No longer just a place to have a desk and computer, the modern workplace now needs to have the culture, processes and technology to cope with new demands, writes Quinton O’Reilly.
For the average company, the workplace has evolved to become something greater than just a place with a desk and PC. The facilities, technology, leadership and work culture all play a significant role in shaping just how good a workplace is and that ties in with the hunt for talent becoming more intense than ever.
A good place to start with the transformation of the work-place would be in the tools and services used. The most obvious of which is the cloud, which has transformed industries and opened up the workplace for many organisations.
Many of the advancements in technology will be making sure that the speeds and infrastructure required for this will keep up with the ever-growing services that take advantage of it.
For Jim Hughes, chief executive of Innovate, which offers IT solutions including managed cloud and communication services, one of the big areas that will help this is Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD WAN), which uses programmes to help configure and manage a network.
“One of the key advancements in networks is SD WAN which is a huge step forward from a wide area networking perspective,” he said. “[It] enables those cloud technologies to be positioned properly and having that end-user experience as if the application was on-premise and it is about getting that fundamental SD WAN network infrastructure in place.
“If you look at connectivity, an awful lot of organisations have not changed the underlying technology or architecture to their network in the last ten years and beyond.
”To explain what SD WAN it is, Hughes uses how Google Maps works as an analogy to describe it. If you wanted to drive from one place to another, Google Maps will tell you the most efficient route.
Yet if there are traffic jams or delays while you’re travelling, it will reconfigure its route to help you avoid them and get to your destination quicker.
In the case of SD WAN, it will re-route traffic helping you avoid any bottlenecks or traffic issues along the way. By automatically rerouting to the optimal route, it ensures that you will almost always stay connected, vital for cloud-based services, and result in other benefits too.
“It’s hugely important that that technology exists on a network because it’s not like eight or ten years ago where a lot of the applications were held on premise or on a private data centre,” he said.
“If you look at any policy or architecture that works in and around cloud like Microsoft Azure or what have you, a big differentiator for us has always been to look at that network piece in conjunction with that cloud strategy.
“It’s about giving that good end-user experience . . . [and] I think it’s important for organisations like Innovate to engage with each customer to assist them on that move away from that old network connectivity world into the new.
“They’re actually consolidated how costs can be achieved as well as enhancements from bandwidth, not just a bandwidth perspective but how that traffic is transiting network.
”Hughes mentions a piece of research from Gartner where 70 per cent of traffic from a branch network or HQ is destined for the internet. The reason why this is happening is because that appetite for the core function of cloud either as infrastructure as a service with Office 365, Salesforce or SaaS, is there.
“It’s the network fundamental and it’s something that Innovate has always taken,” he said. “We’re a Cisco and Microsoft partner, but if you look at any policy or architecture that works in and around cloud like Azure or what have you, a big differentiator for us has always been to look at that network piece in conjunction with that cloud strategy.”
The other element to ensuring this kind of connection is kept consistent is because of how spread out workers can be. The office is no longer the only place where employees can keep in touch with each other and collaboration will be done while they are outside Dublin or in different countries.
Something expected to happen is what David Russell, chief executive of business broadband provider Host Ireland, calls the Brexit bump; companies opening up offices in Ireland to deal with the potential ramifications of Britain leaving the EU.
Many of which are multinational companies with connections in different parts of the world.“[One] interesting thing about Ireland and Dublin is we’ve seen the Brexit bump in terms of a lot of companies operating here,” he said. “They’re going to be connected to HQ whether that be in the US, mainland Europe or the Far East, and they need very strong resilient connections.
“It could be that they’re individually connected to their team who are working in a different location or part of a team where their line manager is in another jurisdiction. If your headquarters is in another location, you will need to be continuously sending data to that head office so you’ll need a resilient connection.
”Even if you’re not a company that has offices in different parts of the world, it’s very likely that you’re connecting to employees or third-parties from different parts of the country or abroad. As Unified Communication methods and collaboration tools increase in importance, the type of connection you have will be vital, said Russell.
“Not only is the robustness of your connection and the quality of your resilience connection [important], but so too is your latency,” he said.
“From our end, one of the great things about wireless is the latency is better, you can transfer data much quicker wirelessly than you can through fibre so that’s all changing how people think about the workplace, and working life.”
Speaking of which, the amount of effort enterprises have put in to ensure that the workplace is as efficient as possible. As Eoghan Young, senior business development manager of EPAM, the greater focus on enterprise solutions to help workers’ productivity while taking care of them is important.
“There is a sustained investment in creating smart, lean, integrated and secure enterprise systems to support the various functions in organisations,” he said. “What you find is that this has now amplified the need to have to transform the digital workplace because your staff are the people who are representing you through the customers or enabling all the activities within.
One tool it has developed is TelescopeAI, a service which gives businesses a 360-degree view of its operations. By offering suggestions about employee utilisation, engagement and project monitoring, it allows businesses to increase efficiency and productivity while lowering costs.
The company makes sure that it’s using its own systems, or as Young puts it, “eating your own dogfood” to ensure it’s delivering on all fronts, as any innovation can make your workplace more attractive for employees.
“In our world and how we operate as a company, the employee is the new customer,” he said. “You listen and react to your customer, you should be doing it internally as well because it’s the staff who are the most familiar with the workflows that go on and the bottlenecks and challenges that are there.“
By listening to them when you’re approaching your digital workplace transformation or optimisation, you’re going to make sure the value is there. You need a vision and a structure so there has to be a plan as to what you’re trying to achieve, what kind of culture you need, what your staff need to enable their work, to promote and drive their career aspirations, to sustain the high-level engagement with you as a company. Plans need to be put in place and they need to be tracked and managed to do that.”
Leading by example
While having the technology and infrastructure in place is crucial, the culture side of things is just as important, if not more.It’s not enough to say that you are an open and warm workplace if you don’t embody it in any way and leadership should be leading by example in this, said Johann Cardiff, head of consulting at Singlepoint. “The culture needs to be authentic,” she said. “Whatever the culture statements are, they have to resonate with people and they absolutely have to be led by leadership.
“The worst-case scenario is where you have a culture that makes a series of statements, yet your leadership demonstrates completely different behaviours. So leadership is important for a successful culture.
“One of the big things is people need to be able to see how that culture works for them and how they can embody it. People make statements like ‘we’ve a very open and honest culture’, and people need to be comfortable with that one to know that means they can have an open and honest conversation with their manager without any fear of anything coming back to them.
“The different culture facets need to be put together with a lot of thought and then a key to success is they resonate with people, they feel authentic and they say, ‘yes, this reflects my values, company values and I can buy into it and behave appropriately’.
”The main takeaway from this is if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. It’s not enough expecting others to embody it while stating yourself to be the exception, something Cardiff keeps an eye out for when working with clients.
“One of the statements that make my ears prick up is ‘this is how we really do things around here’ because that’s the culture, how we really do things around here is the culture,” she said. “[That means the culture statement] has lost its authenticity, its realness, and that one is always one that I’m listening for, those kind of statements where we go ‘that’s the process, but we really do it this way’.
”Even then, the change from one mindset to another can be a tough one to embrace. If workers or managers are used to working in a particular way, then time must be allowed for them to complete the shift to the new culture mindset.
As Cardiff says, culture is how we behave and our behaviour is on display every minute of every day, and it’s the reason why its success keeps coming back to leadership. If you don’t have those role models to look up to, it’s very easy to lapse back into old, bad habits.
“One of the biggest challenges and one of the phrases I use a lot is ‘you’ve got to give trust before it’s earned in some cases’,” she said. “That can be a terrifying thing for some people because if they’re coming in from a different company, they’re bringing their own culture with them into the new company.
“If it’s very different to what I’m used to and I’m all of a sudden in this collaborative environment, I need to let my team run with this, that can be a scary proposition for someone who’s used to command and control.
“That’s when leadership becomes really important to these people and helps them work through it and see the benefit of it. It keeps coming back to leadership, it doesn’t all sit with leadership, but they definitely have to walk the walk.”
Keeping all channels open
One of the big benefits of transforming your network connection to SD WAN (Software-Defined Wide-Area Network) is how much of a foundation it gives for Unified Communications.
Unified Communications, which integrate enterprise communication services like instant messaging, voice (IP telephony), video and web, is becoming a more attractive service for employers.
Jim Hughes, chief executive of Innovate, mentions how such services are available under the umbrella of major services like Office 365.
“Once you have [SD WAN] in place, you’re into the area of Unified Communications and the ability to then put on a very stable network for a UC solution,” he said.
“Most, if not all, of the suite that would fit under the UC umbrella actually exists now through the subscription of Office 365, instant messaging, chat feature, your present information, you’re now getting voice through IP telephony, mobility features so you can have extension mobility and single number user by way of video. IT is all there contained through Office 365.”
The other benefit of using a major service is that security and usability is up to scratch. While the larger corporations can take greater security measures, they’ll also have the UX and UI design to make their products as easy to use for the average person.
“The fact that the technology is delivered through Office 365, you have the end user, very familiar with that interface so the usability and training overhead is limited,” he said.
Filing under the heading of ‘easier said than done’ is creating a positive culture that everyone — employees, managers and C-suite executives — want to be a part of. Technology can play a role in the changing of a culture, yet when that happens so, too, must the way the business operates.
According to Johann Cardiff, head of consulting at Singlepoint, once you begin to speed up these processes, people will begin to operate differently, and that may mean dynamics that didn’t previously exist.
“One of the things that I see from a digital transformation perspective that’s challenging is teams that would traditionally never work together, like marketing and technology, would now work closely on the same team,” she said. “It’s a mindset and culture shift for two very different disciplines within the business to come together and work together
.“The other side of that is if you’re trying to pivot your business from a traditional legacy mainframe type business into a more future-focused, digital company, trying to shift your culture from it taking two years to deliver a project to delivering something different every month, that’s a big culture shift.”
Cardiff said that one of the biggest challenges associated with this comes back to the values of the company. It’s important to have a clear mission and vision for what you want to do as part of that transformation, and she stressed that it must be about the people within the organisation, not the technology.
“From that, you have to build your culture, your culture has to stand on your values,” she said. “If your values don’t mean anything, your culture will fail, so there’s a very close connection to that.
“Then there’s a piece of making it real for people so you need things like culture champions throughout your organisation whose role is to make sure your culture is real, make sure it’s actually happening.”
No longer just a place to have a desk and computer, the modern workplace now needs to have the culture, processes and technology to cope with new demands, writes Quinton O’Reilly