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Journey to recovery: How to succeed in this new normal

By Carol Zichi 

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Published by IBM

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Our new normal has demanded new ways of working. The pandemic and mandatory lockdowns have left organizations little choice but to create a short-term strategy to allow tens of millions of employees to work from home. Like many, I assumed the disruption would last only a few months. But eight months later, it’s clear businesses need to move beyond survival mode and figure out how to grow their business in this new world.

The remote workforce is here to stay

IBM conducted a survey of 25,000 people to gauge how perspectives about work have changed since the outbreak of the coronavirus. A full 54% of adults said they want to work remotely most of the time after the pandemic for reasons that include increased job satisfaction, improved work-life balance and reduced costs associated with housing and transportation.

Employers also have good reasons for considering a longer-term remote workplace strategy; chief among them are cost savings associated with leasing and maintaining office space. This forced test run to support remote workers has also changed the minds of many leaders that feared working from home would lead to low employee productivity. A survey conducted by Global Workplace Analytics shows that 77% of workers said they’re fully productive at home, and that managers are largely satisfied with their employees’ work performance.

With 25% to 30% of the workforce expected to be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021, businesses need to devise a long-term strategy that embraces the remote workforce as a critical component for creating long-term opportunity and growth.

Recovery will come in phases

Current economic models suggest growth will reach pre-pandemic (>2%) levels in 2021. Recovery will continue to happen in phases. Thankfully, we’ve already emerged from the survival mode of phase one. Today, in phase two, businesses are beginning to stabilize, and they now have the time and focus to better adapt to supporting their new remote workforces.

In phase three, the momentum will pick back up as businesses begin moving beyond reactively adapting to their circumstances. They will start implementing strategies and technologies so they can innovate again and create plans to truly empower their remote workforces. Phase four will signal recovery as innovation leads to acceleration. Businesses will find their stride, no longer focused on simply improving the digital workplace, but fully optimizing it to drive business outcomes, including faster results, reduced costs and increased productivity.

Critical business imperatives for recovery

Remote working requires a culture change across an organization. Workers’ elationship with technology has rapidly changed, requiring them to be more independent and adapt to new self-service models. Business priorities should now be aligned with creating an intelligent, continuously optimized digital workplace that empowers remote workers with the ideal experience they need to produce the ideal outcome. By 2023, industry analyst IDC predicts that 60% of Forbes Global 2000 companies will use artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots and digital assistants to measure key behavioral indicators to drive agility, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.

Empowering and optimizing a digital workforce with fast, easy and secure access to the right information, people, resources and answers requires:

  • Collaboration
  • User experience
  • Hybrid cloud adoption

As organizations establish their long-term plans to support a remote workforce, they should take into consideration these three business imperatives.

Collaboration: E-mail and phone calls are no longer enough to keep employees connected and productive. Organizations need a reliable collaboration strategy that also includes rich presence, instant messaging, web conferencing, online events and education and more. However, companies run the risk of incurring significant hidden costs if their collaboration suite is not managed properly. As workers transform their homes into remote work spaces, they will need the proper technology and tools to perform their jobs, including computers, phones, internet connections, monitors and keyboards. Along with a collaboration strategy, an organization’s HR department should create a work-from-home policy so that employees understand what the company will provide, what can be expensed and what costs the worker will be expected to incur.

User experience: To maintain productivity, remote workers need 24×7 access to global end user support that offers multiple service options for any user and device, no matter their location.The use of analytics will be the key to gaining a deep understanding of the current user experience, and cognitive/AI and automation will enable IT to deliver a proactive, personalized and continuously optimized user experience. For example, AI-powered service desks can field thousands of calls per month with virtual agents; bots, virtual assistants and virtual services can automate routine and administrative tasks. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2020, more than half of medium to large enterprises will have deployed product chatbots; and by 2021, 25% of digital workers will use virtual employee assistants daily.

Hybrid cloud adoption: A hybrid cloud strategy gives organizations the flexibility, scalability and agility required to support a global remote workforce with the right tools, solutions and services they need to be successful and drive business outcomes. Instead of building more data centers and hiring additional IT professionals, hybrid cloud allows organizations to service many more users, no matter where they’re located. With the ability to quickly roll out new features, applications and services across their entire workforce, organizations can respond faster to market and business needs and leverage AI and cognitive technologies to drive continuous optimization and automation across the business.

Finally, security is critical to maintaining business continuity for a remote workforce. Organizations will need to secure the network, infrastructure, all endpoints, devices and much more in order to protect users, customers and the organization. With hybrid cloud, organizations can help drive consistent security with the ability to apply, manage and enforce their security policies across the entire workforce, no matter the device, channel or location.

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