The explosion of digital technology adoption that followed the outbreak of COVID-19 has accelerated many firms’ migration to cloud-based collaboration. With offices and other workplaces closed, demand for virtual collaboration tools soared as workers and employers sought to maintain productivity in a distributed workforce.
What’s now clear is that while this change may have been born of short-term necessity, it’s likely here to stay – even when COVID is a memory. There are three main reasons why:
- Workers want to work flexibly. According to one global survey, three quarters of people say they want a mix of office and remote working to become the new norm, with a half-and-half split seen as the ideal balance.
- Employers can benefit from reduced real estate costs. Rather than maintaining large office premises, businesses can invest in smaller, high-design alternatives to nurture workers and brand identity.
- Virtual collaboration works. Traditional fears that home working policies are little more than a "slackers’ charter" have proved unfounded. One survey found that 94% of employers think that productivity is the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic.
A hybrid workplace of the future is emerging now. For many companies, it is already here. In this new hybrid world where physical and virtual collaboration meet, we predict cloud-based services will become the tools of choice.
As this happens, the tools themselves will become competitive differentiators, making it increasingly important for enterprises to invest in future-proof technologies that unlock the full power of the cloud. Enterprises will likely face pressure to focus on the employee experience to ensure that all workers have the tools and support they need – regardless of whether they’re working at home, in the office, or a bit of both.
For enterprises looking to invest in cloud-based collaboration tools that will give them an edge in terms of productivity and employee engagement – today and in the future – there are six capabilities to look out for. In no particular order, these are:
- Seamless and frictionless end-to-end collaboration. The best systems will offer users a single, frictionless experience across home, office and other locations, and across devices and applications. A person joining a meeting using a monitor in an office meeting room should have exactly the same user experience and access to resources as a colleague joining from their home office via a tablet. Similarly, a user will be able to access every application they need from the same interface, rather than having to switch between them.
- Capabilities both off- and online. Workers will sometimes need to work even when there’s no connectivity, such as when their home broadband goes down. Their collaboration tools should therefore allow them to continue to work with all files across their productivity ecosystems, even if they’re temporarily unable to join the cloud.
- AI-enabled features. The cloud allows for huge amounts of compute power to be placed at the disposal of workers. One area this will be beneficial is in enabling AI applications to run alongside collaboration tools, facilitating valuable features such as predictive text completion.
- "Professionalisation" features for video. With video conferencing now an important business tool, companies will need their services to meet the highest levels of professionalism. Features like video and audio test and noise cancellation can help users ensure that the environment is right for those "make or break" meetings, such as sales pitches.
- Ease of search across all content and data. For the highest levels of productivity, users will be able to use powerful search algorithms to find what they need from right across the enterprise. The faster and more accurate the search capability, the better the user experience.
- Developed in the cloud. Future-proof tools are cloud native. They are created on the platform of tomorrow, and for tomorrow’s needs. They are therefore much better able to connect to core cloud enterprise platforms and help transform the world of work.
“Businesses I talk to want to collaborate in more seamless and efficient ways. Google Workspace is born in the cloud and so allows for frictionless collaboration, rather than solutions with bolted on features and multiple legacy tools. Workspace is available to organisations of all shapes and sizes and has everything you need to get anything done, all in one place.”
- Daniel Middleton, UK Google Workspace Lead at Google Cloud
“The best collaborative tools are underpinned by enterprise-wide data and app modernisation and are brought together in the cloud. They are at the front end of a broader transformation journey that will allow businesses to move with agility, innovate at speed and outperform their competitors. What’s important is that firms work with the right partners to workshop a broad cloud strategy that starts with data and app modernisation and ends with world class collaboration.”
- Asser Elghoneimi, Digital Workplace Transformation Manager at Accenture
Defining a collaboration model that works
Cloud collaboration is just one part of a company’s cloud ecosystem. To derive the maximum benefit from cloud collaboration tools, businesses need to think strategically about the challenges they want to address through the tools and how cloud infrastructure, data and applications can be combined to deliver against these challenges.
It’s therefore important to identify the business benefits that can be unlocked by collaborative culture, including cost efficiency, improved productivity, and smarter working, and to understand how your organisational and team structures can evolve in highly collaborative environments. Here the choice of cloud partners is important.
Ideally you want to work with organisations that can help plan your journey to more collaborative working and which bring to the table assets and accelerators to support your cloud design, including data migration tools and services, standardised delivery methodology, reusable apps, and subject matter experts. The more business and technical input you have into your collaboration design the more likely it will succeed, which why initiatives like Cloud Design from Accenture and Google Cloud have an important role to play.
The user interface of the new enterprise
With the right approach, cloud collaboration tools will become the user interface of the transformed enterprise, connecting people to the colleagues, documents, files, apps and data they need to thrive.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly kickstarted the workplace revolution currently underway, but much more change lies ahead. Businesses that invest in the right tools and partnerships, and see collaboration as part of a broader cloud- and digital-transformation journey will be best placed to increase productivity, employee engagement and, ultimately, growth.