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EMEA business leaders out of touch with employees’ needs in new hybrid workplace

Research finds more alignment with staff is needed for firms to address the new hybrid world of work but nearly half of businesses plan tech investments to further improve the workplace experience

As remote workers have successfully adapted to the routine of remote working since the outbreak of Covid-19, as many as two-thirds of organisations plan to adopt a different operating model than they had before the pandemic and focus on employee experience, a study from Unisys has revealed.

Yet the Digital workplace insights: Seeking digital and experience parity to support the hybrid workforce whitepaper, based on a survey of more than 1,100 respondents across 15 countries carried out by IDC, warned that as a hybrid workforce becomes the new business reality, organisations must look beyond simply providing access to enterprise resources. And while a work location and schedule that is conducive to family life was important for 66% of employees in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), only 49% of business leaders saw this as important.

Around three-fifths (61%) of the organisations researched said these new models were designed to ensure employee safety and to achieve more productivity (47%). Almost two-thirds (64%) said the key driver was to create a better overall employee experience. Yet while just over half (51%) of employees said empowering teams was crucial, only 31% of businesses acknowledged this. This gap was somewhat lower in North America, indicated by 63% of employees and 51% of businesses respectively.

Concerns about remote working also differed significantly. Overall, employees were far more positive about the new remote working model, with 33% not seeing any or just a few noticeable challenges that come with remote working.

And while 55% of business leaders said access to the most up-to-date technology for the task at hand was key to an ideal employee experience, this was only important to 43% of employees. Similarly, business leaders appeared to show much more concern around the practicalities of remote working than employees. For 38% of business leaders, difficulties communicating and working with other team members was a concern, yet only 24% of employees agreed. Using unfamiliar or new work-from-home technologies was seen as a challenge by 41% of business leaders, but only a tenth of employees.

“Across the globe, almost 40% of the workforce was forced to shift to remote ways of working almost overnight, while the remaining 60% continued to adapt and find new, safer ways to do their jobs. Now we know that, for most, there will be no return to the business models of 2019”
Holly Muscolino, IDC

And while nearly two-fifths of business leaders (38%) were concerned about the lack of management oversight and visibility as a result of home working, only 7% of employees had such concerns. The same percentage of business leaders were worried about potential difficulties in accessing data, with only 11% of employees seeing this as a challenge.

“One of the outcomes of 2020 has been the rapid technology, process and policy adjustments that most organisations have made to support hybrid ways of working,” said Holly Muscolino, research vice-president for content strategies and the future of work at IDC.

“Across the globe, almost 40% of the workforce was forced to shift to remote ways of working almost overnight, while the remaining 60% continued to adapt and find new, safer ways to do their jobs. Now we know that, for most, there will be no return to the business models of 2019,” she added.

“Remote employees will continue to comprise almost one-quarter of the global workforce, albeit with some variability across industries. The hybrid workforce – remote, on-site, in the field and transitioning between locations – is here to stay, and the temporary changes organisations put in place throughout 2020 must become permanent going forward.”

And for all of their concerns, the study found that two-thirds (66%) of business leaders in EMEA said remote work was just as productive – or even more productive – than working from a company location. To capitalise on this, 42% of businesses plan to make targeted investments to generate growth and are prioritising innovation to thrive in a post-Covid era. Here, 5G (48%), the internet of things (46%), artificial intelligence (52%) and modern security platforms (40%) were found by the Unisys study as providing the greatest benefits to organisations’ work environments in the next five years.

“The real challenge for IT is providing experience parity for all employees working in various and hybrid locations. This means enabling all workers to find individual ways of working that drive productivity and innovation any time, anywhere and on any device,” said Kevin Turner, EMEA digital workplace strategy lead at Unisys.

“Artificial intelligence, automation, analytics and proactive problem resolution are part of a broader set of technologies and processes required to provide this. This survey shows how varied the perceptions are in a modern, digital workplace. It also shows that many businesses think ahead by creating a workplace which will not only be more productive, but also better for their employees.”

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