While the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted and further digitalised businesses and work, the work space and workforce of the future in each industry and in each company are still emerging, civil engineering multinational Stefanutti Stocks group information technology director Kevin Wilson said during a future work spaces webinar hosted by virtualisation multinational VMware on February 19.
VMware sub-Saharan Africa regional director Lorna Hardie noted said research undertaken by the company in Europe during June and July 2020 on work spaces showed that 41% of respondents expected employers to have a remote work policy.
However, the way in which companies monitor and manage productivity and ensure sufficient rest for employees, as well as ensuring corporate culture and work ethics are inculcated and maintained among existing and new employees, will require that companies continuously adapt their processes and management, she pointed out.
Wilson echoed this, noting that while Stefanutti Stocks' move to a work-from-home environment in late March 2020 had been relatively smooth, many staff felt pressured to demonstrate that they were working and spent significant time online.
Stefanutti Stocks has had a work-from-home policy in place for four years, and managers showed an understanding for workers and disruptions to normal work, with many employees having to take care of their children at the same time. However, various considerations about leave, availability and productivity came to the fore, and are a challenge in terms of employment contracts. The company's leaders and managers also had to change their management styles.
The VMware research showed that the need to adapt and support the anywhere work space was a business and management concern. Respondents indicated more pressure to be online, which raised some red flags indicating that new performance metrics should be considered, Hardie said.
"Management practices were forced to change. Policies had to be set in place to protect employees while enabling management to consider the impact of the new work environment and to manage people working outside office hours, as well as ensure that corporate culture is maintained, such as email and virtual meeting etiquette for a team or company."
Line of sight management may be a thing of the past, she said, and leadership and business processes must change to benefit from a distributed workforce, Hardie advised.
However, digitalisation was still emerging in industries and would take different forms across industrial and commercial sectors, said Wilson.
Stefanutti Stocks, as a construction and engineering company, only had about 20% of its staff working in a conventional office environment. In contrast, it typically managed about 200 project sites across 13 countries in Africa and, as part of its remote work initiatives, had established processes to remotely connect teams on these sites with others in the organisation.
Meanwhile, the pandemic unleashed a second "cybersecurity pandemic", as cyberattacks increased worldwide and established the need for good, stable security practices, said Wilson.
However, digitalisation that was not designed specifically according to an industry's needs and risks would not inevitably lead to improvements, he warned, highlighting that it was important for each industry, and company, to determine the form digitalisation would take.
"While I eventually want a smart device in the hands of each foreman, and we want to potentially three-dimensionally print structures in the future for clients, there are significant risks in getting digitalisation wrong. Up to 70% of first-time cloud migrations fail, and there have been similar experiences with moves to [enterprise resources planning] systems."
Wilson advocates a careful and informed approach to digitalisation.
"It is important to get digitalisation right first time. Advocates of digitalisation in companies must understand the risks, as well as the potential benefits and must be prepared to halt projects and reconsider their approaches to ensure that digitalisation addresses company and industry needs."
Wilson advocated that companies, especially industrial companies, approach digitalisation using an agile development method. This approach is similar to the methods employed for software development, where progress is continuously monitored, problems are quickly identified and addressed, and failures are recognised and analysed to improve overall development.