Tech Experts Share The Best Ways To Use Technology In Your Workplace After The Pandemic
‘Technology has evolved from a business enabler to a critical driver.’ McKinsey Technology
While we are all aware of the demands COVID-19 has put on the workplace and the changes it has forced businesses to make, it has also had a profound effect on company technology and digital readiness.
With the significant increase in remote working, we are more reliant on technology than ever.
There has been a lot of pressure on technology to meet the new demands and keep remote teams connected all while being safe, secure, and efficient.
So, how has technology influenced the way we worked during the pandemic?
Which new trends have kept teams connected and businesses running? What new forms of technology are here to stay? And how do employers ensure they are using technology effectively and looking after their people?
We share our thoughts and advice in this article.
Bonus: Advice From ~30 Tech & IT Business Experts
Even better, we asked around 30 tech & IT business experts for their quick tips to help you manage your workforce in these coronavirus-affected times.
Thank you to all the contributors!
The speed of digital advancement
A recent McKinsey Global Survey of executives showed that internal digitisation development has accelerated by up to four years to adapt to the current COVID-19 situation. The majority of the respondents said the funding for technology in their company has increased, and technology has become a critical aspect of the business strategy.
Not only are managers now managing all or most of their people from several remote locations, but they are also managing via technology rather than in person. Understanding how technology works is imperative to their roles to allow communication, face-to-face interaction, and team collaboration.
The culture of working remotely
Although there are benefits to not spending time and money on commuting to the workplace, the rise of working remotely means that individuals, managers, and teams have to make adaptations. With remote working comes a specific culture that requires discussion to agree on a collaborative and respectful team approach.
The culture of being together in the workplace and the opportunity for unplanned chats is now a distant memory. One way managers can be available is by setting up a video conference and keeping it open all day. By doing this, they are available for team members to ‘pop in’ for a chat or a quick question, just as they would have been in the physical workplace. It’s a massive culture shift for those used to sitting together, but it is a way to be informally available.
Avoid digital presenteeism
With a lack of in-person meetings and an influx of video conferences, the time spent on screens has increased. Communication may also come via technology platforms such as Slack, meaning that individuals could easily spend a day staring at a laptop or phone screen without the interruption of in-person meetings or interaction with colleagues in the office.
Individuals must ensure they manage the time they spend on technology. Managers should check in with team members to ensure they are taking regular breaks or working flexible hours if necessary so that digital presenteeism doesn’t become part of the remote culture.
Video meetings have replaced in-person meetings
Many of us may not have heard of Zoom before lockdown when it took off phenomenally due to personal and professional interaction. Last December, Zoom users were reported to be 10 million a day which increased to 200 million in March 2020 at the start of lockdown. While such technology has been crucial for keeping work teams connected, it also comes with challenges of ‘Zoom fatigue,’ technology problems, and the missing connection of meeting in person.
Managers have a different approach to holding team meetings, one to ones, and other meetings using video technology such as Microsoft Teams. Not only they have to understand how to use the technology (easier for some than others!) they have to ensure all members are included, and new ways are introduced to manage work and social events.
Awareness of individual differences
It is vital to understand each team member’s personality and how video meetings affect them. Video calls can confuse visual cues that may be obvious in person, but get lost via technology. Some individuals may not enjoy the often stagnant pauses, face freezing or talking over each other, which can often be avoided, or less apparent, in person.
For example, introverts may find it more difficult to speak over others on a video meeting, so managers may need to structure team or client meetings accordingly. They might do this by going around the so-called ‘table’ to give each person a specific slot in which to speak or by hosting smaller meetings to be more inclusive.
Teams may decide to agree on ‘rules’ for video calls. These can include, phones on silent, starting and finishing on time and an acknowledgement and acceptance of what is occurring in each person’s new place of work, e.g. spouses sharing office space, Wi-Fi issues, or children or pets in the background!
Here’s a handy free resource for you: One-To-One Coaching Meeting Script & Planner. Use this document to prepare for your next one-to-one meeting with a team member. The document also gives you a conversational script to use so you know exactly what to say. Download it from here.
There are many options when it comes to choosing HR software. Some companies may have separate software for recruitment, employee and benefits information, and performance management; others will combine them. Regardless of the software, it’s clear that the days of dependency on paper files are gone, and all members of the HR team must be able to access online employee files from wherever they are.
Self-service portals are useful in the new way of working to allow employees to log their absence and annual leave and gain access to information they might need.
Project management and team communication
It’s daunting to imagine managing a project from start to finish with a team who never see each other in person. However, there are various options to allow project updates and accountability. Project management and team communication technology may also reduce the number of meetings required as ongoing updates can be shared.
- Slack is probably the most well-known workplace communication tool, which brings all communication together and may often replace email. It lets users interact with teams in their company and at other companies and can be used on a desktop or mobile and offers voice and video calls.
- Paymo is a platform that allows a team to manage projects, budgets, tasks, clients, and schedules. All information is in one place, and team communication and collaboration is available, giving transparency when it comes to projects.
- Asana is a project management app that managers could consider to bring their team together. It lets teams add their files, goals, and plans together in a shared place so that team members and managers can see who is doing what. Managers can assign tasks and take a strategic approach rather than a reactive approach to a project. It also shows where the team is in regards to progress which can be used for discussion in team or project meetings.
- Basecamp is another project and team management app, where all information is stored in one place for the team to assess. Instead of remote teams dropping balls and having to check in to see who has completed what, the app will track all tasks and includes a to-do list and group chat, and allows file sharing.
Time management awareness
According to RescueTime, the majority of teams can spend up to 80% of their day on meetings, multitasking, emails, and phone calls. RescueTime is a resource the whole team can use as it offers courses and software to help teams manage their time so that they focus on the critical work.
The whole team can do the training remotely, which concentrates on building effective remote working habits and learning tips on how to challenge distractions. The software tracks time spent on pieces of work and prepares individual advice on how to manage time more effectively.
A concern with remote working is that colleagues can’t see when others are busy and don’t want to be disturbed! In the office, an individual might tell others that they don’t want to be disturbed for the next hour. Remotely though, individuals may not bother communicating this.
RescueTime can be integrated with Slack and lets individuals post quick updates to Slack. For example, an individual can update that they are working on a project or piece of work for the afternoon and would rather not be disturbed. It even lets them add a corresponding emoji to accompany their status update and enable a do not disturb status!
While engagement may not necessarily be visual, it can be difficult to measure when teams are working remotely. Traditional ways to measure engagement include annual staff surveys and pulse surveys often created and organised by the company. Peakon is an app that regularly measures employee engagement across an entire company regardless of where employees are based.
Similarly, OfficeVibe measures engagement anonymously using technology to create a culture of honesty and openness. The regular feedback gives a temperature check across teams and the broader company so that managers can create and implement action plans.
Here’s a handy free resource for you: Top 10 Tips To Boost Employee Motivation. We’ve all been through some terrible times recently. This quick guide shares some simple but very powerful ways to help your staff get back on their feet and feeling good about work again.
Learning and development
Although budgets may be tight and in-person training is challenging, businesses and managers must not neglect training. Many businesses have eLearning options, and others will find that without in house training, they need to organise online training and development for staff. There are plenty of external options and will depend on a company’s budget, industry, and needs.
- Day One focuses on a range of sectors and is experienced in providing training across dispersed teams.
- Walkgrove offers bespoke and off the shelf eLearning solutions, including mental health awareness and performance management.
- Looop focuses on aligning training and development to the company’s needs. It will identify what training will benefit the company and suggest the appropriate online options.
For those companies with an online performance management system, this may be helpful for recording and sharing detail and feedback during performance reviews. However, such technology is no replacement for a discussion between managers and their team members.
With the ever-changing pandemic social restrictions, in-person meetings are difficult to plan and social work events have developed accordingly. Video technology has been used not only for work meetings but also to encourage social interaction. Teams are holding quizzes, games, lunches, and other informal get-togethers to ensure a break from work. Like any work social event, there must be an appreciation for those who have other commitments and cannot attend. Or for those who want a break from the screen!
Remote working has accelerated this year, and it looks to be a trend that continues. With this workplace change, technology has played a pivotal part in the success of the influx of remote working. HR, communication, social, and digital team tools have become essential components of business and team success. We cannot underestimate the significant changes to managing people that COVID-19 and the impact of advanced technology have created, and managers should continue to encourage a respectful, open, and honest remote working culture enhanced by technology.
Employee Engagement: Still Possible During A Global Pandemic [Case Study]
HR Star’s Managing Director, Kelly Tucker, recently spoke with Lewis Marston CEO of Rocket Consulting and found that the team there is totally nailing employee engagement!
A SAP consultancy that treats staff as its primary asset, Rocket was set up in 2004 and the team has worked remotely from day one. Their culture is one of sustainable working, they are experts in their craft and want to be the best place to work in their industry; something they are working hard to achieve.
Employee engagement is high on everyone’s agenda and the company believes highly engaged teams come from a top-down approach. Continuous reviews take place to ensure everyone is living the company values, consistent communication is the norm to ensure everyone knows what everyone is working on, on-line team huddles take place daily as well as monthly face to face ‘Refuel Days’ that alternate between their London and Leeds offices (and are always followed by team drinks). ‘Rocketeer of the month’ voted for by the team recognises people living the Rocket values and is a way for people to share their appreciation for one another and on-line ‘elevenses’ ensures the team has the opportunity to get together each day for some daily banter and human contact (work chat strictly banned!).
The business works to ensure they engage people in what they are doing today and where they and the business are going. Bringing people on this journey is key to its success. Working remotely can mean that your people lose connection to the culture, Lewis believes they overcome this by engaging people with the things that are unique to Rocket, being present with what the company is working on and contributing to this.
Rocket has a less than 3% attrition rate, a team of around 50 people working all over the globe which ensures they hire the best people wherever they are, and they are not done yet! Lewis and the team are working on a number of initiatives to continue building their brand and culture, including linking training and development to their values and acquiring the Investors In People accreditation.
The topic of People is at the top of the Heads of Department agendas to ensure that the business put their people at the centre of Rocket’s universe.
A truly people-first approach to running a business and one that I have no doubt will continue to bring massive amounts of success
Advice From Industry Experts
We asked business leaders and experts from the IT & Industry for some simple advice on how to best use technology in your workplace in these times of pandemic and beyond.
Thank you to all the people who kindly shared their insights and advice!
How To Best Use Technology In Your Workplace
Be more vigilant about emails/calls from people you do not know.
Apply Two-factor Authentication on everything you can.
Don’t use admin accounts unless it is to carry out admin-related work.
Managing Director at Cybercrowd (CISM)
As we move increasingly towards home working, it is important to try not to lose all the benefits that being together in an office. Virtual working can never be a complete substitute for the office. Try and find forums in locations convenient for your team where you can get together and continue to share each other’s company, plans, and achievements. I have found that self-catering holiday complexes are ideal locations to do this. They are usually in great locations with great facilities, run by the owner, offer exclusive use, and are not terribly expensive. Personally, I favour www.premiercottages.co.uk but there are several good options.
Business Development Director at Paycode (Pty) Ltd
What I’ve found really works is each week I call a member of the team to find out how they are doing, do they have everything they need technically and emotionally and ask how we can help. This is in addition to daily stand-ups and regular team chats. We also keep team comms on Microsoft Teams, which we find de-stresses the opening the email experience as not flooded with internal mail which can be very mentally overwhelming.
CEO – Casper365
Trust your technical advisers. In my experience they work as well remotely as they do in an office, they are in the sector because they choose to be so. Whether it’s from a creative tech viewpoint, cybersecurity, system admin, or software design a techy can make a user’s life easier.
Managing Director — Techedia (ICT Solutions)
What is something you like to do to stay active when working from home? It is important to relax and clear your head, especially when work is busy!
Managing Director, Computer ConQuest
Focus on building ‘Business Continuity’ into everything you do, rather than looking at Disaster Recovery as an afterthought. How do you do that?
1) Empower your employees with communication tools
2) Do you have file-sharing tools in place?
3) Can your team collaborate at home as they would in the office?
4) Have all your company software and files been migrated to the cloud?
5) Is your company data as secure at home as it is in the office?
6) Test run your policies & procedures
Founder & Technical Director at SpecTronics UK
Create online meeting opportunities that no longer happen in the office. We do this by:
1. Calling on Teams with mandatory video when you want to speak to somebody rather than a phone call or email
2. A weekly company-wide meeting
3. a short daily huddle for each department to catch up together on successes, areas needing work, and exchanging ideas.
In time we plan to supplement this with regular team and company meetings because the face to face element and the social element is still required.
Chief Executive Officer – Ziptech
Leadership in challenging times needs bags of communication and remote teams still need to work together. Tech allows you to do this but you re-think the way you work and create engagement/contact points across your team.
Managing Director – BCARM – Business Continuity & Risk Management
We understand that working from home in the face of a pandemic can lead to a lack of communication, frustration, stress, and anxiety. Tips for home workers: Stay connected…check in with teammates for a virtual coffee… Establish a work zone…mentally and physically separate work and home life… Stick to a routine…get out of bed and use your commute time to read books, exercise, or listen to music…Rest & take regular breaks…Don’t work through lunch… keep your concentration levels up… 🙂 Lastly… be kind to yourself.
CEO & Co-founder at Improved Apps
Have a centralised view and plan that will also simplify the use of systems. We are now using multiple systems with different functions and given the fact that post-COVID-19 “new normal” requires automation digitization, it is wise to consolidate and therefore make jobs easy to manage, processes smooth and central control.
Co-Founder & CEO – Flat Rock Technology
Tip 1: Employers can now hire from anywhere, not just locally, as long as the internet is good. Look for talent further afield to save lots of money on salaries and capture excellent foreign talent.
Tip 2: A second tip is to recommend a weekly gaming session as an alternative way of team bonding. In the absence of Friday drinks down the local pub teams need an alternative way to bond outside work despite being hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Online games do the trick. Our particular favourite is Call Of Duty mobile.
Odera Nonyelu Ume-Ezeoke
Founder – Limbic Labs
What are the companies that are getting it right, doing?
1. Confirming the skills they have and the skills they need – so you know where you’re starting from. Some organizations think they know what skills they have, and some will have taken a view on the skills they need. However, most don’t have a skills inventory, and the skills they really have are different from what they thought.
2. Using a common language to define and describe skills, by selecting an internationally-adopted specialist skills framework for technology-dependent disciplines – so we’re all on the same page and able to understand each other.
3. Taking an interest in their people, finding out what skills and experience they already have – not just the skills listed in their current job description, but a complete picture of their skill profile. Just asking helps improve employee engagement because they are being recognised for the specialist skills and experience, plus this information is also critical as otherwise, you have no idea where you’re starting from because you can’t be sure what skills you already have.
4. Being transparent and clear about the skills needed, so people can see their potential gaps and work with their managers to build and maintain a focussed development action plan. This gives them a view of the opportunity, plus the clarity of knowing what they need to advance.
5. Empowering the Managers to have a better conversation and collaboration with their direct reports and teams. Giving them the data they need on the skills and action plans.
6. Looking at the data across the whole organization. Supporting better data-driven decision making. Knowing what the top people and skills related risks are.
There has been a paradigm shift in the office environment – I.e. working from home. Ensure you are comfortable and have every tool you need to be a success at home. Ensure you have regular team catch-ups – not just KPI’s but people’s mental health.
Managing Director – Matrix IT
With video conferencing and Zoom calls becoming the norm during the pandemic, employers should ensure that they are able to offer a first-class virtual meeting experience in this new working environment, where safety and social distancing remain paramount. The right solution offering simple plug and play connectivity combined with superfast internet will help encourage the return of your team to the office and create the professional look you want your clients to see.
Marketing Manager – technologywithin
1. Plan your approach to working from a ‘remote working -first’ model as opposed to an office-based model.
2. Make sure all your employees have the tools to work remotely, most importantly a good video/webex tool like Zoom, MS Team etc.
3. Make sure you develop a best practice guide on wellness, mental wellbeing and tips on effective remote working for all your remote workers, working from home can be a lonely and strange experience.
Chief Executive Officer at Kallik
Our clients tell us, and we believe that there has never been a more important time for a business to be listening to employees. Those watercooler moments and conversations were always priceless in a face to face environment, as was being about to look out for your colleagues from a care and wellness perspective. Businesses now have to create virtual environments where people feel safe, heard, and motivated to be honest and give feedback. Businesses need to know how people really feel to help them and in turn help their business.
The average size of meetings (no. of participants) using Vevox has dropped whilst the number of meetings run has increased by more than 400% as people look to add deeper engagements in their Zoom and Teams call dominated days, to a wider variety of meetings – it’s not just the large or heavily produced ones anymore.
The opportunity to come out of Covid is to genuinely put all employees on an equal footing and provide an equal chance to contribute wherever they are located and whoever they are. No more presenteeism or priority treatment for those at head office. Flexible, remote working, and being measured on achievement not attendance are here to stay.
Managing Director, Vevox
Ensure that work personnel have the correct ergonomics at their workstations at home. This being the correct chair, the correct positioning of the screen, wrist support, footrest if applicable and of course the correct height workstation. I am quite confident that the majority of people working from home do not have this.
Owner, Secure IT Environments
Shorten those meetings, trim the 60 mins to 45 mins, 30 mins to 25 mins, just to give yourself time to relax, stretch, get some air. Online meetings can be much more intense and so you need to give yourself recovery time.
Commercial Director at Wizenoze
The power of technology in connecting us as individuals has never been more tangible than in 2020 with many of us using Zoom, facetime and Teams calls to replace the human touch in both our professional and personal lives. It’s important to remember that this type of technology can support informal interaction with our colleagues as well as facilitating the more formal aspects of our jobs. At Brightsolid, we have set up a Microsoft Teams channel called the ‘virtual kitchen’ to allow people to grab a coffee and dip in and out of conversations with colleagues. It’s has a strict ‘no work talk’ rule so people feel relaxed and able to have a chat.
Chief Executive Officer at Brightsolid
It’s important to be clear about what new channels should be used for. Chat tools for example are great, but they’re not a means for documenting & communicating decisions, it’s too hard to go back to the conversation 6months later when things go bad.
It’s important to keep online resources up to date, both operationally and from an HR perspective. When digital becomes the only source of truth org structures, events, plans, etc need to up to date and over-communicated
Emphasise the need to turn the camera on, everyone has days where they don’t want to be seen, but you’re closing down the rich messages that facial expressions and body language provide. (Subconsciously faces make us happier too).
Product Owner – The Floow
Take security seriously, look to ensure that people working from home are still secure, and also train them on security.
Owner – Resolve IT Solutions
Don’t lose the coffee machine chat moments. When working from home, if you make yourself a coffee, use a video chat platform to call up a colleague and ‘chew the fat’ for 5-10 minutes. You’ll find out stuff, it breaks the isolation, and you come back to your task refreshed.
Chief Commercial Officer at VSN International (VSNi)
All companies that not just survive but thrive in a challenging environment are those who put their people first. Whether that is to involve them in the decisions about how they want and could work to their best ability, or the tools which they believe would serve them and the company best. Also, what is essential today is providing them with a benefits package that focuses on their wellbeing, financial or otherwise, as this has been proven to have the greatest impact for both employers and employees. It might be a cliché, but a happy worker is simply more productive and committed, which is so important in the post-COVID workplace.
Product Owner at The Shopworks
Do not assume that tech is as easy as it is made out. Often the overview and expectation of a technical solution far exceed the reality. Many employees new to home working will also be new to the tech that enables it. They will be suffering from anxiety of using tech for the first time and embarrassment that they are not comfortable using it when everyone else seems okay. Assume that employees need time, training, and support to get proficient in the use of tech as home-working enablement.
As a piece of HR advice, I would invest time in a survey to identify concerns in user knowledge and prioritise user training to get the most of tech.
Co-Founder and Managing Director – Aditinet UK
Communication between employees in their teams has become pivotal to a successful product/project! Ensuring there is alignment in both strategy and culture of companies is also important when not in the office too, everyone needs to know the vision! Also, People need to put themselves first and concentrate on their own mental health before agreeing to take on too much. Regular breaks are a must.
Junior Product Owner at MUTUAL VISION
Create a company online meeting discipline that everyone agrees to and abides by.
Chief Executive Officer at Paycode (Pty) Ltd
We have been working as a distributed team for about 7 years. We have an office in Croatia, remote workers in Croatia, and also remote workers in the UK.
A couple of the things that I have noticed others struggling with as part of the WFH:
— If you need to speak to someone you don’t need to book a meeting. I think many have struggled with the fact that you cannot have impromptu conversations – lookup from a desk, watercooler moments, etc. But that is possible remotely. We constantly jump on and off calls (Teams, WhatsApp, etc) to have 2-minute impromptu conversation. During the call we don’t feel the need to extend the ‘meeting’ due to it being remote.
— Use instant message where appropriate but only if it saves times. I think IM is good for small, transient conversations. But if you need to clarify a conversation then avoid back and forward IM – just pick up the phone to clarify. That is, a 2-minute phone call is better than a 10 minute IM.
— Learn how to collaborate with technology. During our calls we are constantly switching between screens, adding participants (if needed), sharing documents or working on ‘shared’ documents. That is, the call is not a lot different to how we collaborate in the office. So, use the technology to enhance remote conversations and don’t think of the remoteness as a barrier. A lot of people new to this way of working almost formalise the conversations. But conversations are fluid – so use the technology fluidly.
— Try to normalise the remote working. In the office we talk while making cups of tea, eating lunch, or standing outside to enjoy the sun (or have a cigarette). There is no reason that behaviour cannot exist with remote working. This goes back to the fact that a call (video or otherwise) is not a meeting – it is just a conversation the same as what would happen in the office.
Managing Director – Kogitas
It is imperative that while you have a large proportion of your staff working from home the right GDPR compliant platform is in place to manage the audit trail on who is accessing which documents and why. www.joisto.com is an ideal solution for all HR departments and teams to securely manage your documents and provide the right GPDR compliant service
Co-founder & Head of UK/Poland at Quertum Head of UK Joisto
Get ready – Don’t just go home and start working. Take some time to make sure you have all the equipment and access to resources that you need. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be able to do everything from home just like you can in the office.
Using the phone – Most modern phone systems allow you to plug your phone handset in at home and it will work just like it would when you’re in the office. You can make and receive calls using the company telephone number, transfer calls to colleagues and speak to colleagues on their work extensions – even if you are all actually in your own houses.
Security – Don’t forget security! When you’re working from home, try to use a company-authorised device with good virus protection and other professional security protection. Don’t use your family computer that other people share. Your business network will be vulnerable to intrusion if you do!
Consider going completely cloud computing – Working from home is much easier and more productive if your company chooses to use a cloud computer system, with all of your servers and resources on secure cloud servers. Then it doesn’t matter where you work – from home, in the office, at a client site, in a cafe – or even overseas on holiday. You will be just as productive, no matter where you are.
Support system – external or in-house – Make sure you have someone to help you if you have an IT problem when working from home. Get access to good business IT support – either from your own company’s resources, or from a competent external services provider. You’ll get more done if your system is working properly.
Managing Director, BTP
Before you go, here’s a handy free resource to take away: 20 Questions To Answer Before Your Employees Will Perform At Their Best After Lockdown.