The Return to Work: How to Implement Digital Transformation and Collaboration as a Business Continuity Strategy

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This article was contributed by Dana Corey, SVP & GM at Avocor.

As businesses around the world begin putting their plans for the “return to work” movement into action, they're quickly learning that many of the protocols they previously had in place won't suffice for the new normal we've been faced with. 

Many companies found themselves unprepared for the transition to remote work and collaboration when the pandemic first prompted stay-at-home orders, and they were forced to spend a lot of time and resources ensuring employees were properly set up to immediately work from home full-time. From technical and security issues, to ensuring teams had the appropriate software and hardware technologies, to simply trying to manage team communication and efficiencies within a distributed workforce – companies were faced with many unforeseen challenges.

The post-COVID transition has put a spotlight on remote work and meetings and how they play a critical role in maintaining business continuity now and in the future. As many regions reopen and return to physical offices and workplaces, the next phase of work will be a hybrid culture, consisting of employees who work in-office and those who remain remote – and there will be a need for increased flexibility between the two. Digital transformation still remains an untapped potential – collaboration and unified communications technology are a critical part of business continuity plans now and into the future to support this hybrid approach.

Digital transformation—or, more broadly, the concept of integrating digital technology into all areas of a business—is a strategy that the corporate and enterprise communities have come to embrace more frequently as the use of hardware and software technology to connect teams continues to mature. In essence, digital transformation is the deployment of technology to change the way people work to streamline and create efficiencies. It's happening globally, and organizations, large and small, are embracing it in order to stay competitive in today's evolving market.

According to a recent survey by ServiceNow, which polled various corporate industries from all over the world, 92 percent of executives believe that COVID-19 has forced their company to rethink how work gets done, and 87 percent of employees believe their company has created new and better ways of working. On the flip side of that, the results also show that while new systems were quickly put into place to help with new ways of working, most executives and employees say they would not be able to adapt within 30 days in the event of another disruption.

This research proves that despite the innovative lessons learned throughout the pandemic thus far, many businesses still remain unprepared for the future of work. Digital transformation is something that all successful businesses should invest in right now in order to ensure their workplace-technology needs are met in the future, whatever that may bring. 

In this article, I have outlined what I believe to be the most crucial considerations for adding digital transformation into business continuity plans, specifically around team collaboration and communication. 

Ensure that meeting spaces are digital-first

The collaborative meeting culture has already faced considerable impact stemming from lessons-learned during the pandemic, as well as considerations looking ahead to the future of work. Post-pandemic, there will be a need for meetings to extend beyond the four walls of a traditional meeting space and small areas like focus and huddle spaces will need to be reconfigured in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. All meeting spaces will need to be set up to include technology that allows for effective video and audio communication with remote employees, global teams, and external parties, such as agencies, vendors, and suppliers – and this requires a shift in meeting culture to one that fully embraces a flexible, digital-first strategy.

The vast adoption and extraordinary increase in users of virtual meeting platforms has also shifted work culture to have a renewed optimism about using video for calls. While many businesses already implemented videoconferencing before COVID, those who previously hadn't used it, are now embracing it as a result of the nearly overnight changes that arose back in the spring. 

Video undeniably enhances the conference call experience in many ways – it maximizes the meeting time by keeping people accountable. It also allows for nonverbal visual cues to be used during the call experiences and can also attract interest from younger demographics who are more accepting of video as a digital communication tool. Post-COVID, there will be more widespread acceptance of video calls that will impact the way teams communicate with one another well into the future.  

Accept that remote and in-office work will become interchangeable

As companies begin re-opening their offices, it is likely that there will be a shift in the policies and culture for remote work in organizations, with added flexibility to choose a hybrid approach to working in-office and at home, something that was not as widely accepted pre-COVID. A survey from Gartner in April 2020 found that, post-pandemic, 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time.” 

Organizations should plan for this combination of work styles by investing in reliable UC technology, videoconferencing, office and meeting room flow and design that all support a seamless transition to a combination of in-office and remote work. Employees should be able to move from each style of work fluidly, and collaboration and UC technology can support this transition by replicating the in-person experience through video display technology, and vice-versa. Some organizations are even investing to provide employees with interactive displays that function in a home office in the same way a video collaboration display does in a meeting room, allowing for a more dynamic and effective meeting experience. These displays provide the ease-of-use akin to traditional whiteboards, but because they are totally digital, from content to annotations and notes, they allow the ability to share content, by showing cloud-based real-time annotations with (and from) everyone on a call and then saving and sending the meeting's notes and ideas. It's essentially like having your touch-screen laptop at room scale and accessible to everyone on the call. 

Understand that technology that supports the largest ecosystem of collaboration software and hardware will offer the greatest value

Beyond considerations such as design/room configurations and meeting culture, the right combination of software and hardware technology developed specifically for bringing teams together both in-person and remotely, and the ability to work with any ecosystem of software and hardware partners, is critical to ensuring success and productivity. Whether a meeting is happening physically together in a board room, or from several different home offices, teams need to be able to easily access the video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Teams. 

With UC technology, team meetings are easy to set up and can be started quickly and they encourage confident decision-making, improving and expediting team relationships and even reducing meeting frequency, in turn bolstering productivity and bridging company-wide communication gaps.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a major emphasis on the essential impact that digital transformation plays in an organization's overall business strategy implementation. Companies are learning that it is important to enable employees to communicate effectively from afar, but there are also key components of work-culture that, even with the best intentions, are impossible to completely replicate – but this transition can happen more seamlessly with the implementation of technology that supports distributed team collaboration, setting up teams to work effectively remotely, and making changes to policy that support a more flexible work culture. All of the lessons we're learning now will help manufacturers and other solutions-providers in the industry to better understand the specific needs that the modern workplace will entail, including the challenges that come with teams working remotely, and how they can develop new solutions to help mediate these challenges in the immediate future and beyond.