Work from Anywhere needs the right culture and the right tools
The pandemic has taught us through the past year that it becomes urgent for businesses to adequately deal with the need for new working models that help employees to become as productive when working from any place as when working from an office.
This is all the more important as research indicates that the change that we are undergoing now is going to stay at least to some extent. And that is reasonable, as with all the investments made by businesses it is possible to combine the best of both worlds. Many, if not most of us, will be able to truly work from anywhere. After all, some activities are better done in office spaces, others work better in a remote setting. And then there is a good chance that travel will increase again. Travel time often is unproductive time. And with all the infrastructure that is now in place, travel time can get brought to more productive use — if not driving a car, that is.
But what does it take to be able to work efficiently from anywhere?
The answer is: More than just technology. It is equally, if not more, important to have a corporate culture in place and to credibly send the message to employees that makes them truly believe that it is their choice from where they work. A good part of this is that managers rather look at results than monitoring time spent. While the latter cannot be ignored, at the end of the day it is about achieving results. This is also what motivates people. Seeing that they achieve results and that this gets rewarded or at least recognized. It is important that management walks the talk here. Without management’s credible endorsement of a culture that promotes work from anywhere, nothing will work.
The other part is, of course, technology. Key here is having a communication and collaboration system that tightly integrates with business systems and that is easily accessible to employees for internal as well as external communication.
Testament to this are e.g. findings of the fourth edition of Salesforce’s State of Service report. Customer service agents who can say that they have access to all relevant information and have the tools that enable them to work remotely report a far higher level of ability to make an excellent job for their customers than their colleagues who do not have the technology at hand.
Of the enterprise software vendors, Microsoft, Salesforce or Zoho have their own fully integrated communication systems. SAP deeply integrates with Microsoft Teams. Oracle has a strategic partnership with Zoom.
Rich Rosen, CEO of Fastcall, says, “Salesforce has embraced work from home for its 52,000 employees across 160 offices worldwide, suggesting that remote workforces open up incredible business opportunities. They have reported many work from home (#WFH) benefits, including increased productivity and recommend video conferencing as a vital tool. Salesforce recommends that companies take the time to employ effective management strategies to maximize productivity and collaboration.”
The examples of SAP and Oracle already indicate that it is not always necessary to use the vendors’ own solutions, but that it is on the contrary possible to work with ecosystem partners, especially with ones that focus on extending the solutions provided by the owner of the ecosystem itself. And there are a number of companies that provide these services to a different degree, from Atlassian, via Facebook and Fastcall to Zoho. All of these are able to connect to one or more ecosystems, sometimes including their own.
Still, sometimes it is not necessary to move away from the tools that are provided by the vendor. This might be, because they are perceived as very good for the additional price — this is for example what can become an argument for Slack as part of Salesforce — or because they are good and already part of the existing subscription — e.g. when having a Zoho One subscription.
In other cases, e.g. when there is a major main player with many smaller ecosystem partners, there may be a higher confidence level with smaller partners. These are simply more eye-to-eye with SMB customers. Imagine an 800 pound gorilla like Salesforce vs. a small but healthy $50–100m business. It can be beneficial to work with smaller ecosystem partners for specific solutions in this case. This is something that I also described in my recent article “We all want to be recognized”. These smaller partners often show more interest in and responsiveness to the needs of smaller companies. These smaller partners often also know more about the needs of small companies, such as a higher necessity for plug’n’play, lower IT demands, simplicity etc. And will you be able to call Marc Benioff when a problem arises? Surely not as a small business. Will you be able to call the CEO of a smaller player? Very likely.
So, what to do?
There is no way around enabling the company and with that the people for a future that entails significant times of work outside the confines of an office. This needs to be done on a cultural/organizational and a technological level. Culturally, make sure that people confidently can and want to work from outside the office. There are ways to do this and it is paramount that management walks the talk, too.
This walking the talk does not only consist of giving the freedom to do and to empower people as necessary, but also of providing the right technology.
To quote Rich Rosen of Fastcall again “Software is in the cloud — so that is anywhere. Employees are now more mobile so this argues for an accelerated mobile strategy. Laptops, iPads, devices. And then there is the office phone. the last vestige of hardware that is hardwired to the office”.
Being in the cloud, the right technology enables close collaboration and communication with colleagues and customers from anywhere. It is connected to and integrated into the business systems. This makes sure that all persons have access to the same information (in the limits of authorizations, of course), wherever they are. The office phone as a telephone has become irrelevant. It is just another front end of the integrated, collaborative, business software.
Integrated also means that the collaboration and communication software needs to be developed to be a native part of the business software and not attached to it, as for instance Slack is to Salesforce. This reduces complexities, downtime risk and therefore increases productivity.
Now, who to choose as a supplier?
Based upon the company’s size and infrastructure, this technology may very well (or even should) come from a company that is dedicated to this platform, a company that is of a suitable size and that convincingly demonstrates a desire to deliver what is right for customers.