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In the run up to The Digital Workplace Conference, we are sitting down with some of our world class speakers to hear their thoughts on some of the topics we are expecting to be a big discussion on the day. Today we are joined by Hayfa Mohdzani, Senior Researcher Adviser at CIPD.

The quest for optimising employee performance has not changed. What has changed is the ways in which organisations engage employees to achieve this goal. I particularly like Gartner’s definition of digital workplace because it highlights desired behaviours. Technology is just a means to achieving better performance:

“The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.”

In many jobs we no longer need to be in the same place to communicate, collaborate and innovate. COVID-19 has demonstrated this at scale, proving that it’s possible for huge numbers of employees to work remotely and still be productive. The Office for National Statistics found that nearly half of people in employment worked from home and 86% of them did so because of the pandemic. Had the pandemic happened a decade ago, it would have been more difficult and costly to achieve large-scale homeworking in just a few days. According to a CIPD survey, regular homeworking is expected to rise to 37% of the workforce, roughly double the figure before COVID-19.

While the technology to support homeworking is not new, some organisations are more comfortable with the new ways of working than others. When the CIPD asked employers about the benefits and challenges of homeworking, collaboration and wellbeing made it to the top five in both lists.

Employees have been experimenting with balancing the need for face-to-face contact and respecting different work schedules. Like switching on their videos when speaking and recording a meeting if a colleague can’t attend. Or creating a dedicated channel in Microsoft Teams (or similar app) to asynchronously collaborate on a project with colleagues and external parties. And creating separate channels for social chats. As a new joiner at the CIPD, I’ve found the WhoBot in Teams useful for discovering colleagues across the organisation and understanding where they sit in the hierarchy.

The downside of being online all the time is that it can negatively impact wellbeing, so it’s important that employers set clear boundaries to allow employees to switch off or take a break. This could include scheduling short gaps in between meetings and encouraging employees to spend half an hour outdoors. And also reminding employees that responses to messages are not expected after working hours.

Meanwhile adoption of AI and automation accelerated during COVID-19 as organisations look for ways to cope with peak periods. A grocery retailer that needed to increase its workforce by 22% in a month turned to AI-powered text-based chat on mobile to interview candidates before passing them to store managers for final interviews. This saved 8,000 working hours and allowed store managers to focus on supporting their staff. Just over 7 in 10 candidates reported they felt more confident receiving feedback from the interview, and no gender or race bias was detected. The NHS is using Robotic Process Automation to quickly and accurately extract important patient information to process COVID-19 cases for the World Health Organization, enabling staff to focus on their primary jobs.

Combining AI and automation (Intelligent Automation) can improve employee experience by removing repetitive tasks and augment employee capabilities. As a result, Intelligent Automation can improve employee engagement and work-life balance while boosting employee performance. It can also promote safety and security, for example, by preventing cyber attacks, by monitoring users and devices on the network and flag suspicious actions.

Hayfa will be speaking at the Virtual Digital Workplace Conference on Thursday 11th March at 10:05am. You can register your place to the conference here: https://bit.ly/3qpYlop

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