Technology was previously one element of enabling business and employee productivity. Now it is the driving force for both.
“As the pandemic has worn on and companies have looked at how to get out of emergency mode, the technology has taken on even more significance,” says Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix, a San Jose, CA cloud computing company whose charter is serving the digital workplace.
Indeed, as enterprises are ripping out cubicles and redesigning empty physical workspaces for new uses more suited for the increasingly hybrid and digital era, “CIOs are going to have to throw away antiquated ways of thinking about where, when, and how employees work and instrument the workplace to enable a dynamic flow between home and office so that the boundaries are more fluid,” says Amy Loomis, director of the Future of Work at research firm IDC.
“What’s new is we’re collapsing between the physical and digital worlds,” Loomis points out.
At the outset of the pandemic, CIOs across industries worked tirelessly to ensure that at-home employees’ PCs were properly configured with video collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, Zoom, and Slack.
Today, those vendors are ramping up their platforms to meet new requirements.
Slack, for instance, is enhancing its collaboration platform with new tools for asynchronous and multimode work and incorporating a Slack Connect option that allows enterprise customers to incorporate external business partners in collaborative projects, executives say.
At the same time, the technologies supporting hybrid work extend far beyond collaboration tools, as hybrid takes different forms across different types of enterprises. Nutanix’s Pfeiffer maintains the top three technologies enabling hybrid work are collaboration tools, automation and machine learning, and the cloud.
At specialty truck manufacturer Oshkosh Corp., for example, “hybrid” is less about in-office/out-of-office and more about human + machine.
To that end, Oshkosh is focusing on “human labor automation through robotic process automation” in its “supply chain, finance, treasury and sales activities,” says SVP & CIO Anupam Khare.
They are also deploying augmented reality/virtual reality technologies for onboarding employees, digital simulations, and multiple digital manufacturing innovations in order to raise the productivity on the shop floor. For instance, the company is building an IoT edge computing architecture which can enable predictive maintenance and digital twin manufacturing capability when used with analytics, Khare says.
Setting the strategy
Tata Consultancy Services CIO Abhijit Mazumder has developed a long-term hybrid workforce strategy called “25 by 25,” referring to corporate projections that only roughly 25% of its employees will work out of Tata facilities by 2025.
The emphasis going forward is creating both hybrid and flexible work models, changing the employee experience, enabling cross domain/departmental collaboration, and for those returning to the office, continuous risk monitoring, Mazumder says.
To accommodate “25 by 25,” TCS is moving to a 100% multicloud environment, developing applications for hybrid and flexible work environments, deploying AI software for business continuity, investing in advanced collaboration tools for creative brainstorming, using advanced decision intelligence analytics, and implementing zero trust security as well as composable applications leveraging API management, events and streams processing, Mazumder told CIO in an e-mail.
Making the culture connection
In addition to the technology challenges posed by the hybrid work transformations, CIOs must also support an evolving hybrid workforce that requires more education and training.
Many enterprises remain more than adequately equipped to enable remote work but initiating a “laser-like focus on promoting workforce digital dexterity is a critical CxO initiative in 2022,” says Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst.
Amir Arooni, CIO at Discover, says one major challenge is to ensure there is inclusion for each employee as there is an “inherent” risk of a disconnect between in-office employees and remote workers. There is also an increased risk of burnout for fully remote employees who work longer hours, and of colleagues or management missing the signs of burnout that are less visible when remote,” he says.
“From the employer perspective, there is a risk of micromanagement as some of the managers cannot see their teams and have not yet mastered outcome measurements,” Arooni adds.
“It will also take intentional effort to build equitable and inclusive cultures that do not favor in-house employees over remote ones and where all employees have access to the right tools and technologies to do their jobs,” he says.
“CIOs can take the lead, but to create a true culture of workforce digital dexterity, the initiative must be a shared responsibility across all executive leadership and it must take a human-centric approach to digital enablement,” Cain says. “The continuing challenge is to ensure that employees are incented and able to effectively exploit the rich set of SaaS-based team and personal productivity applications available to them, and that employees see the benefits of continuing to grow their competencies with these tools.”
“Assuming we are still in hybrid work going forward, CIOs need to be the experts in making it work, whether in-office or remote with consumer and enterprise technology,” Nutanix’s Pfeiffer says. “The CIO must be the expert at the table and build the hybrid operating model.”