• Comprehensively testing your solutions to meet customer expectations
• Putting your customer first in every decision.
Only then can you develop seamless continuity across every touchpoint within your business – ensuring you can quickly adapt your products (or create new ones) to supply the best experiences for your customers.
Many businesses are already developing such solutions, from mobile experiences to premium apps for brand enthusiasts and augmented reality services.
The question is, how to ensure your products deliver what your customers want and meet their ever-changing needs?
The importance of testing
Testing helps improve the reliability, performance and quality of your products. But it’s also an essential tool for developing a personalised experience alongside user research and customer journey maps.
However, while spending on CX technologies is expected to reach $641 billion by 2022, many organisations simply aren’t focusing enough on testing. “It is very important to make testing a priority, and ensure testing happens throughout every step of the lifecycle,” says Philipp Benkler, CEO and Founder of Testbirds.
To create a solid customer experience, testing is essential. And one well-suited method is crowdtesting, where a diverse, and diversely located, group of end-users tests your digital product using multiple devices.
A crowd tester acts like your customer and can often find problems you didn’t know existed or didn’t think were problems – an essential when talking about CX.
“In the latest years, the customer’s behaviour has changed – we are doing more and more in digital channels instead of physical ones. This development has sped up due to Covid-19, and is likely to continue. In the same pace, smarter and better digital services are appearing and the customer’s expectations of these services have also increased. Nowadays, customers expect that more or less everything can be done digitally, and they do not accept poor service quality. It has become crucial for us a company to focus on user experience in order to understand the customer and their needs, so we can be truly customer-centric and develop services that live up to customer expectations. For companies that do not, the future is not looking that bright. But for companies that do, the future holds huge potential.”
Daniel Regestam, UX Team Manager at Swedbank
Crowdtesting, unlike the more process-by-process nature of test automation, can provide a comprehensive end-to-end look at how your product performs – before your product is released and in hours, not days or weeks.
Crowdtesting can augment your in-house QA testers, giving you greater access to a varied pool of users while freeing up resources. Crowdtesting can also be run as either a managed test by using a partner to help run the test, or by doing it on your own with your own testers.
Overall, Crowdtesting’s flexible, human-centric nature makes it ideal when looking for real-world issues. Test automation, which uses software to test your digital products, is best suited to ensuring actual outcomes are as predicted, not in catching human issues such as localisation differences.
It’s most important to catch issues that create a negative user experience. And going by a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report that reveals 32 per cent of customers stop doing business with a brand they love after one bad experience, it’s important testing ensures that doesn’t happen to you.
Covid-19 and beyond
The pandemic has revealed weaknesses in traditional business. Especially for those with little or no digital presence. It’s also shown that being a fast and agile business is best.
Being able to create lasting relationships using tested solutions honed to create positive experiences has become essential, as will be improving your organisational resilience so you can best embrace change, and resist and rebound from any future business disruptions.
To find out how to comprehensively test your solutions so they’re fully optimised, error-free and ready to create a great customer experience, visit testbirds.com/remote.
This man was fired by a computer – real AI could have saved him
Ibrahim Diallo was allegedly fired by a machine. Recent news reports relayed the escalating frustration he felt as his security pass stopped working, his computer system login was disabled, and finally he was frogmarched from the building by security personnel. His managers were unable to offer an explanation, and powerless to overrule the system.
Some might think this was a taste of things to come as artificial intelligence is given more power over our lives. Personally, I drew the opposite conclusion. Diallo was sacked because a previous manager hadn’t renewed his contract on the new computer system and various automated systems then clicked into action. The problems were not caused by AI, but by its absence.
The systems displayed no knowledge-based intelligence, meaning they didn’t have a model designed to encapsulate knowledge (such as human resources expertise) in the form of rules, text and logical links. Equally, the systems showed no computational intelligence – the ability to learn from datasets – such as recognising the factors that might lead to dismissal. In fact, it seems that Diallo was fired as a result of an old-fashioned and poorly designed system triggered by a human error. AI is certainly not to blame – and it may be the solution.
The conclusion I would draw from this experience is that some human resources functions are ripe for automation by AI, especially as, in this case, dumb automation has shown itself to be so inflexible and ineffective. Most large organisations will have a personnel handbook that can be coded up as an automated, expert system with explicit rules and models. Many companies have created such systems in a range of domains that involve specialist knowledge, not just in human resources.
But a more practical AI system could use a mix of techniques to make it smarter. The way the rules should be applied to the nuances of real situations might be learned from the company’s HR records, in the same way common law legal systems like England’s use precedents set by previous cases. The system could revise its reasoning as more evidence became available in any given case using what’s known as “Bayesian updating”. An AI concept called “fuzzy logic” could interpret situations that aren’t black and white, applying evidence and conclusions in varying degrees to avoid the kind of stark decision-making that led to Diallo’s dismissal.
The need for several approaches is sometimes overlooked in the current wave of overenthusiasm for “deep learning” algorithms, complex artificial neural networks inspired by the human brain that can recognise patterns in large datasets. As that is all they can do, some experts are now arguing for a more balanced approach. Deep learning algorithms are great at pattern recognition, but they certainly do not show deep understanding.
Using AI in this way would likely reduce errors and, when they did occur, the system could develop and share the lessons with corresponding AI in other companies so that similar mistakes are avoided in the future. That is something that can’t be said for human solutions. A good human manager will learn from his or her mistakes, but the next manager is likely to repeat the same errors.
So, what are the downsides? One of the most striking aspects of Diallo’s experience is the lack of humanity shown. A decision was made, albeit in error, but not communicated or explained. An AI may make fewer mistakes, but would it be any better at communicating its decisions? I think the answer is probably not.
Losing your job and livelihood is a stressful and emotional moment for anyone but the most frivolous employees. It is a moment when sensitivity and understanding are required. So, I for one would certainly find human contact essential, no matter how convincing the AI chatbot.
A sacked employee may feel that they have been wronged and may wish to challenge the decision through a tribunal. That situation raises the question of who was responsible for the original decision and who will defend it in law. Now is surely the moment to address the legal and ethical questions posed by the rise of AI, while it is still in its infancy.
As media interest has grown, mental health has risen up the social agenda. And now here we are, finally at a place where the public is more aware of mental health. Campaigns such as Time to Change and Heads Together, led by the young royals, have played a crucial part in creating a focus and support.
A huge part of this shift is more people feeling able to share their stories and experiences. People are often described as brave for telling their stories, but most people don’t feel brave. They just want to be more open and discuss their experiences, so that others don’t have to go through the stigma, the shame and the struggles they have faced, and to help improve the day-to-day lives for those of us with mental health problems.
However, the latest ONS figures on the disability pay gap highlight the uphill struggle many people still face in the workplace and wider society. We know how much of a problem stigma is, with employees feeling unable to talk about issues such as stress, anxiety or depression, for fear they will be overlooked for promotion or face other discrimination.
People with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but despite this some 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems fall out of work every year. A lack of support and understanding means these people are not able to reach their potential and progress.
The Equality Act gives disabled employees, including people with mental health problems, the right to not be discriminated against in work, and to access reasonable adjustments if they need them.
However, a lack of clarity around the act’s definition of disability means people are often unsure about whether they are covered. Without knowledge of the Equality Act, employees are left unable to challenge their workplace if and when they face discrimination on the grounds of a health condition. This means that many people are missing out on crucial workplace protections.
The next government must commit to changing the legislation and make sure all disabled people are properly protected so they can thrive at work.
It’s all of our business to try to understand the factors which are leaving increasing numbers of people without support, including in their places of work.
And we must get better at understanding that for some people being in work is not the best thing to help recovery or manage our mental health problems. The benefits system should be a safety net to help us, but it’s not fit for purpose. None of us should be put at risk of falling into poverty because we’re too unwell to make it to the job centre. But that’s a fear that thousands of people live with every week.
Because mental health affects so many different areas of life, whoever gets the keys to Downing Street must implement a cross-governmental strategy that puts mental health at the heart of every department’s agenda. It is the only way we will see a joined-up approach across all services – from employment to social care, education to housing, welfare to policing and health.
There is no room for mere lip service when the need for real change is this great.
by Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Mind
The pandemic has changed the once-familiar world of work. More of us are working from home. Zoom calls have replaced meetings. Work is no longer a physical location, and its new role as a verb rather than a noun means that businesses have wider talent pools and employees can choose the company not the commute.
One area of business that is changing particularly fast is communication between businesses and consumers. A survey of business decision makers by customer engagement platform Twilio shows that almost all organisations are seeking new ways of engaging with their customers.
Digital communication is at the heart of excellence in customer engagement. Businesses have known this for some time. But the pandemic has broken down the inhibitors to innovation: 79 per cent of Twilio’s respondents say that Covid-19 has increased the budget for digital transformation.
One area that’s enabled by technology is “omnichannel” communication. Today’s consumers have many different communication channels: video, messaging, telephone or chat for example. But omnichannel communication allows businesses to use the same data about a customer and deliver a high-quality experience, however consumers get in touch.
Essentially, technology allows better communication between businesses and their customers. This generates increased engagement and creates loyalty. The pandemic has been a major factor here. Results from Twilio’s survey of business decision makers shows that Covid-19 has accelerated companies’ digital communications strategy by an average of six years.
The opportunities provided by technology include enhanced contact-centre experiences. Customers can choose which channel to use – video for some, chat or voice for others. IVR options can be changed based on the availability of human operators. AI-powered tools can identify how best to communicate with individuals. Some may prefer to interact with a machine – people making an insurance claim, for instance. Others would be better assisted by a (well briefed) human than by a chatbot – people with a complaint, perhaps, or people showing rising emotion.
Transforming an existing contact centre to take advantage of these opportunities is challenging: legacy systems are often difficult to adapt. Starting again from scratch sounds daunting. But it isn’t necessarily. Products such as Twilio’s Flex use cloud computing and modular software to enable the very rapid building of customised contact centres.
Flex is highly developer-centric. Because of its modular, cloud-based approach, it enables transformation to take place in days – just eight in the case of insurance company BGL, a leading digital distributor of insurance and household financial services, which includes in its portfolio brands such as Budget Insurance and Beagle Street, as well as price comparison site comparethemarket.com.
This ability to change the architecture of contact centres rapidly has been vitally important during the pandemic. Many have been forced to change from an on-premises model to a remote one. Cloud technology has enabled this, giving remote contact centre workers instant access to customer information and providing a range of communication channels, from video to SMS, for customer engagement.
The pandemic brought with it rapidly evolving business requirements which will continue to change as society moves beyond the disruption caused by Covid-19. Beyond the contact centre, organisations across a range of sectors, such as retail, education and healthcare, have accelerated their digital transformation as a way of continuing to operate while physical proximity has been limited. The convenience of this will continue to drive behaviours as we transition to a post-vaccine world. There is no doubt that digital engagement is here to stay.
The ability to change rapidly is a critical source of competitive advantage. With Twilio, it’s possible to build a wide range of channels into customer communications, with high levels of speed, flexibility and customisation. With this level of software agility, the only limit to reaching new levels of customer experience is the creativity of the organisation itself.
Many workplaces have been experimenting with different types of flexible working arrangements for years now, but the pandemic has made the need for flexibility far more pressing.
This has led to the intensification of many campaigns around flexible working, among them a call for a four-day week. The four-day week has been used in the past as a way to reduce unemployment, for example, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the idea has been gaining more relevance in recent years and is becoming a global trend. Spain, for example, is working on a national shift to a four-day or 32-hour week, after a proposal by Vice President Pablo Iglesias in early December 2020.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is sold on the idea, many presuming that productivity would take a hit and that the transition would prove too costly. But several transnational companies have started to implement the four-day week with positive results.
In 2019, Microsoft Japan ran a one-month trial to test the viability of a four-day working week and reported a significant increase in productivity, as well as a significant reduction in electricity costs and on the printing of paper pages. And Unilever is currently undertaking a 12-month trial among all of the business’s 81 staff in New Zealand.
In the UK, a recent report by the thinktank Autonomy used profitability statistics on over 50,000 UK firms and found that under a worst-case scenario, a four-day week with no loss of pay would be affordable for most businesses once the initial phase of the COVID crisis has passed.
The authors of the report argue that the UK government could prevent a steep rise in unemployment if companies were supported in moving to a four-day week, suggesting that the public sector should lead the way in adopting shorter working hours.
Pre-empting government action, many UK businesses have already started experimenting. In 2019, Henley Business School ran a research project involving over 500 business leaders and 2,000 employees, including businesses that have already implemented a four-day working week (33% of businesses surveyed), looking into the benefits, challenges and alternatives to a four-day working week. The main benefits found were:
These benefits have a huge financial impact: the combined savings to UK business is already as high as £92 billion a year, 2% of total annual turnover.
But some businesses are reluctant to move to a four-day week. For example, for those organisations that need to provide customer service beyond standard office hours, a reduction in employee availability would have a huge impact. Such operational difficulties were part of the reason the Wellcome Trust dropped plans to implement the four-day working week.
Other employers believe that the four-day working week would be hard to put into practice because of trust issues. Half of the employees surveyed in our study would not opt for this way of working if they felt their employer didn’t support it properly.
So how can businesses overcome these institutional hurdles to transitioning to a four-day week?
1. Start slow
Despite the evidence of potential economic benefit, some businesses are reluctant to implement the four-day working week. Given this, a good option is to start slow. Unilever and Microsoft are examples of companies that have trialled this work arrangement in sub-sections of the company. Starting with a particular department or subsidiary for a limited time can be a good way to test the water and assess the preliminary results of this change.
2. Engage line managers
Having line managers on board is crucial to implement a four-day working week. If line managers view flexible work practices negatively, they are less likely to make their teams feel that a four-day working week is something that they should pursue without risking their career. Running training sessions where benefits are demonstrated is an option here, but the most important factor is engaging line managers in the decision-making process, so that all operational obstacles can be overcome before any implementation.
3. Engage staff
One of the key reasons that the four-day working week resonates with the vast majority of employees is that it may lead to increased work-life balance. But people are of course different and have varied motivations that need to be taken into account. Even the wariest of employees hold views on the topic, so it is important for line managers and employees to have a frank discussion about how best to improve wellbeing and productivity.
4. Assess processes and results
If an organisation has taken the plunge and started implementing the four-day week, it is extremely important to monitor its implementation: is the shift working? And if not, why not? Based on this analysis, organisations can then decide whether to expand the scheme to their entire workforce.
5. Think about other options
The four-day working week may not work for every organisation, and those that are heavily reliant on customer service tend to tread carefully. But there are other types of flexible working practices. Other forms of flexibility may be more suitable for some organisations, at least in the short term. These include remote work, working part-time (at reduced pay) or a mix between remote and office work.
Undoubtedly, we are moving into a future of more flexible working practices, a future that has been catalysed by the pandemic. The four-day working week has the potential of reducing unemployment, raising productivity and improving life and work satisfaction. But organisations may need to reflect carefully on which forms of flexibility may release the greatest wellbeing and productivity benefits for them and their employees.
Rita Fontinha, Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy, Henley Business School, University of Reading and James Walker, Professor and Head of International Business and Strategy, University of Reading
In times of crisis, an inspirational quote from Fred Rogers of the classic PBS children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood makes the rounds in the US – “look for the helpers” – and it always seems to soothe nerves in troubled times. As lockdowns were imposed worldwide after the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, this mentality often took the form of spontaneous applause from apartment windows and balconies for medical frontline workers coming home after long shifts.
Doesn’t that seem like so long ago? Now weary from the rising daily confirmed case numbers with some restrictions again in place in Europe, it’s worth pausing to consider if we are losing sight of the helpers as we begin to roll out vaccines – particularly as corporations plan investments post-crisis.
Most – 80 per cent – of the world’s workforce doesn’t work behind a desk. These workers don’t have fancy home-office setups or corporate Slack accounts – they’re on the front lines, keeping the roads open, food shortages at bay and making sure the power stays on. Many of them deserve the term “essential employees.”
While digital transformation has changed many industries, with breakthroughs in automation and AI leading to new products and better experiences for consumers, the nature of work at these jobs has not changed as much. Hourly workers still learn about company policy updates from printouts on the walls of break rooms. Yet they still end up picking up their smartphone to text or call a boss or corporate counterpart, bypassing company IT systems.
As a result, a very real and dangerous gap is emerging between the technology “haves” and “have-nots” at work. Less than half (38 per cent) of frontline workers we surveyed say they use existing work applications and software effectively. Many want more training or better tools. Employers concur: 86 per cent of companies say their frontline workforces need better technology-enabled insight.
It’s past time we extended the benefits of digital transformation to everyone at work. This calls for a revolution and an open ecosystem. That means more than just window dressing or piecing together lightweight tools that connect to broader digital transformation initiatives around inventory management or operations. From the greatest tech companies in the world to start-ups, we need to build for frontline workers’ unique needs across industries so employers can arm them for mutual long-term success. In short, we need to meet frontline workers where they are.
Increasingly, that’s on their phones – offering a clue as to where an answer might lie. While most frontline workers do not have company email addresses or access to a work computer much of the day, they usually have smartphones that can serve as gateways to access personalised versions of company systems. Better yet, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with new working methods. User-friendly features that have already transformed our individual lives in social media and online can be equally transformative at work.
We’re already seeing the first fruits of these efforts in mobile apps such as LumApps for Frontliners, the only digital workplace app designed to align all workers, whether in the office, home or in the field. But an entire ecosystem is needed.
In many industries, frontline employees are the closest to the customer, operations or product – making it critical to get this right. It’s also important for society at large. Productivity growth – the increase in worker output per hour – hovers near record lows today, and the divided economic recovery after the early months of the Covid-19 crisis reveals a worrying chasm between the well-off and the less economically secure.
Ultimately the digital future of work can be bright if we give the helpers the tools they need to thrive and focus at work, building lasting business relationships. A rising tide of productivity can lift all boats. The alternative is burnout, fatigue, high turnover, inefficiency and continued stagnant recoveries – something we should all want to leave in the rear-view mirror.
Workplaces are evolving, not just in terms of the technology and digital platforms being used, but also in terms of what employees are growing to expect and demand from their employers. The reality of the “no job for life” mindset will have a significant effect on the traditional employer-employee contract. The benefits and rewards offered to employees which were once desired and sought after are now no longer the incentives they once were. This short article aims to outline some of these changes.
The career revolution is being driven by a number of factors: our rising life expectancy and the need to work for longer; the rise of the digital technology enabled by the fourth industrial revolution, and finally, the social norms that start to exist once change starts to gather pace and reach a tipping point. Humans, whether you want to debate it or not, are greatly influenced by social norms – in short, what everyone else is doing. It won’t be consultants or articles which change the mindset – it’s the rise of the industry disruptors who, with their game-changing technology, passion and innovation, are changing the expectations of employees and who are shifting the social norms of the new psychological contract.
Monzo Bank is a rising star in the banking world. With over a million customers, it is scaling rapidly. One of Monzo’s main employee benefits, on top of its 28 days holiday, is an additional 30 days off every year (unpaid) for employees to study or pursue whatever form of learning is felt would be most beneficial. They (sensibly) want to create a culture where people understand it is their responsibility to prepare and develop themselves for their next job.
At Airbnb, the culture of learning is flagged up as one of the main benefits, with the company offering supported and paid volunteer time, enhanced maternity/paternity benefits and the promise of “personal time off”. The message is clear: we’re flexible and we understand you need your own time and support to do what is important to you as your needs change.
Before you see any mention or money or pensions, Google is keen to point out its “generous parental leave policies”, the chance to take time off to volunteer (Google matches any donations made), and the encouragement to take “personal time off” (in addition to holiday allowances). But most importantly, Google encourages employees to learn for themselves. It will offer support – even with things which superficially appear unrelated to the work employees will be doing. The examples Google gives include learning to play the guitar or taking cookery classes. The message? You won’t be here forever, so we support your need to develop interests and skills outside of your current role.
If the main drivers 15 years ago were security and stability, the new drivers are flexibility, autonomy and trust, as you take time to explore what your future job might be beyond the one you are doing now. The main change we are witnessing now isn’t specific – it’s a sea change. Everything an organisation does needs to move away from being the adult to the child, and move towards being a trusted partner. Here are some examples of how we’ll see these changes have an impact:
We are at the tip of the iceberg – but the good news is, nothing in the table above calls for deep pockets. If anything, the burden of providing a long-term career path is lifted both psychologically and financially from organisations.
In an era where peoples’ working careers will more frequently last longer than (in many cases) the longevity of the companies they work for, it starts to become obvious that acknowledging and supporting this new reality isn’t just a good idea – it’s a moral obligation.
Lucy Standing is Vice Chair of the Association for Business Psychology, she runs a social enterprise (ViewVo), and is advisor to Capital Pilot. She is a chartered psychologist by background and has worked in the investment banking and strategy consulting sectors.
How do businesses prepare for uncertainty? If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it is that supply chains can be fragile and that to ride the waves of change and unforeseen events, businesses need to be more agile. But the challenge facing many organisations is where to make the changes and what to prioritise.
The proliferation of data should be a blessing to businesses. It is the raw material for getting insight into personnel and asset performance, processeses, buying habits and other outside factors that could impact the business. But that’s all it is, a raw material. It needs intelligent analytics and modelling to add real value, to understand how it can help organisations work out the possible impact of problems in the supply chain and where automation may or may not help in solving them.
But this is not just about dealing with possible disasters. This is about the ongoing digital trans- formation of supply chains and understanding where and how they can be more effective. Automation is already changing how some people work and, as a result, how some supply chains operate. What this means is that supply chain teams can build a credible plan to add greater value to the business by being more strategic and tactical.
The goal is to create a mature, dynamic supply chain that doesn’t stutter and stumble reacting solely to market and economic bumps in the road. By unifying processes, people and systems of data, it is possible to build a mature and resilient supply chain capable of driving the efficient delivery of products and services.
The key to this is planning. The more data, the more automation, the better the planning and the more agile and efficient the business and its supply chain. It’s about turning available data into information that can enable fast, informed decision making to ensure great outcomes for businesses and their people. And as with any change, it will require diligence, dependability and determination.
In many ways, Covid-19 has been an opportunity for organisations to realise their futures and what it takes to ensure long-term viability. Resilience, in more ways than one, has become the watch- word of 2020 and beyond.
Remote working was the most requested but refused accommodation for disabled people in the workplace before the pandemic. Since COVID-19, however, employers have been forced to adapt. A lot of workplaces went online, leading to a rise in home working and an increase in online recruitment. These new ways of working provide valuable lessons for employers who want to improve their disability inclusion.
In a study we published in January 2020, before the pandemic really hit the UK, we asked disabled people in the legal sector about their experiences in the workplace, and in recruitment. They told us they faced discrimination, bullying, negative attitudes and a poor understanding of disability.
Although it would be easy to assume that remote working and recruiting would automatically reduce these issues, we found in a follow-up survey during July and August 2020 that working from home and applying for jobs online did not necessarily improve all of these challenges.
Although our research focused on the legal profession, our findings and recommendations easily transfer to other professional careers.
Working cultures in the legal sector were rarely disability-friendly before the pandemic, meaning that many with invisible impairments were afraid to tell their employers. Reasonable adjustments are necessary to help disabled workers progress. But our research found that many people had to fight for this support, and any extras they needed.
Disabled lawyers in our study were often prevented from progressing in their careers due to a reluctance to change traditional working practices. Disabled people may need specialist equipment, allocated parking, communication support or flexible working to remove the disadvantage they face at work. Government grants can fund such adjustments, and companies have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments – they cannot turn these requests down without good cause, such as it being detrimental to the business – but what is “reasonable” is a grey area.
So what now for disabled people who are now more likely to be able to work from home?
Firms told us during roundtable discussions, conducted as part of our research, that they were offering all staff the choice of how they split their time between home and the office. We expect “hybrid” working to become the new norm in many organisations, where some staff are in the office and some work remotely. This will present a new set of challenges for employers to address such as access and communication, and how to prevent those who primarily work from home from becoming isolated.
In our follow-up survey of legal professionals, 70% said that they would like to continue working from home in the future. They said they found more opportunities to network, gain knowledge and skills and train when they worked from home. We believe this has been more by chance than by design, but it’s clear that online working presents new opportunities and can work very well for most employees. Firms can now evaluate what works and how this can be improved and built into future workplace strategies.
Disabled people participating in our research reported many problems with recruitment agencies. Some discovered that disclosure of a disability led to their application being filtered out. Those that did make it through to interview found their requests for reasonable adjustments were often not passed on to the right people. They reported turning up to interviews to find the building was inaccessible or requests for other support had not been passed along, which damaged their performance during the interview and arguably disadvantaged them.
We found that online applications and interviews do not necessarily make disabled people’s lives any easier. Many forms or tests are not dyslexia-friendly, nor compatible with screen readers. We found recruiters often assumed that remote platforms used for interviews would automatically increase accessibility and that adjustments were unnecessary.
Our research also found that while the legal profession has invested heavily in training to address unconscious bias in recruitment, we caution against being overoptimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence to eliminate bias. Technological solutions still reflect the values of those who design them and are based on profiles of previous successful candidates.
Trade unions are concerned that AI is being used to evaluate prospective and current employees without their knowledge. In these cases, it’s difficult to know whether it would help or hinder equality. People with sight or hearing impairments, or who are neurodivergent, may respond to questions or engage with technology in a different way. There is a risk that AI could devalue these differences. There are also skills that only a human could recognise, such as the problem-solving skills disabled people have developed from the unique issues they face in their everyday lives.
If the pandemic is going to shift how we work, disabled people need to be closely involved in the development of more inclusive workplaces and recruitment processes that will actually benefit them. This requires employers to be proactive about understanding and addressing barriers for disabled people, to ensure that provisions are considered for future disabled employees that are genuinely inclusive.
What is clear is that working from home was wrongly denied to many who needed it before the pandemic – and only now do we see that it is widely manageable. But assuming it works for every disabled person is a dangerous assumption. What works for one disabled person may not for another, even with the same impairment. Reducing discrimination must come from inclusive conversations that build a fairer future for everyone.