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4 Insights for Hybrid Work: Lessons from the Pandemic WFH Model

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The widespread WFH model is now switching to a more popular hybrid alternative as the country begins to open up following successful vaccination programs.

But as business leaders consider the best way forward for a positive hybrid ecosystem, it’s a good time to reflect on lessons learned from the start of the pandemic when technology had to fast track to cope with a new remote workforce.

Unfortunately for some, the urgency to support WFH employees with the right tech led to businesses making some unwelcome changes which resulted in bad business processes. According to the COVID-19 Technology and Business Process survey, by ABBYY, 64% of companies initiated new technology to cope with the change in working, yet as many as 74% of employees say they were still experiencing challenges.

So, what’s the issue? Why did the technology not help as much as expected? How did some companies manage to get it right while others faced frustrations rather than improvements? And more importantly what can we learn from those mistakes as we switch to a hybrid work model?

Here are four unexpected findings from the survey that can help leaders understand where they may have gone wrong and the possible changes that will help for the future.

Data Point No. 1: New technology can’t fix bad processes

There has been a myriad of productivity and collaboration tools introduced to help employees conduct their work faster and more efficiently, but it didn’t always improve their workflow. Nearly half of employees surveyed said processes made their job more challenging, 36% said they wasted their time, and more worryingly one in four were feeling so frustrated they want to quit their jobs!

Processes form the lifeline for any business, and they help uniform activities, meet compliance standards, and make sure resources are put to optimal use. Not fully understanding how new tools impact employees and the entire business process workflow can end up frustrating employees and negatively affect their productivity and ultimately the customer experience.

Leaders are now realizing that in order to generate the most value from their digital efforts, they need to take a process-first approach and have a complete understanding of how people, processes and content interact with them overall. Having a bird’s eye view of how your entire business works – from each cog and wheel connecting to the other – is the only way to truly evaluate your company workflow.

Data Point No. 2: Workers like their new digital colleagues

The whole point of employees having a digital assistant is to improve efficiency and increase productivity. Almost half of office workers surveyed are currently using digital workers and report that they spent up to two hours a day with them. The helpful bots are most beneficial with sorting/classifying data and documents, digitizing paperwork, and sharing reminders to do tasks, according to the survey.

Those who wish they had a digital colleague said they would use them for digitizing paper, prompts, and classification purposes, and believe the software robot could save them 32 hours per month doing routine tasks.  Unfortunately, only 29% of employees who use digital workers said they improve collaboration and productivity (26%). These findings show that digital workers should be deployed to automate simple, repetitive tasks and for augmenting human intelligence. Additionally, while digital workers are beneficial for automating manual tasks, they are not the end-all to improving the overall work experience due to the fact that they may be hampered by poor business processes – as noted above.

Data Point No. 3: Employees’ wish list for new tech

Another interesting result from the survey showed that 76% of employees found new tech tools did help with daily tasks. Overall, most office workers reported an appreciation for business processes to keep them on track, and a similarly substantial portion said they wished they had tools that could help them do their jobs better. On their wish list were communications tools (70%) such as Microsoft Teams, process/task mining (43%) to identify process improvement and automation opportunities, and AI tools (3%) that can understand language outside of a set of pre-programmed commands and continue learning based on the inputs it receives.

The high ranking of task mining on the wish list came as one of the main surprises, with staff welcoming the monitoring tool which captures and analyzes how people interact with systems through recordings and snapshots. Task mining helps companies identify and have a deeper understanding of what employees actually do when they perform a particular task and identify the common actions. This data can then be used to improve processes while ensuring those automation efforts are aimed at where the greatest productivity gains can be made. Additionally, it can be an effective personal productivity tool for employees to show how they’re working, how they can improve, and identify areas where additional automation can assist them.

Data Point No. 4: Young executives struggle the most with remote working

One of the biggest worries about the onset of remote working for many businesses was that non-digital natives would struggle to adapt to unified communications and new technologies, but in fact, the survey revealed that it is Gen Z and millennials who are struggling the most with remote working.

Age matters when it comes to how senior-level decision makers perceive work challenges. There was a notable difference between executives under the age of 35 compared to those aged over 54. As many as 61% of executives under the age of 34 said that business processes made their jobs more challenging. Only 36% of executives over 54, agreed with this. Furthermore 85% of those under 35 said that processes wasted their time, while only 20% of those over 54 agreed with this.

This suggests that while younger executives may be digital natives and are quicker to adapt to new technologies, there is less tolerance from them for workflow disruptions, and more skepticism around new technologies among older executives. Leaders should focus on empowering older generation workers to use the right technology and clearly explain the benefits they can gain from using it. And to be more effective, they need to stay deeply connected to the work of their teams and their processes, and provide context, structure, tracking, and visibility into their jobs.

Digital transformation will continue to be an imperative as we use more technology to work from home, go hybrid, collaborate with peers, service customers, and move more of our lives online. What’s crucial however is knowing exactly where and how it will be most beneficial.

About the Author:

Bruce Orcutt is Vice President at global Digital Intelligence company, ABBYY.

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