The ways that the workplace has changed in recent years, becoming portable and virtual in many ways, may be part of lasting disruptions for the enterprise. That was the topic for a panel at Agora’s RTE2022 real-time engagement conference held online last week.
The session looked at ways companies were forced to change to adapt to the pandemic, naturally going remote, and how those evolutions may continue to sway organizations.
Michael McCarthy, COO of Learning Design Network; Duncan Bucknill, global business manager for Wipro; Sameer Mehta, senior vice president with JIO; and Jeremy Lam, CEO of Venu, spoke about such trends during the “Digital Transformation of the Physical and Virtual Workplace” panel. Ira Weinstein, managing partner with Recon Research, moderated.
In addition to describing broader trends, the panelists gave some insight on how their organizations have changed in recent years. McCarthy said his company already had a virtual approach, with a dispersed and hybrid work model, in place at the pandemic’s onset. Bucknill said the pandemic accelerated the need for experts to be more remote, something Wipro has aided with. His division of Wipro focuses on building solutions for digital transformation through augmented and virtual reality.
Mehta said his company was rather prepared for hybrid work at the start of the pandemic. “We tried to reduce the differences between working from office and working from home to near zero,” he said.
Lam said his company, a few years ago, was looking for ways to more efficiently meet with potential customers, especially when travel is cost and time prohibitive. This led to a rise in virtual conferences and connections, which these days might include metaverse events.
Going Hybrid and Cutting Costs
Though numerous companies are just now exploring a return to the office, Bucknill said much of his clientele are largely field service workers who need to be onsite. That meant travel continued for them in the midst of the pandemic, but there was still a desire for fewer site visits, he said.
“Reducing site visits significantly reduces obviously the cost of delivery for our customers,” Bucknill said. “The changes that we saw during the pandemic I think are going to be permanent for our customers because they’ve significantly reduced the cost base of delivery for these kinds of services.”
Mehta said physical workspaces might not have changed but the ways they may be used has. If a hybrid work model is in place, he said, teams might decide jointly on what days to return to the office. Technical infrastructure has also changed in response to virtual, mobile, and hybrid environments. “Most companies have converted their internal network to an open network,” Mehta said. “Whether you’re working from home or from office, you get the same level of access — when you try to access your internal network, you connect through VPN.”
He also said digital tools have become more integrated in the business workforce, such as sales calls being scheduled through Salesforce or other collaboration and scheduling resources. “We have realized that vertical-specific solutions, or business workflow embedded video collaboration, is the core of doing business in a distinct way,” Mehta said
Improvements to ease of use have seemed to drive greater adoption of remote and virtual workplace options. “People know how convenient it is to click a link and meet with people,” Lam said. This has also spoken to companies looking for cost savings. “When folks are making revenue while lowering their expenses, they’re not just suddenly going to go back to, ‘Let’s just fly everybody out,’” he said.
In the years since the start of the pandemic, technology has transformed the new, digital workplace and seems on track to continue to do so. The rise of virtual meeting resources, for example, now may mean using 3D avatars rather than just a video stream, Lam said. There has also been a boost in previously non-tech savvy individuals taking advantage of the tools at their disposal. “After these three years, suddenly people who might not have had a laptop — people who would have driven to work to use a computer — now have a laptop at home,” Lam said. “A lot more people are using their smartphones for work. So much has changed, even the non-tech savvy people have adapted.”