The lockdown necessitated by COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation beyond all expectations.

Companies around the world have adopted 100% remote working models, and many have done so extremely successfully, with minimum disruption and a seamless service to clients. 

As the rules begin to be relaxed, companies are thinking ahead to the future of the workplace: which of the changes should be adopted on an ongoing basis, and which areas still require more attention to achieve successful and sustainable remote working?

To explore these questions further, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) hosted a roundtable discussion with leading insurance companies from the DACH region: Creating Frictionless and Resilient Workspace in the ‘New Beginnings’.    

Technology as a cornerstone

Uma Rijhwani, BFSI Head – Central Europe, TCS said the COVID-19 crisis had accelerated digitalization and sustainability agendas in all global businesses. 

“Insurers across the globe are focusing on being resilient and adaptable during difficult times. TCS’ new operating model – Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS™ ) – is the result of our prior investments in pioneering location independent agile, state-of-the-art network management, robust delivery governance, latest digital collaboration tools and best-in-class security infrastructure,” she said.

The roundtable participants agreed that technology for remote working has been proven to work effectively, in a situation like COVID-19, where remote working was forced, it was possible to overcome reluctance and perceived difficulties.

The biggest barrier was cultural change, commented one participant, adding that the real difficulty has been shifting people out of their comfort zones.

The participants also agreed that investment in digital tools and technology over a period of several years was the key to being able to scale up and adapt when the pandemic hit.

Despite this success, there are still challenges relating to the technology, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. 

Firstly, all employers need to ensure strong implementation of their firm’s cybersecurity measures and priorities. Santha Subramoni, Global Head of TCS’s Cybersecurity Solutions said there had been an increase in the volume of phishing attacks since the pandemic started, and employees may be especially vulnerable to such schemes, when stressed. These phishing scams are a significant threat when it comes to introducing malware into organizations. 

A rise in the number of people working from home has also seen a rise in the number of phishing attempts. Source: Shutterstock

Secondly, companies need to move from a closed network secure ecosystem to a distributed ecosystem that relies on independent remote devices. In the financial services sector in particular, it will be especially important to ensure data privacy, security and regulatory compliance. 

There is also a need for continual improvement to the employee experience, with rigorous mechanisms to tackle ongoing frustrations with digital tools, and increased automation to solve common problems. 

Instilling the right culture

Technology alone, of course, is not enough to enable a skilled, collaborative remote workforce as Ashok Krish, Global Head of TCS’ Digital Workplace Practice explained. And a culture of collaboration doesn’t easily translate into the virtual world. 

Social distancing not only stops the spread of the virus, it also prevents the spread of work culture. That means that corporate communications, employee engagement, onboarding, the HR function and management will all need to change. 

One of the biggest shifts in mindset for managers will be the need to measure outcomes rather than activity. When and how people choose to structure their own working day should become irrelevant, as long as the work is delivered in line with expectations. To that end, it is extremely important to trust people to get the job done, and set them free to decide how to do it. 

Employees will also need to embrace self-training from home in order to achieve the reskilling and upskilling necessary in the era of Business 4.0. Digital training and development will help keep remote employee skills up to date across the organization, creating a culture of lifelong learning accessible to all. 

Fostering innovation is another priority area – with the ability to brainstorm using sticky notes or over dinner no longer an option, this will require more advanced collaboration tools – such as whiteboarding breakout rooms and a determination and commitment to continue to innovate and collaborate with clients and the innovation eco-system.

The most valuable asset – People

As firms look to the future, they need to be certain about what works for them, and what works for their workforce. 

Two firms represented at the roundtable said that productivity had increased due to remote working, with one firm reporting a 20% upswing in productivity. Employees also reported a better work-life balance, with less time spent commuting. One firm said an estimated 70-80% did not want to return to the old way of working, although another company reported that the initial enthusiasm for home working was beginning to wane. 

Remote working can have a positive effect on work-life balance, productivity, and the environment. Source: Shutterstock

“The future of our workplace is being re-defined now,” said Shailesh Yadav, Regional Head – DACH Insurance, TCS. “IT has been the enabler for the insurance industry to be available for their customers in their time of need. Secure and digital collaboration tools are proven to increase employee motivation and productivity and will also enable deeper engagement of customers and partners in our near future.”

Cost, of course, will be a driving force for many companies as they make decisions.

The current era of change may be a good opportunity to reassess internal intellectual capabilities and decide which services are best to outsource.

Remote working also helps companies recruit from a larger talent pool, with a shake-up of remuneration packages potentially on the cards if physical location is no longer part of the equation. 

A remote working model may also spark more inclusion and diversity, with those unable to travel to work for childcare or health reasons able to stay in the workforce despite these challenges. 

As the discussion drew to a close, the participants agreed that the future workplace is very unlikely to return to how it was previously – but key skills such as resilience, adaptability and agility will remain as important as ever.