TORONTO – As work becomes ever more mobile, how can businesses find the right balance between working remotely or in a physical space?
As a senior leader of Avanade since its conception in 2000, and its CEO since 2008, Adam Warby is specifically equipped to help answer this question. CDN had a chance to sit down with Warby to discuss accruing talent, the remote workforce, digital ethics and automation, and digital transformation.
In part two of our Q/A with Warby, he discusses how the remote workforce affects today’s workspaces.
This is part two in a four-part interview.
Part one on how businesses can tackle the skills gap and accrue talent.
Part three on digital ethics and its role in the development of AI and automation.
The following is an edited transcript.
CDN Now: How important is it for corporations to begin adopting digital communication techniques that employees use in their everyday lives?
Adam Warby: I think it’s fundamental for a number of reasons, but I’d start with the customer experience that those businesses have. I am a firm believer that there is no good customer experience without a good employee experience. Increasingly, customer experiences are mobile and remote, and they are everywhere. You have to think about enabling employees to be able to serve those customers in a good way.
In retail, as an example, we’ve done a study about the nature of change in a store, and we’ve worked with retailers to re-imagine physical locations and the store of the future using technology to do in-store displays. There are a lot of new seasonal and popup stores, so how do you get employees ready to serve over a four week holiday period and be knowledgeable about the products. You do that through the way people like to learn in the digital world. The consumerization of experiences has come into the workplace.
CDN Now: Let’s talk about IBM remote work reversal. Is this move almost being made to cling to the past? Can this possibly work out well for IBM?
Warby: I don’t know what’s behind it for IBM. I’ve read articles about the move and they are saying it’s about collaboration. Particularly in the creative process, we have created studios and key physical locations where we bring together creative skills, designers, strategists, etc., to create designs and innovations.
The world is getting ever more mobile and our clients are ever more mobile. We use this word quite a lot in the technology industry – hybrid – and we need hybrid work forces. It’s not about everyone being in the office or everyone being remote, it’s about being in the right place for the right set of work. Teams aren’t just for Avanade. It’s for Avanade and our customers and ecosystem partners. You have to bring together diverse teams from multiple sources in flexible ways. And just bringing them together in our office doesn’t seem to serve that kind of flexible team model to me.
CDN Now: With millennials coming into the workplace, and I’d argue many Gen Xers except a mobile options as well, is a remote workforce absolutely necessary? Are we ever going to see a large corporation like Avanade or IBM exist without part of a mobile workforce?
Warby: My view is that the world has become more mobile, more connected, and it’s opened up new opportunities. Certainly Avanade’s work style and my leadership team, is all over the world, and I communicate with them in electronic means. I got them physically together once this year, 240 people in Seattle. That was an important environment to have a physical discussion.
But the vast majority of our company is global, and that I suppose is the main point behind a lot of this. As the world becomes more global and you expect to talk to people in different countries, you can’t expect to be physically all together all the time. It’s about serving the needs of your clients and employees. If they aren’t physically together, you have to help them work together. Millennial or non-millennial.
CDN Now: Let’s look a little further into the future. Gen Z is starting to go to college, and before we know it they’ll be in the workforce as well. How can corporations prepare for a generation of workers who have not been exposed to a world pre-digital age?
Warby: It comes back to the fundamentals of understanding. First of all, we live in a digitally connected world, and we have to assume that is here to stay. We all have adapted to it, and Gen Z are now brought up with it. It’s just the way we work, just as 30 years ago it might have been something different.
I think it means that we need to think about what technologies are particularly relevant. Video communications for instance, what environments do we insist we communicate by video because that creates a different experience. I bring it back to engaging people in the discussion of how do they want to work together then focusing on what supports teamwork best, and what supports concentrating on individual work.
Individual work is an area that I have been looking into, and there are quite a lot of people saying that an open plan, highly interrupted digital workspace is making us less productive about concentrating on individual study and work. How do we create opportunities for that? We see that in the physical workspace where you can put a pair of headphones on and that can get you into a private space, but visually things distract you.
There is a place for all of us, particularly Gen Z who have been brought up in this very multi-tasking world, to be able to focus and concentrate. It’s all about digital meets physical. We need to continue to innovate and experiment on what works and what doesn’t, and we need to involve all generations in it. We don’t all work or learn the same way, so it can’t be one size fits all.