At the beginning of the Corona crisis everyone looked at IT. She was challenged to ensure the continuation of operations and within weeks had to make up for a lot of what had been postponed in the past few years with regard to the digital workplace in companies. Not much will change in this increased attention to IT even after the lockdown – on the contrary. Thanks to Corona, digitization has become more explosive and its success depends largely on how the workforce can organize their work, i.e. on their digital workplace.
This is good news and bad news at the same time. The good part: IT is now given more design freedom. The bad one: In view of a looming recession and the expected budget cuts, the scope for action is limited. What criteria should IT use to align its work in the digital workplace?
A model for this could come from a workplace outfitter, the PC and printer manufacturer HP. When designing its products, the latter orients itself along the coordinate system “Space – Technology – Culture”. “We have been using this triad for many years when we talk about Office of the Future,” says Alexander Dorn, Director End-User Sales Personal Systems at HP. “The focus may have shifted a bit as a result of this large external event because the room that is now in focus looks a little different. But the requirement to approach the topic holistically has not changed.”
Dorn also assumes that Corona will accelerate the further development of the workspace, as well as the introduction of new technologies and the cultural change in companies that goes along with it. “We see that the work itself is accelerating and transforming. The term ‘workspace’ is changing from describing a space to an activity.” From the manufacturer’s point of view, this extends the work to several rooms, which – especially from the IT point of view – have to be brought under one roof.
“The contemporary workplace is based on the” blended “model,” says Jens-Peter Labus, former managing director IT at MediaMarktSaturn and investor in numerous start-ups. “Whether in the office, in the home office or on the move – the experience must be consistent on all end devices.” According to HP, this is exactly what the majority of users demand, because spatial independence creates new potential for them. “In our surveys on the subject of productivity, the office has rarely occupied the top position in recent years,” confirms Alexander Dorn. “The home office, the library, the outdoors or the café were named as the most productive place.”
If the office is not always the ideal place for productive individual work, what about the role of office space, for which companies still pay a lot of money? “Spaces must encourage and enable collaboration and creativity,” believes Jens-Peter Labus. Thanks to automation and AI, individual work is becoming more and more streamlined so that the focus must be on collaboration. Accordingly, the investment in the right rooms and furnishings is of great importance on the way to agile organization.
“The future of work is collaboration,” believes Alexander Dorn, and most companies still have some catching up to do on this point, both in terms of the premises and the tools. “Most conference rooms these days are designed with one person speaking up front and the other listening. It has little to do with collaboration.”
Dorn advises to rely less on open space or table workplaces in future, but on rooms of different sizes, which are, however, “collaboration-enabled”. The latter relates to the technical equipment of the rooms, because it can be assumed that rarely all employees involved in a collaborative meeting will sit in the same room. Some of them would always be there remotely.
In addition, the tools used by employees must be geared towards this form of collaboration. “Basic requirements for the agile, digital workplace are modern communication tools such as Microsoft 365 with teams, but also tools such as Jira and Confluence from the Atlassian stack,” says Tobias Rölz, Executive Vice President Market & Digital Services at the Swiss automation specialist Komax. Cloud-based tools in particular could show their advantages here.
It is important, however, that the culture, the cooperation, the decision-making authority and the structures in the company are trimmed towards agility first. And this culture is already noticeable in the way people talk to one another, in the culture of dialogue. “The open and transparent dialogue as well as the ‘magic of conflict’ must be lived. Only when the teams live a good advisory principle with independent decisions are the known technical aids a support. Therefore: first the dialogue culture, then the necessary technology. The right tools then fall off almost as a by-product, “says Rölz.
However, it is better not to think of the cultural change as simply switching. Rather, it is a transformation process that takes several years to establish and consolidate basic principles such as transparency, personal responsibility and trusting cooperation. “Agile cooperation can only develop its full effect if everyone in the team has the necessary transparency for the desired vision,” says Roman Rapoport, CIO of BPW Bergischeachse KG. Furthermore, it is essential that an agile team – regardless of whether in software development or in projects in other areas – can make decisions independently. Handing over responsibility to the team means motivation, speed and identification with daily doing. “As a manager, give the team exactly one thing: trust,” recommends Rapoport.
In general, the leadership skills of the CIO are particularly in demand in agile transformation – just not quite like they used to be. In the agile culture, leadership at eye level is more popular, the so-called “collaborative leadership”. “This breaks previous boundaries and introduces a new mindset,” says Dr. Berndt Pilgram, Senior Manager Advanced Analytics at Infineon Technologies AG.
“The focus is on ‘we as a team’ and the team members are involved in decision-making processes, have a say and can exert influence.” That, in turn, has a lot to do with the right workplace technology, because: “For this, scalable digital solutions and communication methods must be introduced that ensure effective collaboration between teams across multiple locations,” says Pilgram.
The reform of the digital workplace could become an opportunity for IT to establish the agile culture first for itself and then for the entire company. “The agile culture has its origins in software development and is therefore at home in IT,” says Roman Rapoport. In many companies, the IT departments are therefore often significantly more advanced in understanding and exemplifying agility. “But that is no longer enough – because the agile transformation must be rolled out and internalized throughout the company. This substantial challenge must be on every CIO agenda.”