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As COVID-19 swept around the world, companies rapidly deployed new tooling such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack to enable their staff to work remotely. Has this dramatic change actually set back the business case for digital collaboration tools moving forward?

"Digital collaboration tools, as with any other piece of technology, are not the answer alone."

At the start of the pandemic, remote working was hailed as the future realised and there were questions about whether anyone would ever return to an office, and what this would mean to cities. Digital collaboration tooling saw an explosive rise in use. In December 2019 Zoom had 10 million daily users in meetings, by April 2020 this had increased to 300 million[1]. At the start of 2020 Microsoft Teams had less than 40 million users, today there are 145 million[2]. This led to numerous analysts questioning whether the traditional office was dead. 

However, as the pandemic has continued, the narrative has become less clear cut. Some firms are now instructing their workforce to return to the office, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called remote working ‘an aberration’ and informed his staff that they will be returning to the office. There have also been growing concerns with ‘virtual burnout’ with staff struggling to manage work-life balance using the new digital collaboration tooling, even prompting one NHS trust to issue guidance to their staff on how to manage it.[3]

Now in May 2021, the initial euphoria about the capabilities of digital collaboration tools has subsided and some businesses may question whether this is truly an area they want to invest in the future. Was the hype ever justified and should we return to more traditional ways of working?

At Oaklin, we have seen first-hand the differing approaches to deploying digital collaboration tooling through the pandemic. Those who treated the transformation as a change project generally saw the best outcomes – the technology deployment was handled smoothly and, crucially, strong training and adoption programmes were delivered to guide staff in the use of the new tooling. Those who decided to push ahead with a technology deployment without appropriate governance generally had the worst outcomes.

"Businesses which are not able to keep pace will simply be left behind."

Digital collaboration tools, as with any other piece of technology, are not the answer alone. To be successful you must ensure you have identified the relevant business use cases, you have determined your deployment schedule including appropriate testing, and a proper training and adoption programme is established for staff.

In many cases, this has been a real success. For example, we recently led the adoption experience for a major public sector body, as they responded to the pandemic and rolled-out digital collaboration tools. We launched a multi-channel experience including e-learning videos, how-to guides and interactive virtual training sessions. Most importantly, there was a real focus on work-life balance, with guidance on how to configure options such as working hours in the tools. The results were dramatic, with over 90% of surveyed users expressing satisfaction with the training experience. The successful rollout saw productivity return to pre-pandemic levels and has cemented the view of the organisation to continue remote working after the pandemic.

For that organisation, the successful deployment of new technology during the pandemic has strengthened the business case for remote collaboration tools and they are now enthusiastically reviewing the new capabilities of Microsoft’s Viva platform. For them the hype met reality. 

Of course, not every organisation has been this successful, and understandably this may drive a reluctance to invest further and an urge to return to traditional ways of working. The latest most comprehensive survey on this, however, suggests this is unlikely to be feasible. Microsoft surveyed 30,000 people in 31 countries published in April this year and identified that 73% of workers want to continue with some form of remote working.[4] Workplace specialists, Leesman, also found that the majority of office workers rated their productivity higher at home performing many of the key elements of their roles.[5]

For businesses to remain competitive in the labour market, providing appropriate digital collaboration tooling will continue to be essential. The world is becoming ever more digital. From the comfort of your home, you can order groceries, have a medical consultation, play games with friends on another continent or even have a session with a personal trainer. Businesses which are not able to keep pace will simply be left behind.

The key to unleashing digital collaboration tools is ensuring appropriate governance, training and adoption support – as with any other change programme. Upfront investment in these areas can ensure the value of the tooling is maximised. Businesses must continue to invest in this tooling to keep pace with the changing world after the pandemic. Far from being weakened by the pandemic, the business case for such change has never been stronger.

Jamie Mason

Consultant
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Jamie Mason

Consultant

Jamie is a digital consultant within Oaklin and specialises in leading complex technology transformations with our clients, from platform selection to delivery and adoption. He is pragmatic about the benefits of digital and is focused on the tangible value that it can offer to businesses.

Bibliography

  • [1] https://miro.medium.com/max/2400/0*0wpfjACNUBHMRCO7
  • [2] https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/27/22406472/microsoft-teams-145-million-daily-active-users-stats
  • [3] https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/working-for-us/staff/occupational-health/staff-wellness/documents/avoid-virtual-burnout.pdf
  • [4] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/73-workers-want-remote-work-after-pandemic-berry-clemens/
  • [5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-17/hybrid-work-may-not-be-flexible-when-you-return-to-office-after-lockdown?cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social