With the growth of the cloud, working “anywhere, everywhere” was a giant experiment even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, for many workers, the primary interface to the enterprise culture is now their screens. It’s a radical shift that most organizations have only started to think through.
Organizations have recognized the efficiency, scalability, resilience and performance that platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace bring. But as they adapt their infrastructure strategies for the emerging Cloud Continuum, the cloudification of the workplace is accelerating—and adding complexity.
Some organizations have adapted quickly, particularly those which had the foresight to adopt the flexibility of the cloud early on. Others are still figuring out how to operate in a hybrid environment effectively and securely.
As companies are challenged to implement these continuously evolving cloud platforms, they also want to ensure that the entire business can actually use the cloud’s full capabilities amid a whole new way of working.
Success in the continuum isn’t about simply doing the same old things on a new cloud platform—it’s about rethinking what you do, how you do it as well as who you do it with.
How enterprises should respond: workforce, workplace, workspace
A good way to think about responding to these dramatic changes is to consider the question in three interrelated parts: the human, the physical and the digital. In other words, think about both the digital workplace and the physical spaces (the workspace), as well as the people who use them (the workforce).
#1 The changing workplace:
The Cloud Continuum offers enterprises a step change in compute power, data storage, insight generation and information accessibility. The challenge? Finding a way to bring all this together in a way that works for employees in their day-to-day activities.
Automation for the people. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to give more levers of control to individuals. For example, there is now a range of low-code/no-code platforms that democratize the digital enterprise, enabling workers to augment their own decision-making, automate their own processes or solve their own business problems with data. This puts the power of automation and data insight in the hands of the people who can ultimately make best use of it, at the moment they most need it.
Process improvement as a service. Another option is to consider “process improvement as a service.” In this model, the enterprise uses a centralized hub of process improvement talent—either internally or from an external provider—to help teams and individuals solve their unique business challenges. A good example is a productivity studio concept. Here, a cadre of specialized process improvement experts help the business create new solutions to specific problems, which can then be spun off and reused elsewhere in the organization.
The integrated digital workplace. Workers frequently have to deal with a fragmented environment, with dozens of siloed applications used for different daily activities. Therefore, every enterprise should consider workplaces integration. Instead of having to go to 20 different applications to do their job, workers should have access to the necessary tools through their primary environment. That could be a central work hub for email, Microsoft Teams or any other enterprise workplaces.
Even baby steps matter. Interventions don’t have to be radical to be effective. Accenture worked with executive leaders in one healthcare company to help it maximize the value of its Microsoft Teams platform. From simple actions like recording meeting notes and assigning action items to more extensive real-time collaboration, it’s helped the organization’s people make better use of the cloud technology they already had while breaking down traditional barriers between organizational silos.
#2 The changing workspace:
One key use of Continuum capabilities in the workplace is to reduce friction—whether it’s accessing a building or finding a meeting space. And as everything gets connected, there are more opportunities to eliminate friction.
What could you do with a digital twin of your workspace? Take something like workplace occupancy. In the past, if enterprises wanted to understand building usage, organizations would employ people to walk the floors, validating which desks were occupied, which meeting rooms were being used and so on. But thanks to cloud, it’s now relatively simple to connect the dots between different systems, work out who’s doing what and where at any one moment and analyze this information in real time.
Taking this a step further, the enterprise can build a “digital twin” (a real-time digital representation) of its entire physical workplace. The insights can be transformative, not only for the efficient use of physical infrastructure, but also for other activities such as capacity planning, energy consumption and the enforcement of COVID protocols. For example, sensors monitoring pollen levels in real time can activate additional filtering systems and reduce health risks yet remain inactive to save energy.
What about access and security? Many enterprise protocols and systems are still catching up with the fact that just about every employee—and every guest, too—who enters the workplace has a high-powered smartphone in their pocket that’s likely equipped with biometric security features. In conjunction with the Cloud Continuum, it’s now possible to use the smartphone as a badge for authenticating individuals and giving them access to spaces and systems. Given how cumbersome and manually intensive many of these processes are, the potential to reduce workspace friction is huge.
#3 The changing workforce:
So much of what we do in digital spaces produces data. The same is true in physical spaces. With modern analytics technologies, it’s becoming increasingly possible to pull workforce insights that support employee experience and engagement out of this vast volume of information.
A digital twin of the individual? It’s likely we’ll soon be able to build real-time digital twins of people, just as we do for buildings and systems. Consider, for example, how data from Human Capital Management systems might be used in conjunction with other system data to determine whether an individual has the right skills for their role or particular tasks they’ve been assigned.
Or what about providing support and guidance for an individual’s well-being? One of the downsides to working anywhere and everywhere in a Cloud Continuum environment is the risk of individual cognitive overload. Sometimes, there’s simply too much information for any one person to process at once. This is a real issue already and is only set to grow as the continuum expands its footprint into day-to-day working life.
Armed with the right data in real time, plus the correct data privacy and consent model, it will be possible to develop systems that can spot the signals of worker burnout or dissatisfaction—and intervene accordingly.
Paying closer attention to retention. One pharmaceuticals company set out to improve workforce satisfaction by treating employees as if they were customers. Accenture helped the organization introduce new analytical models—many based on longstanding insights from customer research—to interpret employee reactions to corporate initiatives and inform a more targeted and intelligent approach. This has helped to increase employee retention at a time of great demand for critical talent.
Make way for a Continuum-ready workplace
Just as with all aspects of enterprise infrastructure, the Cloud Continuum calls on leaders to be bold in reenvisaging how their workplaces need to evolve. Here are some of the key things to think about first:
How are your people using your spaces today?
Can your digital infrastructure support your workplace needs?
How will you maintain your culture in the Continuum?
Can your organization measure ROI in terms of wellness?
Employee experience is the core of the workplace in the Cloud Continuum. As organizations adapt strategies for the Continuum and make new decisions for physical and digital workplace infrastructure, they have the critical opportunity to make an impact on the human aspect.
And with a human-centered strategy, enterprises can think radically about how best to leverage the Cloud Continuum to optimize the physical and digital for the people who make the workplace work.
How will extended reality transform interaction?
The office of the future is here, thanks to technologies like XR and the metaverse. “Meta-offices” are places where people can collaborate in real-time using purpose-built tools.
And with the rising importance of flexibility to workers, organizations must embrace hybrid working to attract and retain talent.