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What next for the future of remote working?

12 Jul 2021
Image-Vinod-Kumar

Vinod Kumar

CEO, Vodafone Business

Whatever the future looks like post pandemic, for organisations, the meaning ‘business as usual’ has changed.

The measures taken to adapt the workplace and general work practices during COVID-19 aren’t just a stopgap to get us through the crisis. What’s happening today is setting the foundation for the future of work - something that has been a hot topic in my regular meetings with customers.

Talking with these businesses of all sizes from a range of industries, the consensus is that more work can be done remotely, especially now the initial connectivity investments have been made. Yet, while remote working has been a lifeline for many businesses over the past year, for some industries such as healthcare, it simply hasn’t been possible.

Looking ahead, we need to consider the needs of employees and their desire to continue working from home or returning to the office.

Personally, I cannot wait to get back to the office for a few days each week and interact with colleagues and customers in person. But I know not everyone will feel the same - we have all had different experiences and there are many contributing factors that lie outside of work that will impact our preferences moving forward.

As businesses, we need to adapt and help our employees do the same, creating more flexible, hybrid models that work for everyone.

Moving to a hybrid model

The percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021, according to a survey from Enterprise Technology Research (ETR). Another recent Gartner CFO survey revealed that over two-thirds (74%) plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the COVID-19 crisis ends.

It’s important to understand that remote working is more than providing employees with mobile devices and access to the corporate network. To sustain this long-term, companies need to figure out which employees should come into the office and how often.

This should be an open conversation between employer and employees, with both being flexible in their policies and expectations.

Done correctly, I see this as an opportunity to build a trusting and empowering relationship between employer and employees, as well as a chance to create healthier lifestyles moving forward. Ones that could in turn lead to longer working careers, important in countries with an ageing population, or lessen our impact on the planet thanks to reduced commutes and in-person meetings.

At Vodafone, our roles vary hugely, from those working in our call centres and stores through to our engineers in the field and those in our head offices, so one size won’t fit all.

There cannot be a set formula or ratio but there can be a broad target. At Vodafone Business, we’re working with our teams to agree what this will look like for us. The key is to build in flexibility, so it can be adapted for individual or team’s needs, but it must be a give and take, trust-based arrangement.

That’s why it’s going to be important to develop new and comprehensive policies with the relevant teams internally, such as HR, IT and finance. And then also in partnership with our colleagues to set boundaries, create flexible working hours and de-centralise decision-making.

What works now might not work in another two years, or two months even. Times change, markets evolve, and people’s circumstances differ. The conversation has to be honest and ongoing if businesses are going to make this work for everyone.

Working on wellness

A large part of this conversation will be around employee wellness.

Highlighted in our recent report on becoming future ready, 90% of businesses we spoke to said that they took some form of action to give their employees extra support during the pandemic. And this isn’t going to fade away once the pandemic has passed as 77% of businesses now see promoting employee wellness and mental health as important.

During the crisis, work and personal lives blurred with many juggling family and work priorities. We introduced health programmes and mental wellbeing initiatives, as well as practical tools to help our colleagues manage their workloads effectively.

One simple change was reducing 30-minute meeting slots to 20 in our system, to ensure they were focused and allowed for a gap between meetings. In addition, we blocked out lunch in everybody’s calendars and made meeting-free zones so that people had time to attend to other priorities such as childcare.

Not a lift and shift approach to flexible working

As businesses look to adopt remote working long-term, we have to be careful not to simply replicate the office infrastructure in a digital environment.

Meetings are a key inefficiency of “traditional” working that can be easily replicated digitally through video conferencing, for example, rather than using the best communication channel for the situation.

Leaders must decide how to interact with remote employees effectively, without undermining productivity.

We’ve successfully rolled out artificial intelligence software programmes that use machine learning to crunch data and deliver personalised behavioural tips. Helping our teams to work more effectively, it is also helping inform our return to the office.

Going forward, we will provide greater flexibility, removing location where we can as a role requirement, making greater use of better digital tools to support both in-person and virtual collaboration and innovation, and creatively evolving our office space to support these ways of working.

We are just at the beginning of creating our framework that focuses on three key areas: employee experience, investing in skills development and talent, and expediting our own digital transformation.

The changing workplace

Research amongst our colleagues has shown that more than 80% have been satisfied or very satisfied with working from home, with people rating activities such as ‘learning’ and ‘collaborating with others using digital tools’ as more effective from home.

In fact, recent research by McKinsey found that 67% of organisations with remote working in place saw a rise in productivity, customer satisfaction, employee engagement and diversity and inclusion.

We also know that people miss seeing each other in-person, and we recognise that collaboration, co-creation and brainstorming can often work best when everyone is in the same space together.

Therefore, our approach to our office spaces will change to reflect this, in terms of layout, size and location. For example, they will have distinct spaces that support different types of working such as creative and collaborative, together with some space for individual working.

In Budapest, we’ve designed project areas where teams can meet to brainstorm, discuss and catch-up, and in our London offices, we’re putting new technologies to the test, including things like card-less entry, 5G Wi-Fi, connected digital whiteboards, IoT technology for booking areas and a 360 virtual training delivery studio.

Here my team explains how we’re helping other businesses remodel their traditional office spaces too:

 

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Let’s be clear, we’re not just rearranging the furniture. It’s about experimentation. Technology, people, business practices, meeting etiquettes all have to evolve too and none of us have all the answers yet.

Opening the talent pool

The future of work is about creating workplaces that drive positive outcomes and ensures accessibility for people of all abilities and that encourage a culture of inclusion for everyone, whether they are physically present in the space or working remotely.

Without the need for people to be in the office every day, we are widening the talent pool, helping drive diversity and inclusion and meeting the needs of job seekers who are looking for opportunities with greater flexibility.

Whether that’s parents returning to work, the older generation staying in roles for longer or Gig Economy workers after temporary contracts.

Our report on becoming future ready found that 77% of companies expect the importance of training, technology and flexible working hours to grow, outranking opportunities for advancement.

As people’s needs and wants change, businesses need to rethink the ways they attract, develop and extract value from different labour pools. Adapting the recruiting process to source the best people for the job but also moving to more output-based models, rather than focusing on where and when employees are doing work.

Those that can show they offer flexibility, have strong core values and cater for a diverse workforce, will be better placed to attract and retain outstanding candidates.

At Vodafone, we’re committed to increasing opportunities for our employees to develop new skills. Our Skills Mobility app is already helping people across our markets connect with opportunities to work in roles or on projects in different locations.

Digital transformation

With all the changes of recent months, we recognise we can go faster within our own digital transformation.

We know that the need for interaction and connectivity is greater when people are not physically located together and we are investing in the latest technology and tools for collaboration as well as simplifying our processes and systems to make it easier to get things done.

Ultimately, technology is allowing people to choose different jobs and to fit their personal lives around their professional ones.

This is an opportunity. By rebuilding operations and rethinking the organisation and structure of our businesses, we can use the information we’ve gained in the last year to build back stronger and better. Creating a future where every individual can deliver their full potential and the best service to our customers.

Discover how you can improve and scale your remote working solutions for the future, now.

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