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CIOs must find the line between employee wellbeing and productivity in the hybrid workplace.
In pre-pandemic times, managers sought to build a team culture with their ever-present office workers. Productivity, collaboration, enthusiasm and team spirit were developed and nurtured over many years, with each new team member gradually brought into the fold.
The advent of coronavirus lockdowns changed all that. Suddenly, the traditional office working model was dropped, with managers scrambling to maintain virtual teams’ rapport, commitment to the cause, productivity and contentedness. For many businesses, that meant having to absorb decades of change almost overnight – and so it was little surprise that many CIOs have since described having to condense multi-year digital transformation initiatives into a matter of months.
Today, most companies have geographically dispersed teams, typically working from home, reliant on cloud computing applications and virtualised desktops, while logging onto Zoom calls (in-between checking their children are completing their schoolwork). Some team members may well still be required to work on-site, numbers which are likely to grow as lockdowns subside and as organisations roll-out new return-to-office policies.
All of this results in an increasingly hybrid workplace, which will challenge managers to maintain team morale, spirit and focus, while at the same time, noticing, understanding and responding to each individual’s needs.
Given the dependence on technology and the new ways of working, CIOs have a vital role to play in establishing a positive hybrid workplace culture. Pre-Covid predictions that CIOs would become as important in culture change as human resource directors are now patently true and those leaders must rise to the occasion – and quickly.
Understanding the challenges
To succeed in the context of the pandemic, CIOs, IT directors and other operational heads need to work closely with HR leaders and chief executives. They should collectively assess workers’ needs, in order to establish an environment in which employees feel heard and where flexible working is empowered.
The ethos being established now will endure: even as some staff return to the office, flexible working is here to stay and many employees will insist on limits to their long-term office presence.
Getting the culture right requires a solid understanding of the new workplace challenges and opportunities. Dell Technologies and VMware’s recent poll of 5,700 decision makers globally highlights some of the most significant barriers to remote work success. Some 62% of decision makers think their teams feel more isolated, and six in 10 feel pressure to be online outside of work hours, particularly younger staff. Clearly, these challenges must be addressed: managers and their teams should be able to communicate well and easily. Time gained without the commute is valuable to employees and business leaders should not assume this is an extra opportunity for task completion.
On the positive side, over two-thirds of respondents to the Dell Technologies and VMware research say team stress levels have been improved by home working, especially where they have children or elderly care responsibilities. Notably, innovation is now coming from more places than ever, with three-quarters of decision makers saying regional teams are better empowered to make decisions. Listening to and experimenting with these strong, dispersed sources of ideas is essential.
Leading culture from the front - and listening
With the challenges and opportunities recognised, CIOs have the opportunity to drive and support effective change. Any workplace transformation must be led from the front, so technology leaders need to demonstrate their own commitment, setting an example of how to work and interact. There will be a great need for personal qualities such as empathy and compassion, as well as an ability to understand what challenges others are experiencing to collaborate on resolutions. Working remotely does not mean staff have become robots awaiting commands: instead the lack of in-person interaction should be addressed with better communication and good listening.
To bring their teams with them, CIOs will need to ensure staff feel a sense of ownership over cultural change, seeing as employees are both the enablers and subjects of any transformation. It is essential to appreciate that cultural change is both a top-down and a bottom-up process. CIOs need to frame the initial discussion and keep it moving, adapting regularly to staff feedback along the way.
As a core part of this, regular use of voice or video calls should become part of company culture (with training and technical assistance available for anyone struggling with the technology). Emails can too easily be misread or misinterpreted, so there is a strong advantage to being accessible via voice or video for more nuanced or sensitive topics.
It is normal for staff to ask for confirmation of priorities as demands change, so managers must be willing to highlight what matters most, providing guidance on competing demands whilst communicating successes and lessons learned. When staff are no longer physically located in corporate premises, these discussions are essential to maintaining the direction of travel. They are also critical to reducing stress levels, a move that can be further supported by enabling access to health and happiness platforms along with encouraging video-based office socials.
Supported by technology
Technology is here to support the desired changes rather than shape their execution. Using collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, CIOs can assist processes and periodically communicate important status updates, while avoiding excessive intrusion into employees' productive time. It is essential that these platforms are used to check in with employees working virtually, in part using built-in anonymous survey functions for honest responses.
By accessing Dell devices and the broader Dell ecosystem of partners, companies are experiencing significant productivity gains. Dell’s Optimizer software is proving essential, applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to dynamically maximise system performance according to usage. Using Dell premium devices boosts productivity and satisfaction levels among members of a remote workforce, as they collaborate reliably, effectively and securely, trying new ideas and developing concepts iteratively, resetting how innovation is nurtured and catalysed.
In the current climate, careful technological selection is essential to supporting workplaces’ rapidly changing cultures. Businesses need smart underlying hardware, platforms and applications in place to ensure staff can operate productively, securely and happily. Many firms are working with Dell and VMware as end-to-end partners to enable this hybrid workplace, covering all aspects from smart laptop provision and virtualisation, to remote work and cloud management. The result is easy deployment, robust connections, and seamless and secure processes for even the most globally dispersed workforces.
To find out more about maximising the hybrid workplace, download the distributed workforce report.
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