Simon Bennett, CTO EMEA, Rackspace Technology, reflects on the future of work and how empowering staff, taking risks and a cloud native approach are the keys to success in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
The 2020 pandemic has changed everything, including the way we work. What does 2021 have in store for the office of the future, for corporate culture and for the underlying cloud technology that is enabling these changes? Below are my predictions for the coming year and a final thought on the potential for a ‘surprise’ technological integration.
The office as a collaboration space
Will offices ever be the same again? In my opinion, no. I do not envision rows of desks and workstations being staffed by people, tapping away at keyboards coding, writing reports or servicing customer requirements. As a result of the 2020 pandemic and work-from-home mandates, the chain between desk and keyboard has been broken. The remote work trend is not likely to reverse anytime soon, if at all.
Instead, offices will become places of collaboration, where co-workers and customers can meet when needed to innovate and create. Working at home, distant from colleagues and customers, has led to frustration for many people who long for the face-to-face discourse necessary to make ideas flourish and evolve into great solutions that deliver business success.
Repurposing office spaces into meeting places for collaborative innovation has a double benefit: 1) with staff coming to the office for meetings only, the company can easily adhere to social distance regulations, and 2) the company can continue to harness its most important asset – intellectual capital (its people) – which is paramount to ongoing productivity, prosperity and growth.
Of course, not all job roles are suited to this type of home/office or hybrid work environment. If you are a customer service agent, for example, you can effectively work full-time from home. But, if your role requires any degree of creativity, in-person meetings are essential for discussing new ideas and turning these into reality. These brainstorming sessions can take place at a central office location or at smaller satellite office hubs more convenient to remote staff.
In the past, trust was the main reason remote work was not generally accepted or adopted. The 2020 pandemic and shift to working from home has shown that people can indeed work this way, successfully and securely. We are increasingly seeing ‘remote worker management’ listed among the skills in job advertisements as talented hires can now be recruited from across the country and beyond. Proper technology can help minimise data breaches. Future innovations like 5G will further improve connectivity and security.
Risk-taking to empower your business
Many of our customers took bigger risks in 2020, finding it necessary to embrace remote working and to quickly adapt to digital technologies. The usual lengthy processes to document, sign-off, approve and execute changes in their organisations were cast aside in the name of Business Continuity and survival.
Post-pandemic, when things return to some semblance of normality in 2021 (we hope), will companies relapse into old ways of doing business? I think not. Progressive organisations have become more lean and agile in their approach. They realise that empowering business units and individuals to operate more autonomously must remain — at least partially. The days of rigid command and control structures are gone.
It’s all about trust. Placing trust in the staff to make decisions has helped businesses stay up and running in the face of ever-changing circumstances. Further, giving staff more control fosters new ideas and takes these from ideation to execution more quickly. Reward the individuals who thrive on change and have proven their value. Give these ‘mavericks’ enough latitude to flourish. At the same time, respect staff members who are more resistant to change. They can be encouraged in smaller ways. A company needs both types of workers.
In my previous role, I was known as the ‘thought terrorist’. I challenged established ideas and ways of doing things. I encouraged the team to look at problems from different angles, to question the norm and to do things better for customers. The establishment must be willing to be challenged, or the best staff will leave.
An organisation that can leverage these new ways of working and adopt a corporate culture that empowers staff and embraces risk will be able to compete effectively. Those that embrace risk will likely outperform their peers.
Cloud native as a business differentiator
Empowered businesses and empowered staff require empowered technology. This is where the concept of ‘cloud native’ fits in.
Business units are going to demand a lot more from technology than just refactoring applications for the cloud. Simply migrating existing services to the cloud is not enough for an organisation to gain a competitive advantage over their peers.
Business owners must design applications from the ground up, that provide sources of data about the most important factor — the customer experience. Deeper insights into customer use of your services are essential to making your services better. Improved customer service leads to a higher level of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and ultimately, directly impacts your bottom line.
It is a cloud native approach that makes this possible. Think of cloud native as a business differentiator, an approach that can transform your business.
Cloud native means rewriting applications or services to take full advantage of the technology they run upon. By fully utilising the underlying technology, you can design your applications from the start to capture all the associated data around the customer journey, service performance and other key statistics. These insights provide a higher level of understanding of the overall customer experience, which in turn, enables your business to improve the service.
The cost of redeveloping your applications using a cloud native approach may seem like a lofty and expensive goal, however, in the majority of cases, the benefits far outweigh this effort and cost. An agile, well-designed cloud native application, one that is truly scalable, secure and resilient, faster to deploy, easier to maintain and simpler to update on demand, will deliver significantly more business benefit in the end. These attributes will allow you to upsell new functions, deliver higher value services and gain new customers — all at a competitive pace.
Business owners are taking a more holistic look at the cradle-to-grave costs around applications. There are the expected costs for application development and future maintenance and expansion. But more important is the long-term, ongoing value of harnessing customer data and analysing these insights to improve customer service.
Ensuring your customers have an excellent experience will be the key to the longevity and growth of your business. This is the true cost of ownership in a post-COVID world.
In 2021, I believe that someone will create an amazing solution, a ‘killer app’, that combines the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and Edge Computing in a manner not thought of so far. There has been a lot of hype around the promise of these three technologies and some great examples of small-scale ‘neat’ ideas, but nothing really mind-blowing has emerged yet.
Because of the new corporate culture of risk-taking mentioned above, 2021 may be the year in which the three technologies will be integrated in a revolutionary way. We will all say ‘if only I’d had that idea’, as it will be obvious in retrospect.
Put your thinking caps on. Perhaps it’s you who will have the true lightbulb moment.Click below to share this article