Planning for Hybrid Work: 3 Questions for IT Leaders

Throughout the last year, the way we work went through irreversible, tectonic shifts. Businesses around the globe moved faster than any IT leader ever anticipated, replacing decades-old processes with video conferences, cloud-based apps and electronic signatures. Years of progress were made in months. It was a breakneck evolution, but it’s hard to deny that it worked. In a lot of cases, it worked better than anyone thought possible. There might have been hiccups, but employees got work done and business continued.

Fast-forward to today and IT leaders are facing another critical decision-making period. Having survived the reactive rush to an all-remote workforce, teams are now returning to physical offices and facing questions about how to proactively build the most productive working environment. While the blitz of the pandemic wasn’t an ideal way to grow, it’s undeniable that there are certain parts of it that were positive. Today’s business challenge is designing a hybrid workflow that keeps all the benefits of traditional office life without sacrificing the productive, employee-centric aspects of remote work. 

It’s difficult, but today’s IT teams have an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a virtual work environment that achieves employee satisfaction and business productivity. This new hybrid environment requires a big jump in technology systems and internal policies, but it doesn’t have to be a blind leap. The vision that I have for the robust virtual workspace has three critical components. As your team develops a blueprint for success in more a flexible setup, here are important questions to ask:

Are your employees having consumer-grade professional experiences?

Historically, employees have had patience with business applications. A year of working remotely has changed that. As the physical distinctions between home life and office life disappear for employees, so do the differences between consumer tech and employee tech. We’re at a point now where those two areas have blended almost completely.

To serve modern employees effectively, IT teams need to consider the technological experiences they are having as consumers and invest in business tools to meet those new expectations. At DocuSign, we regularly talk to customers that are experiencing the blurring of personal and professional lines with respect to electronic signatures. Our customers have employees who are signing personal agreements at home using their laptops, phones and tablets. When it’s time to sign a business contract, those employees aren’t going to settle for downloading, printing, signing, scanning, uploading and sending. They shouldn’t have to. In that case, employees' needs for a consumer-friendly experience should drive IT decisions.

Part of this consumer-grade business technology revolution is empowering employees with self-service tools to manage their own professional journeys. This is a critical part of designing a hybrid work environment that can scale. IT leaders need the tools and governance controls to provide every employee with a self-service framework that allows them to independently manage tasks without the delays and inefficiencies of traditional systems. The smooth, effective hybrid workflows of the future will be built on consumer-friendly experiences that let every employee personalize their own professional journey.

For example, one of the common threads of my customer conversations throughout the pandemic was significantly accelerated sales cycles. New workflows that arose during the pandemic empowered individual sellers to manage more of the sales process independently. That increase in self-service capabilities is something that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. 

Does your technology stack deliver a collaborative, anywhere-friendly work model?

The key to creating an effective hybrid work environment is an integrated technology toolkit that allows anyone to complete any task from anywhere. There’s an important distinction to make here between true collaboration technology and basic communication technology. If your new virtual workflows involve employees holding meetings to simply communicate to each other that offline tasks are happening, that’s not effective. Business isn’t moving faster. Instead you need a virtual room that empowers employees to complete tasks in the same workspace that is hosting the meeting. That collaborative technology cuts out unnecessary steps and accelerates desired business outcomes.

These interconnected virtual environments offer more than just a replacement for traditional in-person workflows. As new advances in AI, analytics and automation are made, they can be added to the virtual workspace to deliver a superior experience. With the same employees and the same amount of time as a traditional meeting, intelligent technology can make virtual collaboration infinitely more productive.

Consider again the example of faster sales cycles achieved with self-service workflows. Those workflows are only achieved because system integrations are replacing manual handoffs and eliminating traditional bottlenecks. Over the years, with increases in automation and improvements in governance, these self-service sales principles will be even more effective. As sellers move back to physical offices, the new sales flows should be a permanent part of company strategy.

The best IT leaders know that a successful hybrid-by-design strategy starts with an emphasis on interoperability. All critical business systems need to be supported by the same technological infrastructure. IT teams aren’t looking for a silver bullet to replace the entire network of employee-facing solutions. They want to build a network of tools that allows every employee to work in the best system for them. Achieving that state requires systems that power one another and collaborate together behind the scenes. 

Are your compliance and governance obligations being met?

When I talk to DocuSign customers about moving to a hybrid work style, one of the biggest obstacles that comes up is governance. As employees work from new locations and expand the number of devices they use to connect to professional systems, there is a new series of risks. The benefits of a more flexible workspace are significant, but not if those changes come at the expense of company security or create new administrative work. IT teams need to be able to govern end user actions with a simple, code-free back end. 

This is particularly relevant for organizations in highly regulated industries like healthcare or finance. If an IT leader is going to invest in a hybrid-friendly platform, it’s imperative that employee access is expanded without opening the door for compliance failures. That means powerful central controls and clear visibility into employee activity in the instance of an audit.

As far as compliance is concerned, there are also considerations around the data held and used in an organization. An IT leader who is laying the groundwork for a successful hybrid environment has important questions to ask about that data: Where is it being held? What people and technologies have access? Are there safeguards to protect that data? What happens in the event of a breach? Can the data be used to build AI models that accelerate the business? The organizations that build the most robust flexible work systems will begin their transformations by answering all of these questions.

To complicate the issue further, regulations about that data are always evolving at the local, state and federal level. Innovative IT teams will build a system of technology that gives internal policy makers all the tools they need to govern data appropriately as needs change.

I recently had a conversation with Amy Loomis of IDC about how to successfully use technology to serve employees and accelerate business. If you’re interested in learning more about how your team can succeed in the hybrid work environment, you can watch that whole discussion on CIO: Planning for a Resilient Return to Office.

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