Greater agility, upskilling and digital collaboration are crucial to enabling the office of the future
The pandemic and the lockdown scenarios which ensued marked a watershed moment for the ways in which businesses collaborate and prioritise digitisation investments. Recent events have fundamentally challenged cultural norms around the workplace and caused decision-makers to re-evaluate their business models to futureproof their offerings.
To investigate this change further, Cisco conducted a study across 12 markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia (EMEAR), with 10,000 office-based employees, exploring expectations of employers this year and beyond.
While working from home was initially seen by many as a temporary adjustment, employees want to keep hold of many positives that emerged. 63 per cent of office-based workers see increased autonomy as a key benefit of agile working. Additionally, 61 per cent of respondents informed would like to keep hold of the faster decision-making they have achieved in the new world of work.
Interestingly, only five per cent of those surveyed actually worked from home for most of their time prior to the pandemic, yet now, an overwhelming majority would like to keep a level of autonomy with regards to where they work. 87 per cent of respondents want greater ownership in defining how and when they use office spaces.
Across EMEAR, two-thirds of respondents now have a greater appreciation for the benefits and challenges of working from home. If given the chance to be CEO for a day, most employees would prioritise embedding effective communication and collaboration, above everything else, and this makes clear business sense.
To make this possible, 78 per cent of employees believe that businesses need to provide similar technology at home as in the office. Investments many businesses have made over the past year include advancing collaboration technology offerings and allocating budget towards the purchasing of the required equipment to enhance work from home environments. Employees too have made their own conscious decisions to invest, whether purchasing monitors and headsets or even more ergonomic chairs.
Respondents believe that this year, budget priorities should focus on further investment in the technologies required for remote working and virtual conferencing, as well as bringing in technology to make the office a safer space from a health perspective – so that people feel comfortable with the option of coming to the office.
In addition to investments in digital technologies, we must also remember that investing in the upskilling of our employees’ digital competencies is also critical. Office workers across EMEAR understand this and are on board. 76 per cent believe that more training in technology and digital skills are fundamental to achieving business success. Investing in people will not only lead to better immediate outcomes but has also been proven to increase retention rates, as employees feel more valued in the workplace.
Alongside a more flexible employer mindset and ongoing respect and accountability from employees, investments in digital workplace transformation are a must. Collaboration solutions and digital skills can help to form a solid foundation for business resiliency and growth. We have witnessed this firsthand.
At the height of the pandemic, Cisco supported 3,600 customers across MEA via our collaboration technology platform, Webex. In just three months, more than 200 million meeting minutes were generated. Even as our environment improves, businesses are continuing to invest in such technologies because they have experienced the benefits firsthand.
Collaboration technologies which embed security and leverage AI, environmental sensors, and advanced analytics are critical to empowering employees. Not only can they keep teams connected and productive in every location but they can also help to enhance workplace safety and ensure continuity even in the most unexpected of circumstances.
Shukri Eid is the Managing Director at Cisco Gulf Region