Best Practice

Flexibility makes companies resilient

25.02.2021

Many companies are asking themselves how their collaboration, work processes and workflows must be designed so they are better prepared for the next changes and crises. The digital workplace, which offers maximum flexibility, scalability and individual freedom, is a must-have for companies that wants to remain viable in the future. At the same time, a few key points must be observed during the set-up of digital workplaces. 

The introduction of remote access and digital communication tools is complete. But the conversion had to be done quickly, which means that it was not always well thought-out or planned. Therefore, many companies are realizing that by themselves, tools for the Digital Workplace (DWP) are not enough to increase resilience and productivity. Rather, internal information flows as well as work and IT processes must also be adjusted. The resulting transformation, which also includes the company's culture, requires some time. Yet it is the only way in which companies will be able to better manage sudden changes or crisis situations in the future. 

Challenges for flexible work

The ability to work independent of time limits and location significantly increases flexibility. Having said that, it is difficult to achieve broad acceptance for the concept of the home office. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that many people switched to working from home in response to government orders, and that number of people doing so also fluctuates widely. According to a study by the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, the share of home office workers increased from 4 to 27 percent during the first lock-down. By the end of 2020, during lock-down ‘light’, this value declined to 14 percent in some cases. Following the home office order, the share returned to 24 percent by the end of January 2021.

Given these big fluctuations, it becomes clear that numerous hurdles must still be overcome when it comes to the practical implementation of the Digital Workplace: 

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For companies
  • There is no DWP strategy, or the existing strategy does not meet the new requirements. 
  • The existing IT infrastructure does not accommodate the use of Cloud services to warrant IT resilience. 
  • Steadily growing compliance requirements (e.g. GDPR or the Law on the Protection of Trade Secrets) must be satisfied at all work locations.
  • Increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks create the need for appropriate protection measures. 
  • Employees must be provided with modern mobile devices. 
  • Business and decision-making processes must be designed to allow for remote use. 
  • Managers must learn and accept new organizational forms for team management. 
  • Office and workplace concepts must be adjusted e.g. because fewer permanent work stations are required. 
For employees
  • Not everyone is able to meet the requirements, e.g. fast Internet connection or high-quality video/audio hardware for on-line meetings. 
  • Employees working outside of the office must have sufficient knowledge of the tools and must be able to solve problems mostly on their own.
  • Compliance must be warranted in all areas, particularly security and data privacy. 
  • Achieving the right work-life balance requires a lot of self-discipline, as the boundaries between work and the private sphere become increasingly blurred. 
  • Effective and pleasant work requires skills such as self-organization, decision-making ability and independence. 
  • Informal communication channels in the office are no longer available and must be enabled virtually. 

In light of these challenges, it is not surprising that many employees and managers yearn for a physical presence in the office. However, a word of caution: Old structures and ways of thinking do not lead to viable solutions. Therefore, companies and employees should tackle the challenges jointly and find the best solution. For example, assistance and coaching services can be developed depending on the personal need. They range from workplace design and daily scheduling to training sessions as well as informal virtual “coffee breaks”. When employees and companies are comfortable with change, they are able to respond with greater flexibility and strengthen resilience. 

The toolbox for increased resilience

While many have become accustomed to working from home, many companies have only made it half way towards the concept of truly flexible work. The Digital Workplace is a key factor in this regard. To become resistant to future crises, companies must continue on this path, even if it means doing away with the ad-hoc emergency measures that were implemented during the coronavirus period.  

Technology and organizational measures can easily be combined, e.g. with Microsoft 365: 

This includes the introduction of Microsoft Teams and providing employees with headsets and cameras.
The Intranet based on SharePoint Online functions as the main employee portal. Company meetings can be organized as MS Teams Live Events. Frontline Workers can be included in communication channels using the MS Teams App and Microsoft Viva Connections.
Ad-hoc remote solutions from the start of the coronavirus period are gradually replaced with zero-trust approaches based on expanded identity administration (Enhanced Identity Governance). In this context, documents must be protected against data theft over their entire life cycle (Data Leak Protection).
Cloud services are changing all the time. Therefore, IT and end users must be ready for changes and updates at all times. It is the only way to prevent the loss of Cloud services and higher support volumes due to incorrect use by end users.
Companies can offer customized learning options with the help of SharePoint Online and MS Teams Stream. Management should actively promote the willingness to change and flexibility among managers and employers. This strengthens professional conduct with regard to mindfulness and responsibility (Code of Conduct). Automated services (e.g. MyAnalytics, Viva Insights or social MS Teams match bots) can be used to increase well-being.

On the way towards more resilience, there is one thing that companies should not do, however, and that is trying to do everything at once. Opening up too many construction sites at once is a recipe for getting bogged down in different projects and not making any progress. Those involved in the process can also become overwhelmed, and they may become tired or resistant to change.

In addition, companies cannot approach the development of resilience as a purely IT-related endeavor. Management, departments, HR, corporate development and communication must also become involved, because the right mindset and the required skills are not developed as an aside, but rather as an overall project that encompasses the entire company. A gradual approach is essential to avoid overwhelming the organization. This requires a road map that is a good fit with the organization.

Conclusion

To increase resilience, the work done in the companies must become not just mobile but also flexible. The Digital Workplace represents the main basis in this context. The simple “activation” of DWP tools is counter-productive in the medium and long term, however. The implementation must be strategically planned and supplemented with the appropriate organizational processes. They include modern corporate communications, a modern security culture and security architecture, and increased employee agility. The first step requires an assessment with a gap analysis and the development of a matching Cloud IT strategy. After that, companies can start to design organizational, IT or compliance resilience in a way that is specific to the DWP.  

Authors

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Manager Collaboration & Unified Communication

Marco Heid

Marco Heid

Manager Collaboration