How To Make ‘The Future Of Work’ Work?

We keep hearing about the “Future of Work,” yet it never seems to become the present. How can we make it work for good?

MING Labs
MING Labs
Aug 5, 2020 · 8 min read

by Sebastian Mueller

Following the most massive work-from-home experiment in history, most companies are rethinking the workplace they provide. Many are looking to make remote work a stable part of their routine, either as an option or even as a continuous status quo. That will require new tools, processes, and behaviors. In short — a complete transformation.

Corporations of a broad spectrum are announcing their moves. From Siemens making mobile working a stable part of their culture, to London-based banks only bringing about 50% of their employees back into the office and the likes of Twitter or Facebook making work-from-home a permanent option for all employees.

The workplace of the relatively near future will differ from the past — this much everyone agrees on. But how can we get there?

If there is one fact that almost everyone agrees on, it is that Digital Transformation is about people, not technology. A lot of money has gone down the drain over the past decade with transformation projects that did not work out. And oftentimes, the change resistance of the organization was found to be the cause. People did not want to change.

This begs the question — how can we ensure that the transformation ahead of us will go smoothly? How can we avoid wasting money, and tackle change resistance head-on? We believe that employee-centricity is the key.

The Failure of Central Visions

The workplace of the future, before COVID-19, has already been a hotly debated topic. Over the last years, we have seen many systems enter our client’s offices, from automated entry systems to meeting room booking systems, followed by IoT deployments and wearables. Every technology imaginable has been turned into a proposition for the office.

Yet, mostly, the way we got to know about the systems was that someone would complain to us about them. When hosting us, invariably, the pre-booked room was always taken. The pre-authorization never worked smoothly, either. And we have seen plenty of smart-office IoT technology unplugged, as it only ever annoyed the users.

What most of these installations had in common was a central masterplan, dreamed up by one project team. Someone took responsibility for the future of the workplace and got busy making plans. Consultants were hired, vendors were reviewed, and slowly a whole new-office technology stack was pieced together. With so many synergies!

What did no one do? Interview employees, understand their needs, and involve them in the process. There might have been informal coffee chats to gauge general interest, yet no qualitative study was conducted. There was some communication at the town-hall, yet no feedback was gathered.

The assumption is always — we know best what people will like, and they will use it once we deploy it.

Employees are seen as a captive audience that has no other choice. They work for the company after all, don’t they? So if a new technology is introduced, it becomes their job to use it. Problem solved.

While it is true that very few people will outright refuse to use a new system, the resistance is often passive-aggressive. This is also known as “bullshit-in, bullshit-out,” or simple sabotage.

Employee-Centricity Is The Way To Go

What is the alternative? Make people part of the change. Anyone working on internal processes, tools, and similar matters should care about Employee Experience.

And similar to Customer Experience, the user has to be at the core of all work being done. There is no way to conceptualize and design a successful system without involving users.

Thinking about the future of work today, whatever your company strategy is in that regard, needs to start with conversations. You really need to understand the needs and pain points of employees to know what to look out for. Whether you are looking to build your own system, or to source an existing solution, the needs of the employees have to come first.

Making people part of the change means that they feel heard. Not only will solutions address their needs, but the feeling of being listened to lowers the defense barriers.

Ensuring that employees are part of the process gives you a higher likelihood of success. This means avoiding lots of money being wasted on projects that ultimately get written off. It also means happier and more productive employees that work more effectively and efficiently. There are only upsides to making your people part of the change.

Case Study — Call Center Agent Experience At Vodafone Germany

One of our past projects was with Vodafone in Germany, revamping the systems their call center agents use. Now it would’ve been easy to source a standard software and roll it out, yet this was not the way to go. The team at Vodafone understood that well and worked through a detailed research phase with us.

Through multiple rounds of on-site visits and interviews, we learned how the call center agents work, and what hacks they use. Often, we would see 10+ sticky notes on their screen, URLs, and logins to various systems they needed to access. This was a shortcut for them to be able to help the customer more quickly.

From all the insights we gathered, the user journeys we mapped, and the pain points we identified, we managed to conceptualize a system that comprehensively supports the agents better. The next step was not to immediately build a solution — but to prototype critical flows quickly (in less than two weeks) and validate that we had heard them correctly.

The employees we spoke to were stunned at the speed of the turnaround. Within a few weeks after giving their input, they had a demo to play with that reflected their input. It worked almost exactly like they would wish, save for a few changes they still asked for. They were very excited.

The following implementation and roll-out phase went very smoothly, with the system being scored very highly internally, saving the teams countless hours, increasing customer satisfaction, and winning an industry award. A success all around, for the employees, the customers, and the business.

Case Study — The New World Of Remote Work At A Mining Company

In a recent project in Singapore, a Mining client approached us with struggles in their Finance department. Many processes were still highly manual and partially analogue (printing, scanning, even faxing) in their Asia operations, and forced work-from-home made operational continuity extremely difficult. Productivity decreased drastically, as team members in Australia, India, Singapore and China had to find quick fixes and workarounds to somehow keep going.

While in many companies the first instinct might have been to purchase commercial-grade printers with integrated scanners for everyone, so that they can continue the same routines from home, our client was looking to set themselves up for future success.

This disruption gave them an opportunity to completely transform the process and make it future-proof, rather than artificially increase its lifespan another few years.

Team members from all departments (Cash Management, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, etc.) were invited to participate. Due to the remote setup, we were able to collaborate with team members in four different countries through a series of remote workshops, allowing us to get their inputs. Through interviewing them, mapping their as-is process and spotting the key pain points, they were heard from day one.

After two rounds of ideation and concept creation, we came back to them a week later with a fleshed out process and prototype of a tool to host that new process. They were delighted! We received a lot of feedback about changes they would like to incorporate (a great sign that they really wanted to start using this). From there, the backlog was created and a first version of the new tool brought to live within just 3 months — seeing great improvements from day one.

When teams are part of transforming business processes they operate in, the benefits are manifold. On the one hand, they are of course the experts and have critical information that is needed. By being consulted, they also have a stake in the solution, not only in the problem. And by doing the work in a group workshop, rather than through individual interviews, everyone gets the benefit of transparency — breaking down silos and allowing for interesting insights.

Make Your Employees Part Of The Transformation

As businesses think about the future of work, post-COVID, today, they would be well-advised to listen to their teams. Understanding which part, e.g., of working remotely worked well and which pain points exist, will help to find the right solutions. Engaging the teams around those, instead of just deciding for them, will help to smoothen the roll-out.

Most people are generally prone to stability over change. Yet when change is necessary, and it is, they would rather change on their terms than under the pure direction of others.

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation. For more information, visit us at minglabs.com

Liked this story, and curious to know more? Start a conversation with us on Twitter, check our latest updates on LinkedIn, or drop us a note at hello@minglabs.com.

Related Reading: How To Empower And Develop Your Team Using A Project Retrospective

How do you review projects focusing on your team’s strengths and successes, while also reflecting on and improving processes for the future? Check out our project retrospective approach.

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in…

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

MING Labs

Written by

MING Labs

We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

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