How To Be Ready For The Data Challenges Of Hybrid Work

With vaccine distribution underway, we're now looking ahead to a post-pandemic working reality.

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This spring marks a year since most individuals and businesses shifted wholesale to remote work. With vaccine distribution underway, we're now looking ahead to a post-pandemic working reality. While a handful of organizations have publicly committed to being fully virtual going forward, the vast majority of us will adopt a "hybrid" office model, and for very good reason. Many employees are eager to maintain some of the balance that remote work has provided, and smart employers recognize that providing flexibility will be crucial in business continuity and talent retention moving forward.

Many of the ingredients that helped businesses navigate 2020 set the table for a hybrid work model to succeed. Technical infrastructure is in place to maintain employee productivity while remaining connected to peers. The embrace of data and analytics, which was key to helping businesses anticipate market dynamics and adjust to constant change, can be applied to managing the new workplace dynamics.

Integral to organizations' successful pivot to fully remote work, data provided clarity on what was actually happening. It gave leaders crucial insights that resulted in better, more structured policies. It revealed the customer-support gaps that needed closing and guided IT in delivering solutions that materially improved the employee experience and maintained productivity in unprecedented times.

The benefits of data and analytics were tangible before the pandemic. In a 2020 study that my company conducted with IDC, organizations reported that investments in data management and analytics played a significant role in driving revenue (75%), profit (74%), customer satisfaction and loyalty (75%) — even employee retention (70%). That only grew over the past year. Per McKinsey, digital adoption has taken a "quantum leap" since the pandemic at both the organizational and industry levels.

With so much to gain, leaders need to continue building upon these solid foundations and enable a culture of data-driven decision-making suited for the hybrid workplace. But how can leaders go beyond disseminating data through technology to successfully embedding it throughout the hybrid workforce?

1. Prioritize collaboration, not just communication.

Non-executive employees have been at the center of their organizations’ data-driven decision-making for some time. In a pre-pandemic study from Accenture and my company, as many as 75% of C-level decision makers believed that all or most of their employees can proficiently work with data. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of employees reported using data to make a decision at least once per week.

A hybrid model will require even more collaboration between teams and managers across a mix of physical and digital spaces. They'll be challenged to continue combining their unique insights and experiences in formats that are as flexible as their working lives. That's not as easy to do when people are dispersed and potentially on the move from day-to-day — which will only increase the use of SaaS applications.

CIOs need to include data orchestration in their strategies to avoid creating data islands. They also need to look at ways to ensure that the data from SaaS apps is finding its way into overall decision workstreams. Thankfully, tested technologies, such as intelligent alerting and smart data catalogs, can help bring SaaS app data easily into existing data models and workflows. When purchasing SaaS apps, make sure they can connect through the APIs you need to easily integrate into your existing workflows.

A data workplace strategy that supports collaborative processes will provide employees with the ability to more deeply explore real-time data across their departments and derive value from it in their roles.

2. Facilitate data literacy.

Data and data analytics technologies are constantly evolving. Employees need to evolve with them. Regular and persistent training should be mandated in a data strategy and carefully spelled out in any model of hybrid work.

Data literacy is a set of skills that enable individuals to read, understand, question and argue with data. As technologies change, mechanisms and vocabularies follow. If employees no longer have equivalencies in these skills, then they will be unable to confidently understand and articulate decisions to continue driving new digital revenue. Data literacy is a journey, not a destination, and resources to keep up with the demands can be found in a variety of sources, including multiple options through the Data Literacy Project.

Data literacy is the groundwork for employees to share their knowledge and help the business operate as competitively as possible. To ensure that no one who is "out-of-sight" falls behind, great emphasis should be placed on consistently upskilling across teams and encouraging questions from employees who want to turn data into insight. Consider surveying your employees to get a sense of what data they use and what skills they think are missing in order to design the upskilling needed for your particular organization and to make the training effort more impactful.

3. Center your people in data decision-making.

Even when collaborative methods and data literacy training are in place, leaders still need to reinforce maintaining a data-driven decision-making approach for all employees across the organization. Individuals may fall back on gut instinct, and new employees may bring great experience but also ability gaps. Reinforcement of the importance a data-driven approach requires executives and managers to consistently lead by example.

Every decision an organization makes should be anchored by data. For example, HR leaders can bring together human resource data with the information embedded in communication tools to bring about new strategies —strategies that ease people into the hybrid office model and raise morale. Combining multiple data sets has the potential to provide new comprehensive views of particular departments, employees or the overall workforce for HR professionals. Such analyses can also help managers determine, for example, which employees are best suited to return to the office or alert employees to the latest local information on vaccine distribution. When analytics are applied to talent development more broadly, it becomes much easier to serve the whole team, instead of a visible few.

Demonstrating the organization's commitment to using data and analytics to benefit employees will drive employee engagement and serve as a constant reminder that data has the power to enable transformative change at all levels of business.

How organizations accommodate employees in and out of the office will vary widely. No matter what shape an individual workplace takes, employees will benefit from support, shaped by real-world data, to propel a data-driven culture through collaboration, transparency and data literacy.

For more on this and for the latest trends, visit Qlik’s Executive Insights Center qlik.com/executiveinsights.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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