Cloud, Mobility and the New Workplace Model

The days of career-long tenures in exchange for steady promotions and pay raises are gone, replaced by an emerging workforce far more willing to change jobs or work independently when opportunity strikes. The rise of this free-agent mindset is steering businesses directly to mobile and cloud technologies as a way to enhance employee engagement, deliver desired workplace flexibility, and boost their ability to attract and retain key talent.

The shifting employee-employer contract has created an opportunity for IT to help shape and transform the workplace. By leveraging core technologies such as cloud solutions, mobile platforms and analytics, progressive CIOs are making good on the mandate to capture and deliver valuable insights that will steer organizational changes and boost worker flexibility, productivity and engagement.

There are bottom-line benefits to a more engaged workforce, from a reduction in employee turnover and lower absenteeism to the cost savings associated with reducing continual hiring. Businesses also stand to gain by keeping institutional knowledge in-house, courting an active referral network, inspiring employees to take personal ownership of their work and promoting innovation and new ideas.

That’s a real upside in today’s unpredictable business climate. The rise of independent consultants and freelancers is giving companies greater agility and flexibility to adapt to fluctuating business cycles and expand their talent pool without significant up-front costs. Full-time employees like the new workplace model because it affords them greater control over their own destiny and a better shot at creating work/life balance.

Shifting Priorities

With droves of baby boomers poised for retirement and fewer new hires entering the workforce, there are other factors at play. A shrinking talent pool makes for fierce competition, giving employees increased bargaining power and greater exposure to new opportunities. As companies draw talent from across the global stage, the work environment is becoming more complex, requiring 24/7 collaboration and a need to integrate employees outside of traditional corporate boundaries.

Incoming millennials also have different priorities than generations past — company loyalty not among them — and thus are much more likely to job hop. Two out of every three millennials in a Deloitte survey say they hope to move on from their current job by 2020, and only 16% see themselves with their present employer a decade from now. Free-agent-minded millennials place the highest value on good work/life balance (17%), the opportunity to progress and be a leader (13%) and flexibility with remote work environments and flexible hours (11%), the Deloitte survey finds.

These societal trends are shifting the balance of power from employer to employee and making employee engagement a priority for global organizations moving forward. A little more than half (54%) of employees would recommend their place of work to prospective hires, according to a Glassdoor ranking. Shedding more light on the problem, research from Gallup shows only 13% of all employees are “highly engaged,” while twice as many (26%) classify themselves as “actively disengaged.”

This disconnect is creating tension in the workplace and mounting pressure on organizations to adapt their cultures and environments to promote loyalty and worker engagement. Employees, accustomed to the ease and flexibility of mobile devices and apps like Facebook and Google Maps, expect a similar user experience with their work tools — and increasingly advocate for a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model. Hamstrung by legacy culture and processes, IT is scrambling to keep up with these changing requirements. Cloud and mobile solutions are their best shot at building out a more responsive and engaging work environment.

“It’s the perfect storm of influences,” notes Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consulting firm specializing in agile workplace strategies. “The fact that millennials want to work differently, combined with financial issues and globalization, creates a need for people to work virtually anywhere. Technology is playing a huge role in enabling this, and the genie isn’t going back into the bottle any time soon.”

Nurturing Loyalty

It’s not just millennials demanding workplace flexibility, Lister says. “It’s the way everyone wants to work,” she explains. Baby boomers are winding down and don’t see the need to be office-bound to impress the boss, she says, while Gen-X workers desire accommodations so they can effectively juggle caretaking responsibilities between kids and aging parents.

Cloud and mobile solutions give people the ability to work anywhere they want — and increasingly, that’s their expectation and the foundation for promoting active engagement and loyalty. “People want to be trusted, they want autonomy, and they want to be able to work where and when they want — all those things lead to engagement,” Lister says.

People want to be trusted, they want autonomy, and they want to be able to work where and when they want — all those things lead to engagement.
Kate Lister
President of Global Workplace Analytics

Working with business leaders, IT must take a leadership role in defining the kind of flexible work environment and structure that fit with an organization’s culture and strategic goals. For some companies, that might mean going completely virtual via support for remote work; others might pursue a more moderate approach, only providing remote capabilities for certain employees and business processes. Either way, IT-business alignment is crucial to selecting the right mix of cloud and mobile technologies that allow employees to be productive when and wherever they are, open up more communications channels and boost engagement.

“The mentality that you create a space and people show up there to work is dead,” notes Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work and co-founder of The Future of Work community. “Think about cloud and mobile technology as the central nervous system of the organization and enabling the themes around the future of work. They let work become something you take with you instead of being a place to go to.”

The March to the Cloud

Enterprises have been quick to recognize the power of the cloud for accommodating new work styles. According to the 2015 IDG Enterprise Cloud Computing Survey, 66% of decision makers are currently moving or plan to move email/messaging applications to the cloud in the next 12 months. Sixty-one percent (61%) are doing the same for collaboration and conferencing applications. The fast march to the cloud is instrumental for enabling the “always connected” mentality, the respondents say, with nearly half (48%) anticipating a surge in productivity thanks to the ability to access corporate data from any location and/or device.

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Source: 2015 IDG Enterprise Cloud Computing Survey

Delivering tools that let employees be productive anytime, anywhere is crucial to better engagement. Forty-eight percent (48%) of service organizations responding to the IDG survey say the cloud is essential for improving work/life balance compared with 31% on average. The cloud also sets the stage for better training opportunities and intracompany communication, fostering collaboration between IT and the business, a benefit cited by 46% of respondents.

At Marks & Spencer (M&S), an array of cloud solutions, including Microsoft Office 365, Skype for Business, Yammer and SharePoint, is helping the company make the transition to a digital enterprise while promoting more active employee engagement. The ability to access key systems from mobile devices is vital to helping staffers tackle work/life balance, M&S officials say. Skype for Business has become a popular way for colleagues to get a personal response and work more effectively together. Further, Sharepoint serves as a foundation for M&S World, a shared data resource that has dramatically transformed how people collaborate.

“We’re encouraging people to think about work as an activity, not as a place, and to use technology to work as it suits them,” says Fliss Morehen, M&S’ head of employee engagement. “The technologies are helping us connect much better to people across the organization, which obviously is an imperative for driving a high-performance culture at M&S.”

Cloud-based social media platforms and collaboration platforms can also help IT and other business leaders foster community, support the drive for greater corporate transparency and give younger workers a place to engage that fits with what they use in their personal lives. Companies such as M&S, Pizza Hut and British Airways are leveraging platforms like Yammer to engage younger workers who are comfortable with social collaboration. The Deloitte survey finds that 41% of millennials prefer to communicate digitally at work rather than face to face or over the telephone.

M&S employees use Yammer to provide answers to policy questions, share stories within the company, and collaborate on projects, capitalizing on the speed of response that can be achieved using a shared application. At Pizza Hut, which has a young and mobile workforce, 90% of whom work in restaurants, Yammer serves as a collaborative platform that’s accessible from their mobile devices on their own time. Managers share customer letters and customer satisfaction scores on the platform, and employees actively wade in and ask questions. Yammer has also changed the way Pizza Hut conducts training, eliminating the need for staffers to be physically present during a restaurant shift. Instead, they can access the material on Yammer from their device of choice, whenever it’s convenient.

Since implementing Yammer, Pizza Hut has seen average customer spend increase, customer satisfaction scores rise and sales steadily climb. “It inspires everyone to be better,” says Gareth Hopley, Pizza Hut UK’s head of PR and communications. “Now we have a genuinely engaged workforce that buys into the culture of our business and will help us move forward, toward future success.”

At British Airways, fostering collaboration among 41,000 workers — some of whom work on the ground, and others primarily in the air — was a challenge. The airline used Yammer Enterprise, along with the Microsoft Office 365 cloud suite, to enable knowledge sharing across the organization.

Since switching to the Microsoft cloud portfolio, collaboration has become more inclusive and inituitive while improving the level of responsiveness for customer service. For example, customer-facing employees can now post issues on Yammer and get near-instant feedback for better problem solving. Yammer was used to fuel company spirit and an exchange of ideas when BA took delivery of the A380 Airbus “superjumbo” jet, strengthening employees’ sense of pride in the airline.

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“This connection and level of collaboration [among] different parts of our organization would have previously taken significantly longer to achieve,” says Adrian Steel, global head of IT operations for International Airlines Group. “Yammer collaboration reduced the exchange to days and drove a highly effective solution that enhanced staff productivity and customer service on our new A380 flights.

“Within 21 months, we reached over one million Yammer posts, which represent a phenomenal amount of knowledge shared between British Airways employees from all corners of the organization,” Steel adds.

With employee engagement firmly established as a business imperative across many industries, CIOs need to take a leadership role in shaping the future work patterns of the modern enterprise. By mapping out a roadmap for cloud and mobility solutions, IT can provide a foundation that delivers the flexibility and agility businesses need to make work a highly engaging experience that fosters productivity, loyalty and growth.