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The changing face of work

Ian Birch, Managing Director, IBC Group explores the pressing need for MSPs to remain relevant in an ever-changing workplace, one which has also brought about a new breed of decision-makers

The workplace is changing, on that I hope we can all agree. Millennials are well-established in the workplace and Generation Z are now here too. And the harsh reality is that today’s decision-makers and tomorrow’s business leaders undoubtedly have a very different view on how work gets done than the Baby Boomers and Generation X who preceded them.

In addition to this, advancements in mobile and cloud technology, not to mention global issues such as COVID-19, are constantly changing how, where and when, work is conducted. For managed service providers, the current status-quo and unrelenting pace of change makes remaining relevant with today’s workforce and decisionmakers, critical for long-term success. Of equal importance is building deeper partnerships with clients, future-proofing your relationships in a bid to make competitor enquiries unattractive.

Buzzword bingo, anyone?
The term Connected Workplace is bandied about nowadays – but what exactly is it? Is it purely the coming together of all the best buzzwords we’ve seen over recent years? Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, Robotic Process Automation, Blockchain – the list goes on?

It could include any number of these things, there’s no doubt. However, I believe it’s actually something much simpler than that. Something more tangible which we should be able to see and feel.

Let’s start by answering the question, what is the purpose of the workplace? It’s a place where people go to do their jobs. Of course, this has historically been a traditional office or factory environment. But nowadays, it’s more likely to include the home, a coffee shop, hotel, train, or client site. The reality is that the workplace has changed and continues to change. It’s less about being a specific location, rather it’s anywhere employees work and add value to their employers’ business.

Work is a place where people collaborate with colleagues and seek to be productive. Technological advances, flexible working hours, agile working environments and a new generation of workers who are leveraging the freedom that handheld devices, mobile data and public Wi-Fi affords them, have done away with the traditional Monday to Friday, nine to five, office-based job. Work can and is now completed anytime, anywhere, but no matter when and where the actual work is being completed, managed service providers still play a critical role in ensuring workers can maximise their effectiveness and efficiency.

Finally, the workplace is there to provide an environment where employees can work in a safe and fulfilling way. It’s no surprise that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work are much more likely to stay with their organisations for the long-term. Gaining and retaining talent is key for businesses of all sizes.

All of this is there, ultimately, so that a business can deliver goods and services to its clients whether that’s businesses, consumers, patients, citizens or students.

This is why the workplace is so important. Whilst it’s clear that delivering a good customer experience is critical, all of that work can be undone if the employee experience is poor. If employees are unhappy or unfulfilled, it stands to reason that the customer experience will soon suffer too.

Building blocks of the connected workplace
There are four key building blocks of the connected workplace; four components which need to be considered, specifically:

*Buildings – the physical environment in which people work, which as stated earlier, continues to evolve away from fixed office space;

*People – including the management team, employees, visitors, customers and suppliers;

*Assets – physical assets such as smartphones and laptops, printers and multifunctional devices. But also, software assets, apps and cloud services we use on a daily basis; and

*Data – both the data used to complete work as well as the data created by the buildings, people and assets.

All of these are related to one another. All connected. They all have an impact, positively or negatively, on how work gets done, and if we get any of these wrong, or we stand still for too long, we’ll start to fall behind.

Buildings’ impact on wellbeing
Health and wellbeing are directly impacted by our surroundings. Monitoring indoor air quality data in real-time using widely available sensors, provides the information necessary to make informed decisions.

Temperature, humidity and CO2 levels have an impact on wellbeing. Everyone will have experienced periods of lethargy during the working day where we’ve not quite felt on the ball. CO2 heavily influences our ability to stay focused, use information effectively or undertake complex strategic thinking. Linking the indoor air quality sensors to the ventilation system can help reduce CO2 levels and increase performance.

Building occupancy levels
As people begin to work differently, taking advantage of the opportunity to work from home, as an example, the office space must also adapt. Banks of empty fixed desks come at a considerable expense which need not be the case if agile working spaces were instead used. The spread of Coronavirus is creating an exaggerated view of this, of course, but using occupancy sensors to monitor desk and meeting room space will enable factbased decision-making.

Having the correct number of fixed vs hot desks could help dictate how many employees could be allocated to a space and how many floors / buildings are required. Equally, using this data to understand how meeting rooms are used will help dictate how many meeting rooms there are and of what size.

Access to data
Needing a specific paper file which is locked away in an office cupboard when you’re at another location is a situation I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another. Being able to securely access the information we need, when we need it, on the devices which best meet our needs, is key to enabling the Connected Workplace.

In our roles as ‘knowledge workers’,where we think for a living compared to undertaking the physical tasks completed previously, it’s critical that we’re able to access and apply information. This helps us to solve problems and generate ideas. Storing this information in cloud environments assists with this, but a more formal document management system will help control the documents including who has access to them and what versions are in circulation.

Assets support people
Printers and multifunctional devices have long supported the completion of work through the printed page. They continue to ensure their relevance in the workplace is maintained through the additional functionalities which are being created. An example of this might include the variety of apps which are being built to solve specific client issues.

Outside of the physical office, it’s likely that smartphone, tablet and laptop devices enable work to be completed in an effective way. The technology provided through work was historically far superior to the devices we had available to us in our personal lives, but this is no longer the case. Work devices now need to play catch-up, as smart speakers and security technology become commonplace in the home. These will, in time, play a more significant role in helping us run efficient workplaces.

Benefits and opportunities
As is often the case in such situations, doing nothing is typically not an option. If you’re standing still, there’s a good chance that you’re actually drifting backwards. The competition will be making strides in these areas, so it’s best to get started now.

Below are some of the main benefits which can be realised:

*Increased productivity which drives efficiency gains across the business;

*Happier and more fulfilled employees which increases retention rates and reduces the cost of replacing talented individuals;

*Healthier employees which reduces the time taken off ill or with stress; and

Connected workplace
Connected workplace

*Increased knowledge and an overall improved employee experience, which in turn will help create a better customer experience, resulting in greater levels of success for the business.

End clients are seeking support on this journey, which provides a golden opportunity for managed service providers. Expanding the service offering and creating deeper partnerships will be far more likely to successfully defend competitor enquiries.

Keeping in mind that for the workplace to truly deliver, buildings, people, assets and data must work together seamlessly. This will help deliver a greater employee and customer experience as well as ensure higher levels of operational excellence.

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