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Did we reach the limits to improvement of human productivity through technology?

Published by Luc Hendrikx
April 30, 2021 @ 3:15 PM

This article was written by Luc Hendrikx, CEO of CIONET International. It is based on a debate organised by Deloitte Belgium with Jan Van Acoleyen (Chief HR Officer - Proximus), Sebastiaan Vanloot (VP Finance and ICT EMEA - Terumo), Nicolas van Houtreyve (Partner Finance and Performance - Deloitte), Yves Rombauts (Partner Technology - Deloitte), Yves Van Durme (Partner Human Capital - Deloitte), Nathalie Vandaele (Partner Human Capital - Deloitte), Jo Cobbaut (editor in chief HR Magazine and FD Magazine), Peter Ooms (Co-Editor-in-Chief bij FD Magazine). 

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When remote working suddenly became a necessity

The COVID-19 pandemic caught us all by surprise as we entered 2020. But in many respects CIOs were ahead of the curve with their adoption of modern technology infrastructures and collaborative tools. For many Belgian companies the rapid move to home working occurred as a relatively smooth transition despite the initial shock. 

The pandemic resulted in a tremendous acceleration of the adoption of new technologies. Borders disappeared over night and access to remote experts became easier. Technology became important to every organisation. As a consequence of this strong delivery and increased importance, the image, reputation and position of the IT department has significantly improved in most organisations. The IT department became a hero!

Many organisations were already working on the optimisation of their organisational structures prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to become more Agile. Organisations that are more advanced in their implementation of Agile models such as the Scaled Agile Framework have proven to be better equipped to deal with massive unexpected changes such as the pandemic. 

Remote working has already and will continue to accelerate the use of management information tools to track billings, cash collections and measure productivity. Data analytics helps to inform management teams as to ways of increasing productivity and eliminating friction in workflows. Automation accelerates as robotic process automation (RPA) gains traction.

What are the current gaps in distributed working?

In these pandemic times, we’re taking less time to reflect. Office workers and specifically the management layers have a tendency to book video calls back to back during the complete day. People are nearly starting to long for the private reflection time that they used to enjoy in their traffic jam home in the evening. This allowed them to disconnect and switch to their private priorities in a much smoother way than walking down the stairs does.

The panel believes in the power of working in small empowered teams. Agile and agile at scale are clearly contributing to more productive organisations. However, implementing new organisational structures, whilst working remotely is very complicated as it requires to build trust relationships between individuals. 

Surveys show that human well being is decreasing amongst office workers and many people are experiencing this period as “boring”. Digital interactions are experienced as a lot less personal. The number of burn outs amongst office workers is increasing. Panelists feel that executive teams have to be aware of this and that measuring evolution on a continuous basis is essential. There is a shared belief that executive teams should create perspective. This can only be done through scenario planning to consider seismic shifts in workforce, workflow and workplace in the 2025-2030-time frames. Executive teams should work on these scenarios for the post pandemic work and communicate transparently about them with their teams.

Most organisations have proven that it’s possible to on-board new employees through remote working. However, transferring the company culture and creating a sense of belonging is more effective through physical contact. Organisations are very creative. Great examples are the walking meetings. Some colleagues go out for a walk whilst discussing business. They even do this in hybrid forms, where they video call whilst walking in their own neighbourhood. 

Where will we be post pandemic?

Remote working is not the “one size fits all answer” for organising the work of office workers. Participants are convinced that every category of workloads can be done most efficiently through a specific working method. There is the prospect of turning offices into meeting places where office workers meet clients and co-workers (what we call ‘heads-up’) and work in teams (‘heads together’). ‘Heads down’ activities such as emails and contract writing can be easily done at home. Some delegates pointed to a 50:50 split. This will have profound consequences for current centre city office space and support costs.

For team building exercises, office works used to go on “off-sites”. In a post pandemic world, companies will organise “on-sites” for team building. 

Organisations are facing a massive challenge. Employees have developed habits during the pandemic, which are there to stay. People started to organise their private lives differently when working from home. This allows them to spend more time with their families. The panelists expect that this leaves organisations with a giant contradiction. On the one hand employees will insist on only coming to the office when it suits them, on the other hand, they will expect to find all the colleagues with whom they need to interact in that office on that day. Consequently, the need for efficient hybrid meetings will surge, whilst the good practices and meeting etiquette for this form of collaboration are still being defined.

This pandemic has also changed the way organisations determine where and how to invest in technology. The importance of the classical individual business cases for every investment is decreasing. Yves Rombauts sees that most of his customers are now adopting an option valuation approach to IT investments. This results in more systematic value creation in the long term.


Posted in:CIONET Belgium

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