Maintaining Transformation Momentum with Remote Work

New Reality: A More Digitally Connected World

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to reexamine their IT priorities, but many digital transformation initiatives underway before the crisis have become more pressing than ever.

Nowhere is this more true than for remote working, a trend that will continue after the crisis has eased. Shifting more work off-site not only improves agility and flexibility—a key transformation initiative—it will also help organizations reduce their costs at a critical time.

“The new reality is that over the next couple of years, we’re going to be living in a world that’s more digitally connected than ever,” said Steve Bates, Global Leader of KPMG’s CIO Center of Excellence. “Both employees and customers now expect a seamless experience across platforms. To achieve it, organizations will need to build a highly connected, digitally-enabled architecture linking the front, middle and back offices.”

Providing the Right Tools

Before investing in tools for remote work at scale, enterprises need to envision what their future workplace will look like. In a Gartner survey, nearly three-quarters of finance executives said they plan to move at least 5% of their on-site workforce to permanently remote positions after the crisis.

For most, however, work will become a hybrid experience, with flexible scheduling that allows for more off-site work but also on-site face time with teammates.

Remote workers first and foremost will need reliable high-speed connectivity. A large gap exists between those who have it and those who don’t. While largely a municipal and ISP issue, IT can help by supporting higher speed plans, providing signal boosters, mesh networks, and high-speed routers and modems where needed.

Low-latency apps may not be suitable for remote work.  “While this could often be traced to poor network architecture, the application itself, especially legacy builds, should be reviewed and if appropriate re-platformed, refactored, or replaced with SaaS applications,” Bates said. Reducing lag time and moving to a more modern, user-friendly interface will also increase employee satisfaction and boost productivity.

The explosion in remote work has generated an exponential increase in contact center calls from employees needing help with technology. IT departments were unprepared to handle the spike in volume, leading to long waits, frustration, and inefficiency.

“To solve these problems, enterprises have accelerated their timelines for rolling out automation and self-service tools from an average of three years to just one,” said Bates.  The highest priority is interactive AI powered bots and the application of machine learning that leverage data from the user’s previous interactions and preferences to reduce contact time and increase user satisfaction.

Reducing Costs

A typical company can save $11,000 a year for every person who works remotely just half of the time, according to a recent Global Workplace Analytics study. COVID-driven work-from-home initiatives are collectively saving U.S. employers more than $30 billion a day, the organization found. 

Much of the savings comes from real estate costs, and other reductions come from moving to the cloud. Exchanging high-maintenance legacy IT for cloud-based applications eliminates high fixed costs and replaces them with variable costs in sync with actual use. Over time, the cost of ownership declines.

Companies can increase efficiency with application rationalization and data re-architecting to provide interoperability—a critical goal when employees are using a host of remote devices. “Interoperability has got to be front and center for CIOs. The challenge will be getting agreement to drive standardization,” Bates said.

Though not easy lifts, rationalization and rearchitecting will eliminate silos and duplication, enhancing collaboration and productivity to make the whole organization function more smoothly.

Cultural Considerations

Managing a distributed, virtual workforce does require extra effort to stay connected. Organizations should double down on communications, providing more frequent messaging in smaller, digestible chunks. Neglecting this simple but essential step can lead to worker detachment, burnout and erosion of the culture organizations have worked so hard to build. “While employees are more virtually connected than ever, we are seeing the actual time for problem-solving and deep cognitive work declining” says Bates.  Managers need to recognize that ways or working need to adjust beyond simply implementing video conferencing and collaboration tools.

Even in a remote scenario, today’s culture thrives on collaboration and shared outcomes. That means performance evaluations must be reframed. “Projects, especially in IT, will be measured less on individual contributions and more on team goals,” Bates said.

The COVID-driven move to remote work has proven to companies that they can accomplish digital transformation goals faster than they thought possible. With this experience under their belts, they are likely to accelerate the shift to a digitally-driven business model that extends throughout the organization.

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