Chris Ibbitson, Chief Technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise shares his insights into the changing office culture and the role flexibility plays in enabling businesses to meet any eventualities
As lockdown and tiered restrictions continue to shift in response to the global pandemic, the UK remains in a particularly disruptive period. This uncertainly continues to impact businesses, who must be quick at adjusting working environments to ensure employees feel safe, empowered and supported, while enabling business productivity at the same time. The positive news of a vaccine rollout in 2021 has also brought into sharp focus the need for businesses to prepare for a slow, but steady, adjustment to the new working world. The question is how can businesses prepare to meet the demands of their workers, but also in the longer term?
Highlighting a significant shift in employees’ demands, a recent study found that only 7% of British workers want to return to the office full time after all restrictions are lifted, while a separate research showed that many expect permanent flexible working options post-pandemic. The office environment will likely never again be quite the same. Fewer workers will return permanently to full-time office work, and more will keep working from home or any place which their technology allows them to, going to an office when they need to collaborate. This approach is known as hybrid working.
This shift in employee demands and preferences has brought about the need for flexibility across an organisations’ operations like never before. Businesses still have a long way to go in battling through the pandemic and must ensure employees have both the cultural and technical support needed during the pandemic, but also in the future once it subsides.
Learning from what we already know
At the very beginning of the pandemic, businesses were ‘all in it together. Every organisation, regardless of industry or size, had to prioritise finding the right solutions to enable their entire workforce to work remotely. Many businesses then found their own way to quickly shift operations to support immediate demands and managed to overcome this hurdle in the first few months. Yet, as demands have shifted, organisations now need to ensure that a strategy they foresaw may be in place for a few months, needs to ensure longevity. Remote solutions need to provide long-term reliability as opposed to a short-term fix, so businesses can continue to operate efficiently and in the most productive way. With more than 90% of the British workforce showing a desire to work at home, it is vital that leaders assess their technological strategy and ensure it is fit to provide a permanent support.
Technology has already played a key role in helping make the shift to a fully remote workforce safer and efficient. This is especially challenging for smaller businesses who have less time and resource to be able to plan ahead and put robust IT infrastructure in place. We’ve been working with our channel partners to offer our expertise and tailoring strategies for SMEs that help them better implement remote working systems. Through partners, we can leverage the technology we offer and apply these to SMEs to answer their challenges ‘ which has been an essential step in adapting to remote working. For instance, when reassessing a technology strategy, companies should consider their remote access solutions and security offerings as a key focus. Ensuring your company’s remote access (typically virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure) can handle a high number of users at the same time will continue to be crucial as more workers look to stay working at home. In combination with VPN accessibility, ensuring a secure system is a key part of a firm’s operational resilience – during a time when organisations are stretched for money and resources and business uncertainty is high, vulnerabilities can surface quickly.
By prioritising these technical challenges as we head into a permanent hybrid working revolution, businesses can not only secure their operations and support their staff ‘ but they can also instil the sense of confidence needed by employees to continue working effectively at home.
Maintaining a strong company culture remotely
A major challenge for businesses ‘ large and small ‘ as part of the remote working shift is maintaining the company’s culture, whilst still following lockdown and social distancing guidelines. Feeling a sense of belonging and satisfaction from communicating with peers are some of the key factors contributing to why people choose to work for certain businesses. So how can businesses recreate a strong company culture remotely?
Even before COVID, at Hewlett Packard Enterprise we recognised that there is a need of a greater shift that places people, flexibility and collaboration the at centre of what we once knew as the office space, rather than being hamstrung by assets, such as buildings and facilities. The pandemic completely changed the role team member experience plays in safeguarding company culture beyond the physical space. In order to tackle this, we implemented a new edge-to-office initiative at HPE, led by a cross-functional working group. The aim is to draw on the expertise of leaders from every function of the business that impacts the team member experience: real estate workplace services, HR, communications, IT and others. Doing this allows us to have an overview of employees demands across different divisions, but also understand the type of initiatives can enhance their remote working experience ‘ being a virtual social event, networking opportunities, volunteering or coffee mornings.
This transition of focus from providing team experiences that are only available at physical office spaces, to enabling a more hybrid working culture is a trend I believe will become mainstream.
Enabling a hybrid working future
There is no one size fits all answer to how best to how businesses of all sizes and sectors can adapt during these disruptive times, but one thing is for sure ‘ they must be ready to meet any eventualities. By adapting a hybrid working approach now, businesses can empower both ‘ those who may wish to continue working from home and those wanting to return to the office when possible.
Now, it is more important than ever that businesses act strategically ‘ and think of the way that this hybrid working cultural shift will impact them in the future. It’s about selecting the best partner that can help them reimagine their business and technology to be more flexible, and allow them to meet any eventualities, while maintaining their focus on culture, wellness, and innovation.