We’ve seen the future and it works
Innovation is central to education and business during the lockdown and beyond
Almost every business surveyed has had to adopt new ways of working. Photograph: Getty Images
Hybrid working is here to stay and now, more than ever before, leaders are focused on maintaining culture and innovation within their organisations so they can successfully adapt to disruption. Those are among the key findings to emerge from a study that Microsoft commissioned on the future of work.
“500 employees and 108 managers in Ireland were interviewed as part of the research study,” says Aisling Curtis, commercial director with Microsoft Ireland. “One third of the business leaders surveyed said getting their culture right was their number one priority.”
Almost every business surveyed has had to adopt new ways of working. “72 per cent of organisations have implemented remote working policies since the pandemic, compared to 22 per cent last year. Managers are expecting over half their workforce to continue working remotely at least one day a week once the pandemic is over, while 45 per cent of employees said they will continue to work remotely after the pandemic.”
73 per cent of business leaders saw equal or more productivity from remote workers
Remote productivity equal to office based work
Attitudes towards remote working have changed with seven out of 10 saying productivity was equal to, or better than, office-based work.
Talent attraction and retention are among the key benefits of remote working with over 68 per cent of leaders seeing it as a powerful way to help retain their best workers. In addition, 74 per cent said they expect remote working policies to improve their employer value proposition in attracting talent.
“Interestingly, a huge majority of Irish people cited being able to dress casually as a key benefit of working from home,” added Curtis.
An innovative culture is important to reap the full rewards of the change, says Curtis. “In an innovative culture, workers are far more likely to feel empowered to make decisions and approach their jobs in a way that works best for them. They can make a decision without a manager’s involvement or approval and they also feel it’s okay to make mistakes. But it takes more effort and energy to have an innovative culture in a remote setting.”
The education sector is a case in point, having witnessed a step change in innovation over recent months. “This is a big moment of change in teaching,” says Gerard Culley, director of information technology at University College Cork (UCC). “Teaching has largely remained unchanged in a hundred years. A student in a class at the beginning of the 20th century wouldn’t see much difference in a classroom at the beginning of the 21st century.”
Change is coming as a result of the shift to digital classrooms and remote learning. “Technology is bringing about a transformation of the learning experience itself. Instead of spending half the class delivering content to students, teachers are “flipping the classroom”, by giving students sight of content in advance. That gives students the ability to use classroom time to comment and discuss the content with the teacher, or with each other, and break out into small groups to work to solve problems. Classroom time is being used to understand and apply the learning; this approach is so relevant for the modern workplace. Covid-19 and technology are changing the pedagogy, the method of teaching, and the habits and skills being learned now are with us to stay.”
The central role of technology in the response to Covid-19 is acknowledged by Gerard Culley. “Technology is the biggest industry in the world because it brings people together,” he says. “Covid-19 brought this to the forefront, now that we have to stay physically apart. Staff communication has become even more important and we run weekly online town hall meetings for people to share different updates and issues. People are impacted differently by remote working, some people need communications and interaction more than others and it is better to have too much communication, than too little. People aren’t worried about the technology itself anymore, it tends to work, and people have settled into using it quite well. The main challenge now is to drive engagement more consistently and ensure that everyone has the services and supports that they need to keep learning.”
Technology is transforming the learning experience. Classroom time is used to understand and apply the learning, a relevant approach to the modern workplace
Another organisation to embrace innovation while shifting to a remote working model is Greyhound Recycling. “We had started the digital transformation process well before the pandemic,” says chief growth officer Neill Ryan.
“We were coming to the end of the implementation process in March when we had to move quickly to remote working. We had more than 50 staff working in our contact centre and that’s now down to a handful. We are now in a place where remote working is nearly the norm. The plan for the moment is to be completely remote for as long as this thing lasts. If we do go back it will be in a mixed way of working. Productivity has been very good. As you can imagine with a lot more people at home, our calls and queries increased. Peak volumes almost doubled and we were able to handle that.”
The company is now investing in more technology to support the new way of working. “We have team leaders who used to walk the floor listening in on calls and were able to help agents if they thought they needed it,” Ryan explains. “Obviously, they can’t do that anymore, so we need technology that allows team leaders to drop in and out of calls and so on.”
Dealing with the sense of isolation people can feel when remote working was another issue. “We asked people to stop emailing and direct messaging if they can avoid it and to put everything up on Microsoft Teams instead,” continued Ryan. “That lets everyone share and collaborate on issues and feel more part of a team. We live inside Teams now and it has really helped us to come together.”
The company continues to innovate and is making some radical changes at the moment and expanding outside of waste. “We are going to move into gigabit broadband directly into people’s homes,” says Ryan. “That’s our first foray into the new world of utilities.”
People should feel empowered to proactively suggest new solutions to challenges and ideas for more effective ways of working
In this context, Aisling Curtis points to the challenge facing many managers in the current environment. “For many of them, this year marked the first time they were responsible for leading people who were working remotely. More than half of them said they feel they have not yet effectively learned how to delegate and empower virtual teams and 51 per cent feel they have not effectively learned how to be empathetic with their teams. Managers need to be supported in leading remote teams.”
“She concludes by stressing the importance of empathy. “It goes hand in hand with innovation. Creating a culture where the policies and procedures are working for everyone is so important. We are all learning in this changing environment and people should feel empowered to proactively suggest new solutions to challenges and ideas for more effective ways of working. Bringing everyone on that journey is so important, when you do, our research shows that 80 per cent feel their contribution makes a difference in the company.”
For more information and to download the report, click here.