There is one certainty as we explore the future of work: Nothing is predictable. We have seen exponential change in this past year, and we learned that those businesses that readily adapt to change can come out the strongest.

Many used the power of technology to solve the challenges of the day. Nearly overnight, organizations used technology tools to enable people to work from anywhere. Cloud-based solutions are allowing file sharing, online meetings, chat and more. Yet although many invested in cloud, our recent research found that 63% of companies are failing to reach expected value from their cloud investments.

We also learned that by continuously investing in people and unlocking their potential alongside of and in support of a business driven-cloud transformation, businesses can achieve 2.3X more gains across worker productivity and cross-functional collaboration and communication. In my client work, I have seen that companies embracing cloud as an enabler to connect the workforce, enable informed decisions and provide career opportunities are more successful than those just focusing on technology as an end in and of itself.

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Using technology to enable closer connections

Technology connects systems and data, but is it connecting people? We’ve seen strides made as companies quickly stood up cloud-enabled solutions that allowed work from anywhere. But as hybrid work models that include in-person and remote work take hold, we must consider what more technology can do to help people collaborate virtually, innovate together and find new tech-enabled ways of working.

People are lamenting the close personal connections that historically have been built in person. The extemporaneous conversations that occur by the water cooler can happen via technology. Imagine weekly coffee klatches or informal team meetings in which people can ideate in real time and collaborate around the clock. Leaders can be more purposeful in how they invest in relationships. One C-level client of mine said he makes it a point to connect with each member of the team 1:1 virtually every two weeks or so. These conversations might only be 10 minutes, but they are allowing him to form invaluable connections with people as he learns about what is going on at work or with their families.

At Accenture, we started using technology for creative team building during the pandemic. We had a series of leadership sessions in which small groups of leaders convened virtually to get to know each other through exercises and engagement. We talked about what matters most to people. How do they like to work? What inspires and engages them? The sessions accelerated the bonding process among leaders by making it easy to talk and share. And since then, we’ve been discussing how we can creatively use workspace to amplify the power of being together. People don’t want to go back to sitting in cubes. We can find new ways to make in-person time more valuable and productive.

These insightful and intimate discussions might have taken years to occur in person. Most importantly, they helped build a newfound layer of trust among the team, which is essential to improving collaboration and innovation.

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Supporting data-driven decisions that enable growth

Data is a critical currency, but not all organizations are using it to drive value. Consider Amazon. They use every drop of data available to understand customers better, provide relevant content and accelerate the supply chain. Many organizations have a mountain of data, but they have not mastered how to aggregate and interrogate the data to make more informed decisions.

Historically, when people were predominantly working in person, they had access to information by which to make decisions. For instance, if you were working in finance, you’d have access to data about the consumer, the market, the profitability of certain products or offerings.

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We need to think bigger about what data and technology can do. 

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For example, people working in any function could make better decisions that drive value if they had access to data from across the enterprise.

Even beyond the four walls of the enterprise, technology can help the business cast a wider net by which to collect data from adjacent industries. This data can inform decisions about where to pursue growth. This in increasingly important as industry lines blur. Think about retailers moving into the health space. Life sciences companies connecting directly with patients. Brick and mortar companies selling online. Data illuminates the path forward for companies pursuing new uncharted territory.

Elevate the employee experience  

When we talk about the future of work, we often talk about building the right talent pool. It is essential to use data to understand skill gaps and build digital fluency to fortify the business for the future. However, the greatest source of value that should not be overlooked is the workforce you already have. They have career goals, employment aspirations and desired skills they want to develop for the future.

We learned during the crisis that 78% of workers strongly believe their employer is responsible for helping them become net better off. One important dimension is being employable, meaning having marketable, in-demand capabilities and skills to obtain good jobs and advance in a career. Tapping into data can provide the right insights by which to make decisions about how to invest in your people to make them more marketable and employable.

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Our team recently partnered with a biotech company that is using data to personalize employee experiences and helping them to take control over their flexible work choices and actions. They are treating employees as customers, and this is paying off in improved agility, productivity, well-being and team effectiveness. The company also has seen major improvements in retaining key talent, achieving speed and increasing innovation.

Data can also help to predict those workers who are more likely to want to move on to other opportunities. For instance, a recent ZipRecruiter survey revealed that 70% of job seekers who last worked in leisure and hospitality say they are now looking for work in a different industry. 1 And many people simply just want to do something different within the organization. Business leaders can enable thoughtful reskilling to help people with aptitude and desire to gain the skills they need to serve in the roles they want.

Equipped with data insights, HR and other leaders can enable continuous learning opportunities that build a future-ready workforce that is fulfilled and motivated. Our research showed us that 98% of workers who have continuous learning opportunities would recommend their employer to others.

Striking the right balance between bringing in new technology and using it to unlock people’s potential is essential as we move into the future of work. We don’t know what the future holds, but if we support workforce collaboration, make wise decisions and help employees to thrive and enjoy their work, we will be stronger positioned to take on whatever comes our way.

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Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead

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