How data can help overcome the challenges of hybrid working [Q&A]

Of the many challenges thrown up by the pandemic, the switch to remote working has perhaps been one of the most significant.

How have organizations coped with this change, what will the long term effects be and what’s the role of data in making hybrid work possible? We spoke to Mark Devereux, CTPO of Scalable Software, to find out.

BN: How have workplaces changed so far, and where is the future of work heading?

MD: The past two and a half years have seen a major shift towards more flexible working models, where employees modify their location and hours to whatever suits them best. Organizations have learnt that where and when work gets done isn’t as important as ensuring that employees have choice. Our research found that 42 percent of hybrid workers said the model had given them a better work-life balance, and a third said it had made them more productive. This change was happening already but the pandemic has accelerated the shift.

It’s important to remember this transition is underpinned by technology that allows employees to move seamlessly between work and home. With this in mind, digital transformation will remain a priority as organizations continue to refine their working models, with some organizations even letting employees work abroad on digital nomad visas, embracing the four-day week, and allowing employees to set their own hours.

However, organizations now also need to shift their focus towards making sure the workplaces they have created — both virtual and physical — are the best they can be. Forrester has branded 2022 the year employers were forced to care about employee experience — so this cannot be ignored anymore.

BN: What are some of the challenges facing IT teams now workforces have become more distributed?

MD: Now workforces are distributed, the major challenge facing IT is how to balance acquiring the right tools to ensure productivity and continue driving innovation, while keeping costs down. Organizations spent hard and fast during the pandemic to get employees set up to work from home. Spending on enterprise software soared to $605 billion during 2021, as organizations scrambled to procure all the tools they would need to foster effective communication and keep teams working when the office was no longer the hub. As these temporary changes become permanent, technology needs to be rationalized to drive the adoption of corporate standard tools, improve digital experience, and bring spending back to a sustainable level.

However, identifying who is using which software, and how much it is being used is another challenge. For example, some teams might be using the corporate chosen application Microsoft Teams, while others are still using Slack — causing communication snafus and barriers. With little centralized oversight from IT, other teams might even be downloading their own tools, leading to further category sprawl that derails IT’s digital transformation strategy and increases sped. Another issue is identifying which software is unused completely and where licenses are being over-purchased. Bad habits like leaving an app open overnight can skew usage figures and consume licenses more quickly, making IT purchase a bigger subscription than they actually need. Costs mount especially when this happens for specialized, high-value software, such as those applications commonly used in engineering or manufacturing.

To combat all these visibility challenges, IT needs access to the right data about software and hardware usage across their entire organization. This will allow them to assess the current usage of their assets rather than relying on inaccurate historical data, and instead make smart decisions about where to rationalize.

BN: What is ‘digital friction’ and how is it impacting employee experience?

MD: In a nutshell, digital friction is any unnecessary effort expended with technology in the pursuit of an outcome. It’s anything that inhibits an employee’s productivity, and makes it difficult for them to do their jobs effectively. No doubt that whilst working from home, many of us have fallen victim to non-performant devices making us late, convoluted processes that require us switching applications, or simply not knowing how to use the latest version of available software. For businesses, such issues diminish productivity and even cost extra money. When small inefficiencies are multiplied across thousands of workers, this can add up to many hours of work wasted that could have been spent on higher-value tasks.

But the more major impact of digital friction is on employee experience. Firstly, because it leads to frustration. Our research found that 30 percent of hybrid employees said poor digital experience had made them want to leave a job. This is concerning amid ‘The Great Resignation,’ and organizations should consider how digital friction may be impacting their talent pool. Additionally, leaving digital friction unchecked can lead to employees normalizing unproductive processes. If users have been doing a process for an extended period it becomes semi-automatic and they stop thinking of it as inefficient.

That’s why to stay competitive in today’s market, IT leaders need objective, data-driven insights into where digital friction exists in their systems, and how to eliminate it. Having these insights on a centralized platform is even better since it will enable IT to present these findings back to employees and other areas of the business to further drive digital transformation.

BN: Outside of IT, how can analytics help other teams better support remote employees?

MD: Having depth of data on your employees’ working patterns can help spot signs of burnout, which is useful for people management teams as well as IT. We found almost a third of employees said hybrid working had resulted in them working longer hours, while 24 percent said it increased their stress levels. However, it isn’t as simple as just looking at the number of hours worked by an individual, since this ‘presenteeism’ mindset can be damaging to employee morale. It also doesn’t account for those who might take extended breaks to pick up kids, walk the dog or go to the gym. There is significant difference between someone who started at 8am and finished at 8pm, but who only actually worked eight hours throughout the day due to long breaks, and someone that has worked flat-out for all 12 of those hours.

To combat burnout and better support employees, organizations need the full context on how their employees work. Analytics can provide a new dimension to help understand staff output and effectiveness, based on numerous metrics. It can flag when employees suddenly stop communicating as much, suggesting isolation, or where their behaviors indicate training needs, as well as where there might be technical issues as discussed already. This blends technology with human empathy, so organizations can get a true understanding of employee well-being, and better enable success.

Finally, we’re working on some exciting new capabilities at Scalable in relational analytics that will allow organizations to evaluate the relationships employees have –within their team, their department, or across the whole office — and link this to their workplace performance. This will prove valuable to all lines of business, including people management teams, who will be able to track relational KPIs and identify opportunities for improving inclusion and cohesion across their workforce.

Photo Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Author: Martha Meyer