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How does technology contribute to efficiency in the workplace and create a positive working environment?

How does technology contribute to efficiency in the workplace and create a positive working environment?

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According to new research, Citrix has revealed that outdated workplace technology is limiting UK employment opportunities for disabled staff in particular.

Almost eight in 10 (77%) disabled knowledge workers – someone who typically works in an office environment or has knowledge-based skills which are involved in his/her everyday role – believe outdated technology in the workplace is limiting work opportunities for people with disabilities in the UK. Nearly three quarters (73%) of IT decision makers agree – despite 92% confirming that technology now exists which should enable any business to employ a disabled individual as a knowledge worker. 

Commissioned by Citrix and carried out by Censuswide, this research aimed to identify the current role of technology in opening up employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and discover whether UK organisations are set up to successfully employ new talent from this potentially untapped workforce. By surveying 500 respondents – 250 IT decision makers and 250 disabled knowledge workers with a physical or sensory impairment – in large UK businesses, this research examines the extent to which companies are deploying technology and tasking the IT department to facilitate greater diversity in the workplace, with a focus on the disabled workforce. 

The research revealed a disconnect between business preparations and the needs of employees with disabilities in terms of technology and support. Almost a quarter (24%) of disabled knowledge workers think the majority of UK businesses are not properly prepared to employ individuals with disabilities and set them up for success.

Almost a quarter (24%) of disabled knowledge workers believe companies don’t really consider the impact of new technology on employees with disabilities when deciding on new technology to roll out. A further 43% feel it is only considered sometimes. This missed opportunity to apply the overarching business principles to consistently focus on implementing the right IT for a more diverse workforce was reflected in IT leaders’ responses: just 48% always consider the impact of new technology on disabled employees, despite the existence of such agreed upon principles. 

Although 39% of disabled knowledge workers believe having a disability makes no difference for an individual’s career options, almost a third (30%) think it has a negative impact. Of these respondents, the majority (72%) say a key factor is that businesses are not set up with the right technology to allow disabled employees to work in the way that best suits them.

The research highlights that technology which enables staff to work in a more flexible way, such as from a remote location, is a major draw for potential disabled employees. When deciding whether they would want to work for an organisation, 86% of disabled knowledge workers are influenced by the technology that an employer makes available to staff and 85% also factor in whether there is an option to work remotely.

Nearly a quarter of disabled knowledge workers (27%) and IT decision makers (22%) ‘strongly agree’ that the organisation they work for ‘talks a good game about diversity without really acting’. 

Despite this, almost three quarters (72%) of disabled knowledge workers paint a more positive picture, stating that British businesses are improving at supporting employment opportunities for disabled people by updating technology platforms, implementing policies like flexible working and generally evolving the company culture to support a diverse workforce which includes those with disabilities. 

We spoke to industry experts about the general consensus when it comes to workplace technology and how it contributes to a positive working environment…

Darren Fields, Regional Vice President, UK & Ireland, Citrix: “It’s simple: technology and flexible working policies are two of the most important factors for businesses looking to enhance productivity and foster a positive working environment. However, any old IT won’t cut it. It is clear that up-to-date, fast and performing technology is required to make the difference between enhanced productivity and inefficiency. Combining digital tools with the right training, culture and leadership to ensure they can be utilised to their full potential should be at the top of the priority list for business leaders, HR and IT.

“Everyone should be able to benefit from developments in technology and modern working practices to ensure they feel supported and engaged to perform at their best. However, employers need to be mindful about the ways in which they integrate technology into processes and the effect this has on individuals and their roles. It is not about removing low value jobs but low value tasks, to create more fulfilling roles for employees. We need to encourage collaboration, engage the workforce, finally embrace the ‘working anywhere’ culture and – most of all – support internal innovation or ‘intrapreneurs’, who are brave enough to drive such change.

“By pairing up-to-date, reliable and adaptable cloud technologies with a workplace culture that supports a variety of working patterns and locations, UK businesses can also create a more positive working environment by increasing diversity. It will allow them access to a wider pool of talent, including employees who may prefer to work remotely and avoid a busy commute – such as those with disabilities. This is a true differentiator for recruitment and can remove barriers to this largely untapped workforce, leading to subsequent enterprise productivity gains.”

James Albiges, General Manager, Network & Communications, Zen Internet: “In our experience, driving efficiency in the workplace can directly influence the creation of a positive working environment. Our recommendation is therefore to focus on driving efficiencies that benefit the workforce and a positive working environment will follow. There are two main ways that organisations can do this. The first is to use technology to improve efficiency and the second is to use technology to drive innovation.

“Workforces have the tools to be more efficient than ever before, ubiquitous connectivity enables employees to work wherever they want, using whatever technologies they need to be most effective. Intelligent comms drives a step-change in collaboration between employees as well as with external customers, partners or suppliers. These are just two examples of how technology meets the needs of a modern workforce, thus contributing to a positive working environment.

“While projects to drive efficiency are key, it’s important to also look at how technology can drive innovation and completely change how we work across an organisation. Digital transformation is a key example. Our experience has shown that focusing on these projects can impact workforce satisfaction just as much, if not more than the one-off ad-hoc projects focused on simply driving efficiency. An example of this could be moving from a manual billing process to one that is a fully-automated, cloud based billing solution. This completely removes the need for manual steps, freeing up the workforce to focus on more value-add activities. For some employees that have struggled with these processes for a long time, it genuinely transforms their working environment and therefore increases their job satisfaction.

“Our experience tells us it’s not just about getting the technology right – culture is absolutely critical too. The two elements of Chinese philosophy – Yin and Yang – translate well onto the key drivers of successful transformations in the workplace with the Yin being technology and the Yang, culture and engagement. One cannot exist without the other and collectively they drive sustainable powerful change and genuinely lead to more positive work environments. This means happy staff, happy customers and happy suppliers – something that is at the root of Zen’s culture and forms its most fundamental long-term objectives.”

Adam Bimson, Director and Co-founder of Vuealta: “Intelligent automation offers two benefits that help create a positive working environment. Firstly, it allows for increased efficiency by completing tasks which are otherwise labour intensive and therefore enabling employees to be free to work on more strategic tasks. Secondly, it provides enhanced business capabilities that perform complex tasks unable to be completed by humans. For instance, patterns in large data sets can be quickly analysed to produce important business insights. What these both have in common is that they support effective business operations.

“AI, in the form of Intelligent Planning, can have a role to play in the planning of a business, including workforce planning. Faced with a known objective of meeting the business demand, and provided with lots of data, intelligent workforce planning offers the potential to identify creative ways in which the workforce can be effectively deployed. For example, consider the operational workforce planning of a call centre. The classic challenge is to have sufficient, but not excessive, staff meet customer demand. Intelligent Planning could provide a whole host of techniques using internal data (marketing and advertising plans; product launches; historic demand) and external data (social media sentiment; etc.), to anticipate that demand and staff accordingly. 

“While people are usually an organisation’s greatest asset, they are also one of its biggest costs. Ensuring the right people with the right skills are in the right place at the right time is therefore key to the success of any business. But changing business conditions and workforce culture make it more challenging to align successful workforce management with organisational strategy. For instance, the justifiable demand from employees for more flexible working arrangements makes the overall shape of the workforce more fluid than in the past. Utilising technology like AI to implement Intelligent Planning in the workplace can allow businesses to address the demands of a modern workforce, while still maintaining efficiency to facilitate a positive work environment.”

Dr Caitlin McDonald, Digital Anthropologist, Leading Edge Forum: “Ever more ubiquitous, digitisation at work has the power to diversify the workforce, injecting fresh thinking and innovation, by enabling companies to unlock talent bases who were previously not able to manage traditional office-based jobs, such as carers and those with a chronic or temporary disability. Newer and more reliable communication platforms allow them to manage working hours and workplaces more flexibly. The accelerating flow of new technologies, new communication tools and ever-more ubiquitous and reliable connectivity makes it possible for organisations to re-think how and where their employees need to be.  

“However, these changes also come with costs: there is a fracturing of time and space as organisations become increasingly porous. As more and more organisations work outside-in rather than inside-out, they are losing coherence: virtual spaces, mobile and nomadic working in distributed teams, redrawing of organisational boundaries and more all contribute. To make the most of this potential in a more distributed and mobile workforce, teams and individuals need to adapt, developing new etiquette, rituals, habits and survival strategies for the new technoscapes that they inhabit.

“Time and space are precious finite resources governing the productivity of organisations, teams and individuals. Attitude is the secret sauce: this is a frequently neglected resource that can transform wasted or inefficient uses of time and space into behaviours that power the organisation towards its goals. Attitude is more than mindset: it’s an evolving way of thinking about how to effectively navigate time and space in order to make the most of their potential – not a set way of being.  

“Space is more than place. Creating and curating the working environment, virtual and physical, for high-performing teams demands a state of constant alertness and curiosity, watching ourselves at work, probing assumptions, spotting anomalies, shifting habits day-to-day, learning and adapting as we go. We all need to learn to think like anthropologists, to spot the deeper patterns that show up as surface symptoms, in order to actively choose and build workspaces that work for us.”

Joe Morley, Microsoft 365 specialist at SoftwareONE: “Whether it’s office politics, or a debate about the communal thermostat – disagreements are part and parcel of office life. However, we rarely consider how technological tools and the way we like to use them may impact office atmosphere.

“Consider the generational divide. Research has found that millennials now make up 35% of the UK workforce and will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020. This significant chunk of today’s employees like to use office technology very differently from their older colleagues. A recent study from Microsoft also found that millennials prefer ‘persistent chat’ channels and virtual online meetings without video, while older generations and Gen-Xers show a clear preference for email.

“While differing technological preferences may seem minor, there are numerous ways they can cause tension in the workplace. These differences could even result in important tasks being delayed or missed due to miscommunication. However, instead of allowing these differences to cause stress, IT leaders should be working towards aligning the entire organisation. This can be achieved through online educational courses that guide more reticent users through the adoption process of more ‘modern’ technologies with resources like learning portals and webinars.

“When we consider that employees now work on twice as many teams as they did five years ago, it’s also clear that a shift to applications that enable improved collaboration is critical; harnessing technology that is built upon ‘teamwork, dreamwork’ principles will be crucial in supporting this. Inspiring employees is also vital here, as workers are unlikely to change methods and practices built up over a number of years unless they understand how new tech features will benefit them. Identifying those within an organisation which will champion the change and inspire fellow employees to embrace the new tools is a critical factor.

“Changing the workplace status quo is no easy feat, especially when it comes to technology. However, the rise of remote and more collaborative working means there needs to be an equal shift to embrace tools that will enable teams to communicate effectively, wherever they are. By aligning the entire workforce with the same office technology, businesses can boost productivity and efficiency, improve collaboration and lay down the foundations for a more harmonious work environment.”

Matthew Walker, VP EMEA Sales & GM at Resolve: “Throughout history, technology has been a catalyst for fuelling efficiencies in the workplace and improving the lives of the workforce. This still rings true today. In fact, following recent advancements in automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the UK government is undertaking The Commission on Workers and Technology report to evaluate the impact these technologies have in the workplace.

“Although this report is not scheduled to be announced until early 2020, we are already witnessing the effects of these technologies in the workplace. When it comes to IT, we have seen companies struggle with an increasingly complex infrastructure in the wake of Digital Transformation initiatives. Meanwhile, IT departments are shrinking due to budget cuts and growing skill gaps. In order to succeed, these understaffed teams need to adopt smarter ways of working to utilise technology as an enabler of efficiency.

“Automation reduces the manual hours spent on data entry and administrative work, streamlining repetitive tasks. This is good news for IT teams as they can leverage automation for significant gains in operational efficiency, freeing up time to focus on strategic planning, creative problem solving and innovation.

“Combining AI and automation for IT operations allows companies to access unparalleled efficiencies and successfully manage increasing complexity as IT infrastructure undergoes exponential growth. This includes the ability to automatically predict, prevent and fix IT issues autonomously, driving better performance and improving service quality in addition to cost savings and greater efficiency.

“While software automates repetitive back-end processes, human expertise is still necessary to tactically train and then oversee the technology and constantly analyse and optimise processes. Simultaneously, the introduction of AI and automation will spur the demand for new roles, offering IT staff new learning and development opportunities, thereby inspiring better performance and increasing job satisfaction.

“For businesses and particularly IT departments, greater automation is inevitable if they are to remain competitive in their marketplaces. Upskilling workers in the wake of job losses will fuel a new wave of opportunities that can optimise operations and offer a more creative, innovative working environment. As AI and automation is increasingly applied, work will become less task-based and more strategic, requiring teams to embrace curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking – ultimately allowing IT teams to excel and drive business success.”

Patricia Duchene, VP Sales and GM EMEA, Wrike: “Against the backdrop of today’s uncertain economic landscape, it’s critical that teams can act fast and deliver results in a nimble and agile fashion. Often, the term ‘agility’ is associated with startups and smaller business, yet the reality is that all organisations – irrespective of their size – need to be agile in order to improve their own processes.

“Using the right technologies helps businesses to establish agile and flexible workforces and unlock efficiencies. Collaborative work management platforms, for example, brings defined processes to all tasks, becoming the digital assembly line for all aspects of work. Whether it’s keeping associated documents, information and conversations about tasks together, streamlining teams, or ensuring everyone is on the same page, they act as a single source of ‘truth’, limiting control issues and facilitating more efficient ways of working.

“This in turn can help to boost employee engagement, empowering staff members when managing projects and ensuring high stress levels and ‘burnout’ are avoided.”

Guy Kirkwood, Chief Evangelist at UiPath: “New technologies like RPA are becoming commonplace in offices and increasing the efficiencies of businesses processes as a result. That’s because they execute rules-based office tasks, freeing people up for more meaningful, strategic tasks and helping boost engagement, productivity and happiness in turn.

Research conducted with Forrester has revealed that both businesses and workers have already started to benefit from the adoption of RPA. 57% of businesses have observed improved employee engagement – which offers huge knock-on business benefits. According to Gallup, 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged in their roles, while disengaged employees cost the UK £52-70 billion per year in lost productivity. This is primarily due to staff taking more sick leave and from higher staff turnover stemming from low workplace morale.

If every person in an organisation could bring a 10% productivity increase to a company in a year, the benefits would be staggering. RPA can help bring this boost. A survey of C-level executives, directors and senior managers that have adopted RPA showed that 52% of respondents have reported increased productivity as a result of automation, while 43% expect to see this in the next two years.

Not only can RPA help drive productivity, but it can also help create a happier workforce. Automation is key to helping address the work/life balance.

While the rollout of RPA and other AI technologies marks a positive step forward for business productivity and our working lives, its implementation must be managed correctly and in an employee-centric way in order to deliver business benefits.

82% of firms looking to implement RPA emphasised change management as a challenge, especially when it comes to cultural issues. Such transformations can be aided by well-designed change management programmes and communication and collaboration to maximise the positive psychological impact of RPA.

At the core of these organisations are humans, and software robots must be implemented in a way that empowers – not alienates – human workers. Ultimately, a happy and engaged workforce is a more productive workforce, which benefits us all.

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