Most organizations have developed workflows to manage the processes that run their business for decades. But as more and more businesses cope with remote and hybrid work situations, these low-key workhorses are becoming critical engines of growth. They face a slew of challenges that modern programs may be able to solve through streamlining and automation.
A new report based on a survey of 505 C-level technology executives, conducted by Forbes Insights in collaboration with Adobe, shows that few organizations anticipate a full return to the 9-to-5 office. They expect their workforce to become a mix of remote, in-office or a hybrid of the two in the next two years.
Managing these environments brings with it the risk of higher information technology costs and cybersecurity threats, as well as process delays and the loss of employee collaboration and innovation. And that’s where workflow solutions such as employee- and customer-facing programs can help. Here’s a look at how executives are approaching these solutions—including the benefits of streamlining processes and the challenges to implementing them.
Adapting To A New Landscape
“All of a sudden half the workforce was remote, and we had to automate workflows for the purpose of business continuity,” says Holly Muscolino, research vice president of content strategies and the future of work at IDC. “We needed to be able to perform processes that hadn’t been possible to do remotely. Nice-to-have features became mission-critical.”
Forbes Insights survey respondents agreed: An overwhelming majority (86%) believe workflow software and implementation will be very important to succeed in managing a distributed, hybrid work structure, including 32% who say workflow solutions are critical to success.
More than three-quarters also say that employee-facing and customer-facing digital programs are important for increasing revenue, cyber security, operating efficiencies and productivity over the next two years. That’s a powerful recipe for business growth through digital transformation.
Streamlining Systems Integration
Digital workflows simplify processes by enabling disconnected systems to “talk” to one another. “The primary purpose of a workflow system is integration,” says Tom Rodden, senior vice president and chief information officer at Varian Medical Systems. “When your workflow is well-designed, cross-application integration becomes seamless to your users.”
In a supply-chain transaction, for example, revenue recognition can be a challenge when different accounting standards are involved. Here, workflow integration can simplify and automate the data exchange between the customer, transport provider and distributor, as well as the backend system. Tools, like Adobe Sign, can integrate the communicator’s process to provide proof of delivery to Varian from partners, Rodden says.
Other executives agree: 40% of executives from organizations with an annual revenue of $5 billion or more expect their workflow solution budget to increase 15% or more.
Most executives agree workflow transformation is key to driving a future competitive advantage for their organization. Achieving it, however, will depend on the implementation. Barriers to adopting workflow systems and running them smoothly include security concerns, IT staff bandwidth and the prevalence of legacy infrastructure.
It’s best to start with a customized strategy that targets specific issues, advises Simon Longbottom, vice president of product marketing digital media for business at Adobe.
“It’s really about trying to understand what the biggest pain points are and solving them,” he says. “We’ve typically found that problems fall into the two main buckets of employee or customer. For example, a company could be trying to hire and onboard tens of thousands of new employees or might want to move from a paper-based customer acquisition process to an electronic one.”
Companies also need to decide which solutions to prioritize and invest in. Advanced workflow programs based on artificial intelligence, machine learning or robotic process automation are still not widespread—representing, on average, only 15% of the work being done today, according to the Forbes Insights survey. That number will increase to 17% in the next two years.
“In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, there was a knee-jerk reaction to get systems installed as quickly as possible,” says Muscolino. “Organizations now need to go back and evaluate what’s worked and what hasn’t to make sure they’re fully leveraging these technologies. It’s possible to simply digitize a manual process, which doesn’t mean that you’re fully leveraging digital technology.”
Muscolino adds that organizations now have a unique opportunity to examine what systems may need re-engineering and what should be eliminated altogether. “Workflow solutions should be codified so they’re not just an ad hoc solution to a crisis,” she says. “They need to be designed into an organization’s infrastructure and plans going forward.”
By Rama Ramaswami
Critics by ThoughtFarmer
Back in 2020, employers found themselves at a crossroads, trying to ensure employees had all the resources they needed to maintain their productivity (and sanity), while still hitting organizational goals. This paved the way for the hybrid workplace. The hybrid workplace is defined as a business model combining remote work with office work.
It may look different among organizations, but it typically includes the onsite presence of a core group, while others are free to come and go as they please, within reason. It may be the same employees mandated to be onsite, or it could include a staggering of different people present on different days or times. Or, there may simply be specific days where employees are requested to attend in-person meetings.
The hybrid workplace generally allows employees the opportunity to fit work around their lives, rather than structuring work around fixed hours logged into an office. For many employees (and employers) it’s an optimal balance of productive work with reduced stress and less commuting.
A study by Boston Consulting Group revealed that 75 percent of employees who have transitioned to or remained remote during COVID-19, are at least as productive in performing their individual tasks as they were before the pandemic struck. And about half report that they are at least as productive on collaborative tasks that normally would be performed in conference rooms.
Fuelling some of the anxiety about a return to office is the lack of safety associated with public transportation. In a study of 3,500 workers worldwide, 81 percent of participants said they used public transit to commute to work, and of this group, 67 percent were at least moderately concerned about commuting when they return to work during the pandemic.
Such anxiety is forcing many employers to either continue to allow employees to work remotely, or to implement a hybrid workplace model. Failure to do so could result in increased turnover, otherwise known as the turnover tsunami. In a study conducted by Fortune with Momentive, almost 50% of workers who are still remote or hybrid say they will look for a new job if their employer forces them back to the office after the pandemic ends.
A hybrid workplace prioritizes the employee, and encourages a stronger work-life balance. It additionally can help ease anxiety employees may have relating to returning to a public workspace, or commuting on public transit. This is particularly critical for those caring for, or who themselves, are immunocompromised. A hybrid workplace is also a more economical workplace. With less reliance on large scale offices, organizations can save thousands of dollars in real estate and office maintenance costs.
Organizations offering a combination of in-person and remote employees will also have a larger talent pool to work with, as they will no longer be confined to hiring employees in specific geographical regions. Additionally, a hybrid workplace can help build a crisis resilient culture by preparing organizations for potential future lockdowns. With many employees already working from home, your workplace can easily adapt back to a fully remote environment if necessary.
Finally, a hybrid workplace can reduce the spread of contagious viruses, as employees can choose to work from home if they are feeling unwell. A hybrid workplace may also offer a solution to organizations with employees who aren’t—or perhaps cannot or have no desire to become—vaccinated.
As some critics have pointed out, the hybrid workplace model isn’t without its flaws. Not all of us have the luxury of quality internet access, designated home workspaces, or distraction free environments. And obviously remote work or hybrid work isn’t an option for frontline workers (check out this post on how to engage your frontline workers) like many employed by hospitals, factories, and law enforcement.
A hybrid environment may additionally put employees who cannot work in the office at a disadvantage of those that can. For example, consider a scenario where one employee is unable to attend an in-person meeting. Even if they join via video, there are potential side conversations they may miss out on. Female employees in particular may be at a disadvantage, as they are disproportionately expected to care for young children, and thus unable to return to an office environment.
There is also concern that employees ‘seen’ in the office will be viewed as providing greater output. Remote employees may feel passed up for opportunities because they are less visible than those who return to the office. This could be especially problematic if leadership are the ones present in the office. In other words the physical office should not hold more power than a remote office.
Equally important are the challenges associated with collaboration and communication. With two different experiences to manage, there is increased risk that one group may feel excluded in crucial conversations. Such scenarios highlight the importance of a robust hybrid workplace plan and a hybrid workplace assessment. If not properly executed, a hybrid workplace could create a divide between those who work in the office and those who don’t.
he hybrid work environment may be new, but the challenges associated with connecting and communicating with employees aren’t. The good news is that these problems were solved a long time ago with intranet software. Long before COVID-19, organizations around the world depended on their intranet to increase knowledge management, communication, innovation, efficiency, and resilience. Modern intranets take it one step further by automating a variety of business processes, like those involving paper forms.
Intranets also make it easy for communicators to understand if employees have read important announcements, as well as to instantly broadcast critical news to employee employees through their mobile phones. Finally, intranet software enables asynchronous collaboration, so employees can stay focused and on-task…..