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Digital home working, now enforced worldwide by Covid-19, has accelerated the transformation in the workplace that was only slowly starting to happen in many organisations. But what effect has it had on those working at home and on the corporate cultures they operate in? This webinar hosted by NORA in partnership with EACD and Cisco Systems, explored the latest research into the impact of the new ways of working and the use cases of technology and AI that are driving the workplaces of the future.
Moderated by Dennis Larsen, EACD Team Norway and Co-Chair Working Group on Reputation and Regulatory Risk, and Managing Partner, ReputationInc, researchers from NORA began by discussing the parameters of their recent studies and their applications to industry.
NORA was founded this year by a group of researchers from the Centre for Corporate Communication at BI Norwegian Business School, united by an ambition to create a research hub around practice and communication topics with strong managerial implications. These are developed in close collaboration with industry partners who help design an applied research agenda that matters to communications managers, explained Dr Alexander Buhmann, NORA’s Director.
Moving from a pure corporate communications approach to cover wider communications and management topics allows the group “to explore the intersection between communications, digital technology and management”, he continued, focusing on topics such as crisis management, cyber security, ‘algorithmisation’ and engagement, and the impact of digital technology and AI on business ethics. How do technology and automation change the relationships between organisations and stakeholders?
For NORA member Prof Sut I Wong, what motivates their research is the changing face of working models and, in particular, remote working. No matter how familiar we are with digital tools and digital teamwork, she said, their research reveals that digital teams tend to share less and feel more isolated than co-located colleagues. This is true even in tech-savvy companies, so the experiences and transformations needed in more traditional companies are even more acute. Given the current crisis, it is even more vital to identify some of the key challenges to digital working and collaboration. “While we like the degree of freedom we get from working from home, we still need structures,” she noted. “We need a balance between autonomy and structure and clarity so we know what we individually are supposed to do and as part of a team so we can co-ordinate.”
Prof Gillian Warner-Søderholm, also a NORA member and Head of the Department of Communication and Culture at BI, agreed that we still need to build ‘digital water cooler’ time into our home working schedules, where we can discuss issues and just check in with one another. Sometimes, a simple one-to-one phone call can be much more effective at boosting morale and engagement than a group conference. She highlighted other key findings of their research: a tendency for bosses to want to micromanage staff who are at home, which can lead to staff feeling disempowered and disengaged; and the human tendency not to engage in ‘double-loop learning’ – not looking back over the day to see what communication worked in a particular setting – which is needed more than ever now to build transparency and trust and avoid ambiguity in team communications. Other small measures such as good housekeeping – having clear ‘house rules’ – can help enable the best digital workplaces where everyone is engaged and empowered, and play a significant role in beating the loneliness trap, she commented.
The following discussion investigated how digital platforms change teamwork. How can we use them to enhance team experiences? Here, the importance of variation was highlighted. Many organisations at the start of their lockdowns made the mistake of having only videocalls for every kind of meeting which became a burden for staff and reduced productivity.
"What of the technology that is enabling home working?" asks keynote speaker, Sandeep Mehra, Vice President & General Manager – Webex Devices & Telepresence at Cisco Systems. In his view, we need to think about these tools from a digital platform perspective and blend that into the digital workplace. He outlined 5 key drivers of digital transformation:
- Evolving workforce
- Changing nature of work
- Demand for flexibility
- Technology disruption
- Growing customer expectations
He summarised what a successful workplace transformation means to Cisco:
- Improved employee engagement
- Winning the war for talent – attracting and retaining the best people
- Elevating customer experience – retaining customers
- Optimising office space and reducing costs
- His final message: “You must transform your workplace – your customers and workforce are demanding it.”
The webinar raised many other questions from cultural appropriateness and the importance of personality in organisations to how to interpret social cues and body language when remote working, who should be doing the talking when culture dictates communication, and what builds trust in an organisation?