Two years ago, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services published a Pulse Survey called ‘The Workplace Evolution’. Sponsored by Microsoft, the paper predicted that over the coming years, the vast majority of organisations would embark or continue on a journey to thoroughly modernise their workplaces, delivering improved mobility, flexibility and productivity for employees.
78% of business leaders surveyed considered the evolution of their workplace strategy, processes and technology to be important to their overall business performance. But, at the time, only 31% felt that their companies were very forward-looking in their approach to delivering this evolution.
Then, in 2020, COVID-19 arrived. Organisations that were thinking about modernising their workplaces, but had not particularly prioritised it, had to think again.
They had to think quickly. What they had planned as a gradual evolution to the modern workplace became an urgent and enforced revolution.
What is a modern workplace?
The modern workplace is a very broad term that describes the optimal working environment for employees in which they can collaborate with each other, share data and perform tasks as efficiently as possible.
It recognises that employees don’t always need to work in an office and that they may need to be more mobile to deliver goods and services or may want to work from home or other remote locations, close to their customers, suppliers or partners.
The modern workplace is facilitated by modern technology, which transforms the way that employees interact with their colleagues, their devices, their applications and their data.
It is technology, and in particular the cloud, that allows traditional working practices to be transferred from the office to anywhere and enables more flexible collaboration, the breaking down of organisational silos and the redefinition of job roles.
Modern workplace technology isn’t just focused on the end user; it also encompasses solutions for remote IT management that help organisations to ensure the security of remote devices and manage the performance of dispersed teams.
What is the Microsoft Modern Workplace?
Microsoft may not have coined the term ‘modern workplace’ but it is certainly one of the vendors that has tried hardest to own it.
Indeed, Microsoft uses the term modern workplace as an umbrella term to group together a suite of its products which can be used together to help create the modern, flexible and collaborative workplaces that most organisations aspire to.
Key products in the Microsoft Modern Workplace include Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Enterprise Mobility and Security, Azure data storage, Microsoft SharePoint for data sharing, Microsoft Teams for collaboration and a host of analysis and process automation apps from the Microsoft Power Platform.
Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop can also be added to this list, as it enables organisations to deliver a secure, remote desktop experience for users in a cost-effective way.
What are the benefits of a modern workplace?
A modern workplace that enables employees to work productively from any location and collaborate flexibly with colleagues and partners will bring many benefits. They include:
1. Lower capital costs
The era of the large corporate office has probably gone for good. When organisations allow their employees to work remotely some or all of the time, they no longer need to pay for vast amounts of square footage in prime city locations.
Instead they can replace multi-storey offices with flexible, regional collaboration spaces and reduce their capital costs.
2. More efficient business processes
With the right technology, mobile workers no longer have to come into the office to type up their notes or collect information about projects.
They can therefore work far more productively and improve the efficiency of key business processes.
3. Improved employee satisfaction
Employees typically spend less time commuting to offices or making unnecessary business journeys. They are therefore likely to have greater job satisfaction from a better work/life balance.
Organisations may also find that by offering a modern workplace, they can attract and retain top quality professionals.
4. Greater business agility and innovation
Having a modern workplace can unlock creativity and innovation by making it easier for employees to access data analysis and work in multi-disciplinary teams to come up with new ideas.
A modern workplace also provides a more adaptable working environment, allowing employees to respond more quickly and effectively to new challenges and capitalise on business opportunities.
What challenges did the modern workplace evolution face?
Much of the technology that underpins the modern workplace has been around for many years. So why was the evolution away from traditional workplace practices taking so long?
If we look back to before COVID-19, there were several misconceptions that were hampering the adoption of modern workplace technology. They include:
1. Our business is too complex
Lots of senior executives felt that their businesses were unique and too complex to modernise easily. Ultimately, however, no matter how unique businesses are, the challenges are all the same.
Microsoft has created solutions to meet these challenges and they can be seamlessly integrated into any organisation.
2. The migration will be expensive and take too long
Organisations with long-standing IT silos and traditional, hierarchical structures often feared that the move to a modern workplace would be such a huge leap that it would necessitate a long and costly programme of IT and business change. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
3. We need tighter security
Security requirements and hesitation about moving data into the cloud are often cited as reasons for not developing modern workplaces.
Yet these are invalid concerns. Microsoft solutions are secure enough to support even the most stringent regulations.
Even highly security conscious organisations such as government agencies and defence companies utilise cloud services.
4. It’s not my job
Senior executives are commonly tasked with improving the customer experience, reducing costs, improving efficiency and increasing sales.
Modernising the workplace has not been a high level priority, so it has fallen between the cracks. Like all business change, the evolution to a modern workplace needed to be driven from the top down.
What did COVID-19 do for the modern workplace?
All of the challenges of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the modern workplace became not just desirable, but essential.
The government-enforced lockdown in the spring of 2020 meant that employees had to work from home – or not work at all – so thousands of businesses across the UK scrambled to deliver the modern workplace technology that would enable them to remain in business.
If they were intending to deliver a gradual transformation of their workplace technologies, this planned evolution became, out of necessity, a revolution.
Prior to COVID-19, and for far too long, many organisations were simply happy to ‘make do’. They may have introduced a few new technologies for employees to improve the efficiency of key processes but failed to build and deliver a clear strategy for creating a truly modern workplace, even though they understood its importance.
They needed a catalyst to jump-start their plans – and COVID-19 certainly provided this impetus.
What has the modern workplace revolution achieved?
On the plus side, COVID-19 made employees very familiar with modern workplace technologies, like Microsoft Teams, very quickly. It also forced companies to innovate and led to the introduction of a plethora of new apps to support mobile working and address the challenges of the pandemic.
Microsoft made a host of new solutions available at short notice, including an app to give hospitals and healthcare providers improved visibility of critical resources like hospital beds, ventilators and masks.
On the downside, however, the revolution-approach often led to hastily acquired solutions that were poorly implemented.
This is evidenced by the high number of cyber-attacks and data security breaches that occurred during and after lockdown, when hackers exploited vulnerabilities in unsecured Wi-Fi connections and devices that hadn’t received the latest security updates.
Regrettably, because organisations were compelled to introduce modern workspace technology quickly, they didn’t have a strategy and didn’t have time to consider best practices. These organisations now need to get expert help to critically examine their new systems, remove risks and help them achieve business value.
Other organisations still have a long way to go to create modern workspaces. Simply setting up Microsoft Teams or giving employees a Zoom account and moving data to a centralised point doesn’t constitute a modern workspace.
Whether organisations arrive at a modern workplace through revolution or a more gradual evolution of their IT systems, the modern workplace is here to stay.
Looking to find out more? Explore Camwood’s modern workplace services.