In this first part of the SmartCom Summit Spring 2021 plenary talk show, Charles Groenhuijsen and Rob Kurver (Founding Partner at The Next Cloud) discuss changing work/life balance, productivity, going back to the office, leadership challenges and developing healthy habits with our guests Stijn Nijhuis (CEO at Enreach), Remco de Kramer (Product Marketing Manager Modern Work at Microsoft), Sebastiaan Hoogstadt (Sales Director Benelux at Poly) and Carrie Carrasco (Director, Solution Architects at Red Hat).
After a year of pandemic lockdowns and working from home, we see productivity improving for some people in some roles, but certainly not everywhere. As Stijn puts it, “the biggest change for me is people becoming more productive but less creative”. More productive because less time is wasted travelling, and work gets done in a more structured way. On the downside, it’s harder to be creative through a screen. Remco: “everybody is expected to be available all the time, and we miss focus time”. Which was one of the benefits of being stuck in traffic or in a plane every now and then.
All our guests are experienced remote workers, used to dealing with co-workers across the globe. And with all research indicating this will be the new normal for all of us, at least part of the time, we will all need to adapt. Sebastiaan: “we are already used to working with remote colleagues, and there are solutions to help with the creative part.” Carrie focuses on the social side: “the personal touch is lacking, we miss special conversations, this distance is getting bigger and bigger the longer it takes.” She concludes that expectations are high, we have to deal with social pressure both at home and at the office. So we need to adapt to this new way of working, the pressure to be available 24×7 requires new agreements and a clear social contract.
After the initial crisis in 2020, when the focus was on closing offices and letting people work from home as much as possible, businesses are now starting to prepare for a new normal where people can work partially from home and partially from the office. Microsoft, for example, has equipped all meeting rooms in all their offices worldwide with online meeting facilities. Remco explains “all meetings in the future will include people working from home.” And Sebastiaan adds that in the next normal the “experience at home needs to be as good as in the office”. Stijn chimes in: “first it was about making things work, not about making it work for everybody in a new balance office/home. We need to create a level playing field, every meeting must be accessible for remote workers as well.”
Technology is helping here. Collaboration systems and room setups are becoming smarter so you can hear everybody and see who’s speaking, and features like subtitles and whiteboards are added on a monthly basis now, innovation is rampant. But, our guests agree with the online poll we ran during the talk show, which shows that the real challenge is not technology but people.
Less management more leadership
For tech companies remote work has long been normal, but the hybrid office creates a new challenge for every organisation. Carrie: “we, the people, are the biggest barrier, how do we make sure that in every interaction we are inclusive, transparent? This is on us, the people, we need to learn to work in a new way.” And: “management is also people, they need to become open leaders”.
Remco explains: “Microsoft might look like a big company but people are self supporting, leadership is decentralized. People manage their own time, agenda and targets, and the role of management is to enable professionals to do their work, not to tell them how.” Stijn adds: “Enreach is based on a self organisation principle, formally we have no managers. Sometimes you hear people ask ‘how do we know if people are doing their job if they’re not in the office?’. Well, if that’s the question then you had the problem already pre-Corona and you’re finding it out now”. In that sense, the next normal is merely bringing problems to light, not creating new ones.
Developing Healthy Habits
As we move into a next normal, we are all learning and finding a new work/life balance, new ways of working together. Technology can help us develop healthy habits, by signaling current habits and suggesting improvements like taking a lunch break or automatically scheduling focus time. Also, technology can automatically and intelligently cancel noise outside a certain perimeter, for example barking dogs or screaming kids, thus increasing employee wellness as well as collaboration.
And, again, it all starts with people, working together to make sure nobody is left behind, regardless of age, seniority, background or communication style. Both Enreach and Red Hat, for example, have introduced programs where people in the company are randomly connected to co-workers for a social chat, increasing creativity and spontaneity.
The way we work will never be the same, and smart communications technology is here to help, with new functionality being added all the time to support our next normal. At the same time, this makes technology more and more important, and requires us to also think about security, privacy, and working together in ecosystems. And, most importantly, we need to adapt our organisations and leadership, and develop new habits, to come out thriving instead of surviving.
About the author
Rob combines a strong technical and commercial IT background with 18 years of cloud communications experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, trainer/coach, analyst and business developer. His heart is in innovation and growth, working with scaleups and corporates to bring new technologies to market.
In 2016 he co-founded The Next Cloud because he believes the exciting world of business communications, with programmable telecoms, APIs, CPaaS and AI, is too important to leave to the Big Tech companies and deserves a local and people first approach. Optimal customer experience, new business models, but also solving our society’s real challenges by combining the strengths of corporates and innovators in new ecosystems.
Over the past 30 years Rob (co-)founded various technology companies, including one of the leading Dutch hosted voice providers (before hosted voice became the new normal). Today, he works with some of the world’s leading technology providers on innovation and growth, especially in the rapidly changing world of cloud communications.