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Shifting to a modern workplace

Article provided by Westcon

Small business owners are the masters when it comes to managing limited budgets in challenging economic conditions while still trying to remain profitable. Unfortunately, the current pandemic crisis has made challenging times even more so as all industry sectors start to feel the pinch of the shutdown. It is, therefore, critical to embrace innovative digital solutions as the means to create value where none existed before. This is where collaboration solutions have an essential role to play.

The past week has seen many businesses across South Africa allow those employees able to do so, to work remotely. Even though telecommuting and flexible working hours have been successful in more developed economies, traditionally-minded local companies have been resistant to this. Now they have no choice but to see whether it is feasible in their environments. But with this comes a responsibility from employees to still deliver on their objectives despite the challenging circumstances.

“If South Africa is to survive the current crisis, each person will need to put up their hands and accept accountability for what they need to do to keep their businesses running successfully. The next several weeks will be instrumental in putting into practice all the discussions around the benefits of a digital work environment. And to do this, organisations must equip their information workers with access to solutions that best empower them to accomplish,” says Prebashini Reddy, Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) and Volume Licensing (VL) Product Manager at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.

Cloud-based subscription offerings such as Microsoft Office 365 have become vital allies in this regard. They provide the glue that keeps employees together irrespective their physical location. Productivity and collaboration tools incorporate a critical communications component that drives document sharing and co-creation of content in more innovative ways.

“Given the pressure, remote working will place on South Africa’s already stretched infrastructure, the piece of mind that such solutions provide is invaluable. Management must be confident in their employees’ ability to continue functioning and having access to all mission-critical information to maintain a sense of normality. This can only happen through these collaboration solutions,” says Pete Hill, executive director at Greendata.

Digital first

Even if opportunities to collaborate using cloud-based software has been around for several years, the general sentiment was that there is no need to upset the apple cart and maintain the status quo, no matter how inefficient that might have been.

“Many have used what happened in recent days to point out the number of meetings that really could have been an email. But there is an element of truth to this jest. If companies are to come out of the next period still operationally sound, they must now put all their focus on how to implement collaboration in the work environment practically,” says Reddy.

This means that the adoption of digital collaboration tools must come from leadership. They must show employees not only its potential but engage with these solutions themselves to make it real for those still not sure how best to approach this ‘new’ way of working.

“Fostering a culture of collaboration will also result in companies becoming more open. No longer will teams be isolated within the organisation and employees from different departments siloed off from one another. True collaboration will bring about engagement in new ways, albeit through digital means in the short-term. This will result in employees becoming more invested in the success of the company and working together to ensure its longevity,” says Hill.

This shift to a modern workplace, therefore, requires as much a technological solution as it does the corporate will to change. Many local businesses have been using Office 365 for many years, but few of them have explored its collaborative features.

“This period of self-isolation has forced their hand in the sense that it must now be done, or the company faces the risk of having to close its doors permanently. Doing video conferences or using the likes of Microsoft Teams as a unified communications mechanism are no longer things limited to technical personnel. These must filter through the entire organisation and quickly,” continues Reddy.

Teamwork a priority

Teamwork and collaboration will underpin the approach required for the road ahead. With employees now sharing a common goal and combining their respective strengths, a company will be successful no matter if those workers are logging in from home.

“Having access to an integrated suite of products such as Office 365 that are continually updated and online, will see people able to execute on ideas faster and foster a sense of community. It is no longer the office building that defines what the company is. Instead, it is the individual employee that has an active role to play in creating a new business culture,” says Reddy.

The inherent risks of having so many people logging in from their home networks are also addressed by the enterprise-grade security and access controls of Office 365. Therefore, IT teams will not be under additional strain to ensure the integrity of each individual employees’ home network as the embedded security of Office 365 takes care of that.

And by decentralising the workforce, the company can potentially unlock additional cost-savings benefits. For example, by realising that remote working could be a realistic long-term solution, the business can reduce its office space, save money on rent and other resources, and invest those funds in other, more appropriate digital initiatives.

“Technology and digital transformation have truly become game-changers. It is just a pity that decision-makers waited for a crisis such as this one to fully appreciate the benefits collaboration can deliver in a working environment. Looking ahead, it is not inconceivable to think that South Africa can radically transform its corporate environment by fully embracing digital collaboration and use employees in far more efficient ways,” says Hill.

COVID-19 could very well have been the catalyst many organisations needed to embrace the digital age. It replaces all the theoretical discussions of the Fourth Industrial Solution with things that make a practical difference in the lives of South Africans.

Westcon is a proud Partner of the NSBC