The effects of the pandemic on global economies have been significant across the board. And with leaders from all sectors forced to react to the myriad of – a now commonly used reference – unprecedented challenges, there has been a lot of reflection as to the best ways to survive and succeed within a global crisis.
A year on, and some of those reflections are now being crystallised and much of what they learnt will go a long way to help stabilise the business and sure-up defences for the future.
As we enter what hopefully appears to be the final act of this pandemic, I spoke to a group of enterprise technology leaders from the hospitality, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and financial sectors for our panel discussion: Rethinking Remote: Security, Connectivity, and Agility for the Digital Workforce.
Do you invest, de-vest, adjust course or completely pivot your business? Thought leaders from leading enterprises convened to discuss in this forum.
I wanted to understand how they’d handled the challenges of the past year and the lessons they’re taking forward. I’ll touch on some key insights, strategies and technologies shared by these individuals, and what we all need to start considering if we’re to flourish in the post-pandemic economy.
Digital transformation – a buzz word or a reality?
“When it comes to agenda-topping issues for businesses, digital transformation has been front and centre for many years now.”
While some viewed it as the necessary process of evolving their operations, others viewed the concept as a significant project put on the back burner.
For instance, all organisations represented in the panel discussion, including Tata Communications, had some measures in place to enable remote working before the pandemic. This included cloud-based tools that enabled effective remote collaboration, along with the necessary network infrastructure and security processes to keep the enterprise functional and safe.
This preparation not only made the initial switch-up a lot cheaper and less dramatic than it would have been for less flexible businesses, but also a lot smoother, with many leaders on our panel even reporting seeing a significant uptick in productivity for last year.
And it isn’t hard to see why; while some enterprises were still learning how to use new technologies or get used to new security policies, other companies’ workforces were already settled and ready to support customers through massive shift of the workforce.
Cultural change – virtualising the human connection
Collaboration tools in the enterprise environment have long been a focus. Companies have had to adjust how they collaborate not just internally but with their customers and partners, as each may have a different tool. Niten Sethi, Global IT Director – Digital Transformation at Visteon Corporation, highlighted that it is important for companies to get their internal ecosystem right and pointed out that multiple internal collaboration tools could “pose a lot of challenges in terms of security and network optimisation”.
“Even with some remote working capabilities or cloud services in place, shifting to a distributed work model at the pace businesses needed last year required more than technology.”
This was something Lawson Kelly, CTO for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, touched upon during the discussion. For Hyatt Hotels, remote working and collaboration tools were already their baseline. Instead, leaders within the company focused on facilitating the human connection aspect of their remote communication.
This included promoting eye contact to be held in virtual meetings and a human tone of voice when exchanging information. After all, when a workforce isn’t engaged, they will immediately turn to increasing productivity through multi-tasking.
So, while the technical details – such as securing video conferencing technology – are vital, it is only half of the challenge. Culture must also be adapted to enable that technology is to work effectively.
Rethinking hybrid and accepting a new paradigm
If there’s one conclusion that every one of our panellists agreed on, it’s that we’re heading towards a remote future. As a result, they have used this period to really understand what they need to change to enable success in this new environment.
Some of these lessons have been technical. For example, with so many people accessing enterprise systems from public networks, coupled with the recent uptick in cyberattacks, shoring up business networks with dynamic and intelligent cybersecurity has become imperative.
This held true for Sahil Arora, Executive Director – Technology Program Manager at Dow Jones who noted that, “latency is the biggest key for our business”. The company has numerous enterprise applications that need to be protected not only for the integrity of data but for frequent updates of regulatory environments and their reputation in the market.
This would allow their business to ensure they’re always providing a great customer service, can employ and include talent from all around the globe and that they’re compliant with privacy and data protection laws across different countries.
However, many of these lessons are often cultural. With traditional workers slipping in to the minority over the past year, business leaders are learning important tactics to ensure when this purely remote situation has passed and no worker feels excluded from the company and their peers.
As we enter a new phase, it will be the enterprises that have proactively pivoted their business, embraced their workforce and learned lessons from the last year who will emerge as true winners.