Our thanks to Anna Kopp of Microsoft for this guest article.
There’s one thing every business has in common.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Fortune 500 company or the corner shop down the road. All are bound by one universal truth: the need to do more with less.
They need to deliver more productivity with fewer heads. Tighter security with a smaller budget. Greater returns with reduced resources. It’s the perpetual cycle of business: an unending pursuit of innovation, optimisation, and most importantly of all, efficiency.
Technology and process have been placed under the greatest scrutiny in the name of efficiency. But there’s one area that is often missed: employee experience.
It’s been the elephant in the room for some time. We all know that a happy employee is a productive employee.
But the effects of the pandemic mean we can no longer pretend the issue doesn’t exist. Now that our way of working has been so severely disrupted, it is crucial for businesses to adopt an employee-first mindset, one which shows that they value their contribution and empathise with their needs.
Peoples' lives have been turned upside down over recent months, and this instability has led to a reconsideration of what is and isn’t important. It seems certain that the comfort and happiness of a business’s workforce will therefore play a major role in its future success (or otherwise).
This issue is the focus of the partnership between Fujitsu and Microsoft, and is something I’m deeply passionate about – so let’s explore it in more detail.
The new way of working
The pandemic has ushered in a completely new way of working. Our private and professional lives – once neatly separated by way of the morning commute – have been brought together.
Living rooms, kitchens, front gardens: they’ve all become our offices. And they come replete with children, pets, partners, and the plumber who’s come to fix the boiler. Corporate and domestic spheres are bleeding into one – and businesses need to address this head on, to reimagine the relationship with their workforce.
Ultimately, a change of culture is needed. One which acknowledges that the circumstances of each employee are different, and adapts when required.
In this new world, not every employee will be able to work the standard nine-to-five. Some may struggle to secure a quiet space for that client call. And others may be completely fatigued by extensive video conferences and need to take an unscheduled break. These are the kinds of things businesses must acknowledge and build flexibility for.
We also shouldn’t underestimate the impact of ‘work creep.’ When there’s a pressing deadline, I’m sure we’ve all heard the calling of our company laptops during our downtime.
But when our home is literally our office, it’s critical that employees don’t let work bite into their lunches and evenings.
The tools for the job
But it’s not just the culture which employers need to change. They also need to consider the tools, equipment, and software needed to make working from home effortless.
I do a lot of work in security. And as you can imagine, with a decentralised office and wider IT estate, this can be a challenging area. Too many businesses are weighing themselves down with multiple sign-in, inaccessible servers, and devices locked out of the company network.
In short, what they gain in security they lose in employee productivity.
But there are other considerations too. Do employees need additional equipment to do their jobs more efficiently? How is their office setup? Do they need an office chair or laptop stand? These may be minor considerations for the odd work from home day. But for a fully remote workforce, they are absolutely critical.
And that’s without even mentioning inclusivity initiatives. People who are blind or deaf or have other disabilities simply may not be able to work without specialised tools. Employers must listen to their needs and ensure their home workspace is fully equipped.
Finally, pivoting away from working from home, another key aspect of employee experience is learning new skills.
There was a time not long ago when reskilling cycles could last as long as five years. When an ERP system or piece of technology was dropped on a business, employees would take a week-long training course, then be left to it.
But in an agile world, new technology is being introduced in a matter of weeks rather than years. Employees need to keep pace, and that means being entered into a continuous cycle of education.
As mentioned previously, none of this should come as a surprise. We know that employees need to be happy. That they need to be well equipped. And that they need to be trained. But COVID-19 has understandably made businesses reassess their priorities.
This sharpening of focus has made the point even starker: a successful business needs to invest in its workforce. And the starting point for that has to be employee experience.