Rackspace CTO EMEA Simon Bennett reflects on the future of work and how empowering staff, taking risks and a cloud native approach are the keys to success in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
The 2020 pandemic has changed everything, including the way we work. What does 2021 have in store for the office of the future, for corporate culture and for the underlying cloud technology that is enabling these changes? Below are my predictions for the coming year and a final thought on the potential for a surprise technological integration.
Prediction 1: The Office as a Collaboration Space
Will offices ever be the same again? In my opinion, no. I do not envision rows of desks and workstations being staffed by people, tapping away at keyboards coding, writing reports or servicing customer requirements. Because of the 2020 pandemic and work-from-home mandates, the chain between desk and keyboard has been broken. The remote work trend is not likely to reverse anytime soon, if at all.
Instead, offices will become places of collaboration, where coworkers and customers can meet when needed to innovate and create. Working at home, distant from colleagues and customers, has led to frustration for many people who long for the face-to-face discourse necessary to help ideas flourish and evolve into great solutions that deliver business success.
Repurposing office spaces into meeting places for collaborative innovation has a double benefit: (1) with staff coming to the office for meetings only, the company can easily adhere to social distance regulations, and (2) the company can continue to harness its most important asset – intellectual capital (its people) – which is paramount to ongoing productivity, prosperity and growth.
Of course, not all job roles are suited for this type of home/office or hybrid work environment. If you are a customer service agent, for example, you can effectively work full-time from home. But, if your role requires any degree of creativity, in-person meetings are essential for discussing new ideas and turning these into reality. These brainstorming sessions can take place at a central office location or at smaller satellite office hubs more convenient to remotely-located staff.
In the past, trust was the main reason remote work was not generally accepted or adopted. The 2020 pandemic and shift to working from home has shown that people can indeed work this way, successfully and securely. More and more, we are seeing “remote work management” listed among the skills in job advertisements as talented hires can now be recruited from across the country and beyond. Proper security can help minimize data breaches. Future innovations, like 5G, will further improve connectivity and security.
Prediction 2: Risk-taking to Empower Your Business
Many of our customers took bigger risks in 2020, finding it necessary to embrace remote working and to quickly adapt to digital technologies. The usual lengthy processes to document, sign-off, approve and execute changes in their organizations were cast aside in the name of business continuity and survival.
Post-pandemic, when things return to some semblance of normality in 2021 (we hope), will companies relapse into old ways of doing business? I think not. Progressive organizations have become more lean and agile. They realize that empowering business units and individuals to operate more autonomously must remain at the center of their approach to business — at least partially. The days of rigid command and control structures are gone.
It’s all about trust. Placing trust in staff to make decisions has helped businesses stay up and running in the face of ever-changing circumstances. Further, giving staff more control fosters new ideas and takes these from ideation to execution more quickly. Reward the individuals who thrive on change and have proven their value. Give these mavericks enough latitude to flourish. At the same time, respect staff members who are more resistant to change. They can be encouraged in smaller ways. A company needs both types of workers.
In my previous role, I was known for challenging the established ideas and ways of doing things. I encouraged my teams to evaluate problems from different angles, to question the norm and to do things better for customers. The establishment must be willing to be challenged, or the best staff will leave.
An organization that can leverage these new ways of working and adopt a corporate culture that empowers staff and embraces risk will be able to compete effectively. Those employees who embrace risk will likely outperform their peers.
Prediction 3: Cloud Native as a Business Differentiator
Empowered businesses and empowered staff require empowered technology. This is where the concept of cloud native fits in.
Business units are going to demand a lot more from technology than just refactoring applications for the cloud. A basic migration of existing services to the cloud is not enough for an organization to gain a competitive advantage over its peers.
Business owners must design applications from the ground up, utilizing data generated by their most valuable differentiator — the customer experience. Deeper insights into customer use of your services are essential to making your services better. Improved customer service leads to a higher level of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and ultimately, directly impacts your bottom line.
It is a cloud native approach that makes this possible. Think of cloud native as a business differentiator — an approach that can transform your business.
Cloud native means developing applications or services to take full advantage of the technology upon which they run. By fully utilizing the underlying technology, you can design your applications from the start to capture all the associated data around the customer journey, service performance and other key statistics. These insights provide a higher-level understanding of the overall customer experience, which in turn, enables your business to improve the service.
The cost of redeveloping your applications using a cloud native approach may seem unduly expensive. However, in the majority of cases, the benefits far outweigh this effort and cost. An agile, well-designed cloud native application — one that is truly scalable, secure and resilient, faster to deploy, easier to maintain and simpler to update on demand — will deliver significantly more business benefit in the end. These attributes will allow you to upsell new functions, deliver higher value services and gain new customers — all at a competitive pace.
Business owners are taking a more holistic look at the cradle-to-grave costs related to applications. This it to look beyond the anticipated costs for application development and future maintenance and expansion. More important is the long-term, ongoing value of harnessing data and analyzing these insights to improve customer experience.
Ensuring your customers have an excellent experience will be the key to the longevity and growth of your business. This is the true cost of ownership in a post-COVID world.
Final Thought: IoT+5G+Edge
In 2021, I believe that someone will create an amazing solution — a killer app that combines the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and edge computing in a manner not thought of previously. There has been a lot of hype around the promise of these three technologies, and some neat small-scale ideas, but nothing really mind-blowing has emerged yet.
Because of the new corporate culture of risk-taking noted above, 2021 may be the year in which these three technologies become integrated in a revolutionary way. We will all say, “If only I’d had that idea,” as it will be obvious in retrospect.
Put your thinking caps on. Perhaps it’s you who will have the true lightbulb moment.