Technology presents challenges, opportunities

Cloud-based tools about flexibility, collaboration and convenience
By Carolyn Buccongello
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/24/2013

How people work is undergoing a paradigm shift, underpinned by technology and enforced by societal and economic changes — employees are working together and collaborating in ways that were never before possible.

These developments require businesses and organizations to rethink the concept of work in terms of management, organizational structure, office design and employee tools. These changes also require leaders to rethink how they engage with employees.

Three fundamental aspects determine the way we work — people, places and technology. These aspects have collectively undergone a seismic shift in the last 15 to 20 years.

People: Having never lived without a computer, generation Y (or millennials) has entered the workforce and brought new, more intuitive ways of communicating. They view work as a key part of life, not a separate activity that needs to be balanced by it — so they place a strong emphasis on finding fulfilling work. They want work to afford them the opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills and connect to a larger purpose.

In contrast, the average age of workers is increasing and baby boomers are sticking around longer. Businesses need to adapt their work culture to get the best out of all generations and have new, faster ways of communicating and collaborating. The different needs of the different generations must be reflected in the tools provided and in internal communications strategies.

Places: Physical offices have not evolved much over the years, despite advances in technology. But on any given day, many desks in an average office are empty.

It’s easy to equip employees with the right tools to work in different locations or on the move. As such, mobile communications are becoming increasingly important.

Technology: The consumerization of IT is about business employees expecting to use personal devices in a work setting. This is driven by new forms of mobile computing and social networking via innovative consumer cloud services. As a result, there is a blurring of lines between the technology used for work and personal lives.

The challenge facing companies is managing this evolution to a more flexible, accessible workplace. If not properly managed, it could prove counter-productive, leading to chaos, a lack of creativity, miscommunication and, ultimately, poor service.

Future revolves around three key needs

The future of a business and company culture will revolve around three key needs: knowledge-sharing, meeting (both virtually and physically) and general communications between management and employees. Technology is the very cornerstone of this paradigm shift.

Businesses should adopt mobile work options and facilitate collaboration, regardless of location, and embrace social computing, allowing employees ubiquitous and secure access to relevant information. Modern productivity combines: enterprise search, collaboration, enterprise content management, business intelligence and unified communications.

Microsoft, for example, has tools that equip employees with flexibility as well as open, collaborative communication tools that are relevant to their roles. These tools also give employers a multitude of opportunities to communicate with employees.

Cloud services

Cloud services bring together online versions of email, communication and collaboration software. They ensure employees can receive important communications, but also store and share them from anywhere in the world, in real time. Other key benefits are:

• Collaboration: Users can work together on documents in real time with internal colleagues or external partners across geographies and time zones.

• Access: Email and calendar can be accessed and synchronized from anywhere.

• Social communications: Integrates social networking capabilities, activity feeds, blogs and wikis to help build community. Social communications also allow management to better connect with employees in many new ways.

A built-in social connector function allows the popular email client to connect to social networks including: Sharepoint, LinkedIn and Facebook, giving users a single place to manage and search all contacts, communication history and other social network information.

• Unified communications: Delivers complete presence, instant messaging, conferencing and enterprise voice capabilities through a single, easy-to-use interface that is consistent across PC, browser and mobile devices.

Rich communications services

A next-generation cloud communications service connects people in new ways from anywhere via presence, instant messaging, audio/video calling and rich online meetings that include audio, video and web conferencing. The rich presence information helps employees find each other and choose the most effective way to communicate at a given time, decluttering the inbox and making them more productive.

These types of communications tools support mobile workers and give them access to unified communications tools from anywhere with an internet connection — no VPN required. And large-scale meetings and conference calls can see presentations, join a boardroom via video or instant message with colleagues on the other side of the world.

Accessible software

Accessible software offers employees access to necessary software applications such as Word, PowerPoint or Excel from a mobile phone or a web browser. These enhanced software applications give employees yet another opportunity to access the tools they need, wherever they are.

The implementation and adoption of modern, cloud-based and accessible tools can enhance any workforce and employee satisfaction, leading to improved performance, greater productivity and work-life balance, greater attraction and retention of top talent — especially gen-Y workers — and enhanced business continuity and more engaged customer communication channels.

But technology cannot be the full solution — consumability is the ultimate goal. If it’s all out there but no one is reading it, or if employees are overwhelmed by the technology choices and ways to connect, it will fail.

Carolyn Buccongello is vice-president of human resources at Microsoft Canada in Toronto. For more information, visit www.microsoft.ca.

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