The new workplace has frictionless productivity

Digital disruption is affecting us all, driven by the pace of advances in consumer devices and it means every business must transform its workplace technology. When organisations get transformation right, the benefits are huge, including increased productivity, improved employee satisfaction and more profit.

Yet many businesses struggle. Every company knows that products and services will not sell if the customer’s needs are misunderstood. This same concept must be applied when introducing technology into the workplace and all too often the customer, in this case the employee, is ignored; their needs and drivers are not understood, and change is forced upon them.

The predictable result is low adoption rates, reputational damage to IT and employee frustration. In this fast-paced world, IT needs to be driving value back into the business, innovating and enabling employees to work without barriers.

The first step to improving workplace tech is an examination of what users actually need. “Often we find the biggest challenges users face are simple daily tasks, like securely sharing files and working efficiently in teams,” says Peter Mansell, director of intelligent workplace at HPE, which helps companies improve in this area.

“A lot of firms have multiple conflicting tool sets that their staff don’t use or don’t understand. This is a big problem because staff are choosing other systems that are not safe or secure.”

During interviews and workshops to find out what staff need, people complain that it is hard to find information and share it securely, Mr Mansell notes. Often, even if the right tools are in place, they are not used properly due to poor employee engagement.

In any major change, working closely with people and hearing their needs is essential. One of HPE’s most successful recent projects won HSBC the strategic transformation prize at The Banker Technology Projects of the Year Awards 2017. According to The Banker: “The scale, depth and breadth of HSBC’s strategic transformation programme were the reason it took home the award. The UK bank’s Mercury project aimed to deliver a set of innovative technology tools and capabilities to transform how 235,000 employees connect, communicate and collaborate in 4,000 offices around the world.”

Given that companies’ most significant ongoing investment will be their staff, unlocking the ability to work is essential. The goal is frictionless productivity, so employees are able to work through daily tasks without technology blocking the way.

Frictionless productivity also offers organisations the ability to attract and retain talent. “Companies have to look at the whole digital and physical picture of the workplace. They can have the most beautiful, airy and open environment, but without the right tools for staff, which are simple and mirror their intuitive consumer experience, the job will become painful, and it quickly becomes hard to retain staff,” says Mr Mansell.

A practical example of frictionless productivity includes a mobile sales executive, who is out most of the day meeting clients. That person may need to dial into a conference call from their car or look up prospect information when arriving at their destination. During the meeting, they will need to show information on-screen and later they may log in from a coffee shop to update colleagues. Technology needs to enable these functions so the sales executive can spend the maximum amount of time with customers.

Two forms of technology can aid companies in their change. Firstly, cloud-based environments such as Microsoft Office 365 give firms the ability to innovate regularly and have up-to-date, smart apps without the burden of managing complex infrastructure.

Then there is the increasingly common adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) bots, which can enable staff to complete repetitive tasks, across multiple systems, from a single chat application.

Mr Mansell explains: “Built on frameworks, AI can help with these daily tasks, ranging from booking meetings and looking up addresses, to querying purchase orders. Businesses can even draw out the right information from customer relationship management systems to see the status of a customer or project and update people about transport issues as they travel to meetings.”

None of this can work without executive buy-in. “Unless leaders believe that these changes are a force for good, then it will be challenging to succeed,” says Mr Mansell. “But in a culture where there is the ambition to learn from mistakes and constantly improve, there is strong benefit.”

It’s not just a fast chip that makes the tech work, it’s a culture of adoption that makes the change work

Employee engagement is essential because, while deploying technology is relatively methodical, making sure people use it is harder. As Cushing Anderson, a programme vice president at analyst house IDC, explains: “It’s not just a fast chip that makes the tech work, it’s a culture of adoption that makes the change work.”

Highlighting the culture required, he adds: “Using a project management methodology has about a 60 per cent chance of meeting expectations, whereas not using it has about a 50 per cent chance of meeting expectations. Combining project management methodology with a strong management of change culture increases success to 70 per cent.”

It is important to understand the different styles people have and how they develop. Some like to learn with videos, others via communities on the intranet, some like support groups and others prefer to talk on the phone. Businesses need to be prepared to provide support as needed.

As employees see the changes bringing about frictionless productivity, there is the potential for broader improvement. While companies will always face some resistance to change, Hannah Moyo, education and change management lead at HPE, notes: “Once a number of different people are visibly benefiting, the fear of missing out is a very powerful motivator in other peoples’ eyes.”

Ms Moyo adds: “We are firm believers that stories from real-life business users are the most powerful tool you have to increase adoption. Once you have some successes, perhaps a team has reduced its costs or another has automated a manual process, you can learn how they did it and create a productivity-win story. These success stories are surprisingly powerful in encouraging effective change.”

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