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The Digital Workforce


Adam Hutchison's Blog - just a little space in the world were i air my thoughts on anything and everything i am either involved in or enjoy. Many of you may wish to skip by and ignore my meandering thoughts but others may find them informative...


The Digital Workforce

Adam Hutchison

A digital workplace is the concept that there is a virtual equivalent to the physical workplace and that this needs to be planned and managed coherently because it is a fundamental to peoples productivity, engagement and working health. The notion of ‘workplace’ itself has ill-defined boundaries, so the shape of a digital workplace will vary between organisations.

The digital workplace provides organisations with the following services or capabilities:

·      Communication and Employee Engagement

·      Collaboration

·      Finding and sharing of information and knowledge

·      Business applications (process specific and employee self service)

·      Agile working – the ability to be productive any time and place. 

There are major benefits to an organisation of operating a digital workplace, this is ever more required in the dynamic world of SME businesses with the increased demand for ad hoc meetings. Driven by the entrepreneurial hierarchy businesses previously discussed in an earlier chapter. With a preference for on the spot collaboration as a means to save time, money and be more efficient – effective collaboration tools available to businesses are facilitating this demand for fast and now!

Although the fundamentals of controlling costs, retaining, customers and gaining competitive advantage are still universally seen as the 3 business requisites driving most organisations. Underlying these goals is the need for firms to develop and bring to market new products/services ever more quickly and provide customer service excellence to new and existing clients.

Traditionally many organisations have worked in what many authors term as silos, a mind set more present when within large corporate departments or specific sectors who wish not to share information with others in the same company, we have sadly all experienced this in some way or another. These silos waste resources, kill productivity and jeopardise the achievement of any set goals. Modern management thinking however should be that leaders tear down silos by moving past behavioural issues and address the contextual problems that are present at the heart of the organisation so as to provide a ‘unified vision’ of their business.

Until recent times however the communication tools available to businesses to support this break out from the silo effect into an increased productivity focused environment of using Unified Communications (UC) have themselves been cumbersome, inflexible, difficult to implement and use and above all, very costly to purchase.

This however, in this creative digital age is no longer the case following the widespread introduction of cloud based communications. Here, applications that were traditionally located in servers based in the businesses head offices are instead supplied to users via networks connected to servers in remote data centres.

Users for the cloud based communications model benefit from this in a number of ways:

1.    The applications are provided as an operational expense (OPEX) and generally as a per user per product basis as opposed to a large up front capital expenditure (CAPEX) project plus on-going maintenance / service charges throughout the duration of the contract. Helping businesses of all sizes utilise the benefits of these services.

2.    Network connectivity can often be bundled in with the cloud OPEX costs instead of becoming an additional line item on every bill. This is important as the use of faster Internet connectivity is required and this is reflected in higher costs so its always useful to link the products and services together.

3.    User flexibility is enhanced through only being charged for the services you use rather than total capability of the system. For example were you to purchase a 50 seat call centre application, once the user had paid for the on premises traditional installation and service charge appropriate to a 50 user system would be levied monthly or yearly for the remainder of the contract period – say 5 or 7 years typically. If the user downscaled the call centre to say 30 agents in year 2 of the contract the CAPEX on the premise solution would have still remained at the 50 seats originally purchased. Were as in a cloud-based solution the cost would simply reduce on a monthly basis to the new number of 30 seats. Equally cloud based solutions can be scaled up to say 60 or 70 seats for seasonal periods or high retail points (such as Christmas) that occur within your business model. Ruling out any other CAPEX costs which could hamper long term profitability.

4.    Typically users of a CAPEX or traditional model of communications are faced with software upgrade costs on a regular basis. These can be substantial if you want to keep the solution current. With Cloud based these tend to be FREE and part and parcel of the overall service wrap and deployment.

Whilst these can be viewed as generic benefits of using cloud based communications it is equally important to examines how using Software as a Service (SaaS) can provide increases in productivity to an organisation by improving the opportunities for greater collaboration between the workforces and greater access to each other as people. This already happens in our private lives through the use of Social Media so utilising similar platforms in the business life can be truly effective.

Lets look at the typical applications in SaaS solutions that can bring an organisation together. Stand-alone applications or pieces of software purchased by businesses over the years are the equivalent of working in Silos sadly, with multiple accesses and user screens further confusing staff and increasing training costs. Just as company silos need to come together and work for the improvement of the business as a whole, so do computing and communication applications, this can come with research into effective SaaS integrations in your business environment.

Through a single user interface, applications that should be considered as central to business operations would include voice telephony; Internet based trunking, voicemail and collaboration applications such as chat messaging, customer relationship management software, presence information desk-to-desk video and audio conferencing. Without being to exhaustive.

The latest in SaaS solutions are using the internet web browsers for Voice and video call set up which means no specific additional user equipment is required take Skype from Microsoft and FaceTime from Apple as easy examples – just requiring access to the web? As well as reducing costs considerably this helps with mobile working adding to the agility of your business to becoming more dynamic and employee focused. Many can easily access these features from not only a laptop but also their own smartphone or a tablet anywhere in world.

Unified communications or Software as a Service improve productivity and save organisations valuable time and money.  According to market research undertaken by Chadwick Martin Bailey:

  • 49% of user organisations save up to 20 minutes per employee daily by reaching workers on the first try
  • 46% of user organisations realise travel savings of more than 5 days per employee annually
  • 68% of user organisations report productivity improvements between geographically – dispersed functional groups
  • 50% of user organisations save up to 20 minutes per employee daily from more efficient message management
  • Over 75% of user organisations experience an improved productivity of employees across locations due to voice and video conferencing
  • 67% of user organisations report increased mobile worker productivity and faster problem solving

All the above points not only benefit the business itself but also directly affect the happiness / motivations of the workforce offering flexibility and more often than not improved retention numbers. Remember not everything is about money; facilitating flexibility for many is now a pre-requisite of a working lifestyle balance.

With this collaboration effect management today need to have a unified vision for their organisation which in turn necessitates ensuring all users are willing to adopt the SaaS tools in order to enable collaborations.

Getting maximum productivity out of knowledge workforce, regardless of where they are is critical to maintaining any competitive advantage.

Businesses therefore need their critical workforces to perform smarter, faster and more productively. Achieving that goal requires embedding collaborative technologies deep into process and incentivising collaborative behaviours. This is ultimately transforming the way businesses turn knowledge into action. Collaboration platforms should do more than help employees talk about their work; they should create new ways for employees to do their work. Increasing the enjoyment and focus they bring to the job, what an amazing win win thought process that is.

Meetings in the office can be great when everyone is based there, but a great demotivation I have seen over the years come from greatly dispersed workforces and demanding long commutes for single meetings. This is one of the most counter productive elements and can harm retention numbers dramatically. The digital workforce opportunity offers the chance for businesses to change this mind-set forever. Enabling all employees to be engaged in decision making wherever they may be in the world.

Now, following on from this I admit that there is a lot of jargon and industry acronyms, which can really deter people from caring about this stuff and ignore its importance. Even if it’s not yourself I implore you to delegate to a member of your team to investigate the communications infrastructure within your business. It can have a dramatic effect on the business processes and cost efficiencies when done properly. When I personally support businesses around this function 95% of the time we are able to find areas of where the business is simple wasting money on services they do not use, and not utilising he availability of digital effectiveness. So take some time and make sure you have a scalable communications plan for your business.