Blog | Dec 10, 2020

Reimagining Work: Before and after Covid-19

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The Future of Work

The old way of working has gone forever, and we have entered a new normal. The Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane confirmed as much recently, when he said that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered the largest shift in working practices in modern times. This shift will not be temporary.

To help leading organizations prepare for a post-COVID era, Blue Prism has sponsored a CIONET study to reimagine work.

To narrow our focus on the likely impact of the pandemic on working practices, we have divided our analysis of the future of work into three inter-related areas: workflow, workforce and workplace. This approach helped structure our discussions with 20 C-level executives (COOs, CIOs and CTOs) at blue-chip organizations and has been supported by the collective experience of our CIONET Innovation Council, which draws on 40 digital leaders from top organizations in the UK. We have used these discussions to produce an integrated set of recommendations on how businesses can prepare for the future of work in the post-COVID age.

Our report focuses specifically on how intelligent automation might help large organizations to be more productive and responsive in the future. We believe intelligent automation could break a logjam around productivity and corporate growth that has contributed to economic stagnancy for much of the past two decades. We look also at the potential barriers to workplace innovation and how the C-suite will need to address these blockers as a matter of urgency. We conclude by presenting a roadmap for the adoption of intelligent automation and provide executives with a practical framework for following this route.

20 years of change in just 12 months

2020 has been a year of technological and socio-economic transformation. Here’s what we believe to be the change imperatives facing the C-suite across the three core areas of workflow, workforce and workplace:

Workflow

  • Boards will need to shift focus from operational excellence to customer experience. Making this shift is the only way that they can hope to compete with the rising tide of digital-native businesses that have found new ways to flourish during the pandemic. The shift from operational excellence to customer experience necessitates cutting out large swathes of internal projects that concentrate on modernizing the factory. Instead, business leaders should apply their scarce investment resources to enhancing all stages of the customer journey, from product or service acquisition through to lifecycle management. In addition, large incumbents will need to convert their rigid and often hierarchical structures into agile and fluid business models that can respond rapidly to a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

Workforce

  • Traditional pools of localized labor will need to be supplemented by global as well as digital talent. The pandemic has demonstrated that staff can work successfully away from the office and this realization is likely to mean employees spend much less time in corporate HQs in the future. This shift to remote working is likely to sponsor far greater fluidity in the sourcing of professional and managerial staff across North America, Europe and Asia. Commensurate advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, or what we refer to as digital talent, will absorb many of the routine elements of day-to-day work. These advances will mean staff can use their valuable time to instead focus on innovative and creative tasks.

Workplace

  • Organizations will need to reduce their office footprint by between 30% and 50% over time, casting off regimental rows of screen-based workers in favor of creative spaces that encourage team-based working – what we describe in the report as heads-up and heads-together working. Heads-down working will be largely confined to the home or less costly satellite offices. Real estate specialist WeWork has set a pre-COVID example of how the office of the future might look, with an emphasis on social and flexible meeting spaces. We expect blue-chip enterprises to adopt similar office arrangements to encourage staff to spend their time in the office socially and productively.

Across workflow, workforce and workplace, we believe the combination of these concurrent changes will enable organizations to become more agile and relevant in the post-COVID era through the adoption of the following approaches:

  • An asset-lite approach to property, infrastructure and human resources – reducing fixed costs and increasing operational flexibility.
  • A digital workforce, combining humans and digital talent that will be more innovative by responding creatively to external changes.
  • End-to-end workflow automation that will accelerate operational agility and draw trading partners into a close-knit ecosystem.

The result of this transformation in working practices could be a virtuous circle that places innovation at the top of the corporate agenda

What will be the blockers?

Our discussions with digital leaders also exposed potential barriers to a transformation in working practices. These blockers, many of which we believe can be overcome by adopting intelligent automation, include:

  • Legacy debt that encompasses outdated systems, processes and infrastructures that are too costly to replace. Intelligent automation can help to integrate legacy and modern systems by removing cumbersome manual interfaces.
  • Fragmented data that coalesces to create a vast pool of unexploited resource. Intelligent automation can help organizations to clean data and codify knowledge, helping companies to develop deeper insights and tap into new sources of value.
  • Legacy skills and cultures that resist change. The move to a digital workforce can help boost perceptions of work by removing repetition and creating a focus on creativity. This change should motivate employees, especially the incoming generation of digital-savvy millennial.

The big pay-off from the introduction of intelligent automation could be the development of Knowledge as a Service (KaaS) techniques that help to capture, codify and apply the abundant expertise that is currently locked in the minds of employees. This development could lead to the birth of new technologies and specialists, such as has been the case in Software as a Service (SaaS) and the emergence of major players like Salesforce and Workday.

Placing the big automation bets

During our discussions with our Innovation Council members, we have sought to identify where COOs, CIOs and CTOs should place their big bets with respect to the introduction of intelligent automation and digital talent in the post COVID era – how, in short, should they plan and prepare for such eventualities?

We believe this report will give you and your executive colleagues the insight you need to prepare for post-COVID changes to workflow, workforce, and workplace. This transformation in working practices will present many challenges for executives, yet these barriers are far from intractable. By embracing the benefits of intelligent automation, large organizations will have the foundations to prepare for the future of work with confidence.

If you’d like to have more insight on what you need to prepare for post-COVID changes to workflow, workforce, and workplace, download Reimagining Work, Before and After Covid-19 Report HERE.

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