Get Reworked Podcast: Dion Hinchcliffe on Why Remote First Is the Future of Employee Experience
When it comes to employee experience, everything changed in 2020.
Primarily in-person work experiences became remote. Side conversations became Slack channels. Conference calls and staff meet-ups became Teams meetings. We have a decentralized workplace like we’ve never seen before.
It’s a unique point in human history, says Dion Hinchcliffe of Constellation Research. In the past, separate departments would have different approaches to employee experience. To IT, it was about technology. To HR, it was about people and culture. Everyone now is on the same page.
In this episode, Dion breaks down the state of employee experience and shares his insights on how to manage the 2021 workplace. Highlights include:
- How the evolution of customer experience shaped employee experience.
- Why failure to transform will lead to certain collapse.
- The importance of working out loud for greater productivity.
- Why remote first should be the default mode of business going forward.
There's no set answer but lots of opportunity, Dion says. Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak wonder when they’ll get the new COVID vaccine. Spoiler alert: Not soon, but that’s just fine. Listen in to find out more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic? Drop us a line at [email protected].
- Dion Hinchcliffe's website
- Dion on Twitter
- Constellation Research
- Future of Work Reality Show
- Report: The CIO Outlook 2021: Delivering Business ROI at Scale
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hello and welcome to Get Reworked, your guide to the r/evolution of work. My name is Mike Prokopeak and I'm editor in chief at Reworked.co.
Siobhan Fagan: And I'm Siobhan Fagan, managing editor for Reworked. At Reworked.co, we're dedicated to covering the people, the culture, the technology, and the infrastructure that makes up our quickly evolving workplaces.
Mike: Get Reworked is our podcast where you're going to hear from industry pioneers leading the way into the future of work, reshaping not just how we work, but also why. We're excited to bring you conversations about best practices, workplace trends, and key technologies that support the modern distributed workforce. Hey Siobhan, how are you?
Siobhan: I'm doing alright, Mike, how are you today?
Mike: I'm good. The big news the last week or so has been the first rollout of the COVID vaccine. And I went on the New York Times and they've got a little calculator, you can plug in a little bit about you and your information and your background. And it tells you where you fit in line as far as when you might get a vaccine. And here's a few little interesting tidbits from my profile. It says I'm in line behind 268.7 million people in the U.S., 10.5 million people in Illinois, 4.2 million alone in Cook County, which is where I live. And if there was a line of 100 people, it looks like I would be at about 98 or 99 in line. So I don't think I'm gonna be getting the vaccine anytime soon.
Siobhan: You know, but I actually binged on some of the videos that were coming out of England from those first vaccine recipients and the woman who received the first one, Margaret Keenan, she's gonna turn 91 next week, and she called the vaccine the best early birthday present ever. So if I knew that there were you know, 100 million Margaret Keenans in front of me, I'd be cool waiting on that line. I'm good with that.
Mike: I'd be totally OK with that. And just to have a birthday at that point in life, I will take it.
Siobhan: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So you gotta take the bright side on that they see you as a strapping young man who is in no need for the vaccine anytime soon.
Mike: That's right. Yes. Yeah, It's a good thing, right, you know, I'm healthy. I'm not in a high risk position. And so yeah, you got to kind of take it in line. But it is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I think that relates a little bit to what we're going to be talking about today, when it comes to employee experience, because we've lived through a pretty dramatic - and we're still living through - a pretty dramatic reshaping of how we work and our experience as employees going through that has been changed. And for many of us, the fortunate among us who were able to do it, it's a digital-first, it's a remote-first way of working. But that's going to change as we look ahead into 2021.
Siobhan: I think that what we now see with these vaccines rolling out, and obviously it's not immediate, but it's a more solid sign that the return to the office is going to happen. But I think we all know that it's not going to look the same as it had before. And so that's where we bring in our next guest because he's going to be able to talk to us about the hybrid future workplace.
Mike: Dion Hinchcliffe is somebody who may be known to a lot of our listeners, particularly those people who are in the enterprise information, employee experience, digital workplace areas. For those of you who aren't, Dion is vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. He's, I think, one of the foremost thinkers in this area, and really has done a ton of work around employee experience and where it's headed. And I'm really excited to have him on the podcast today to share some of his research and some of his insights. There's a few takeaways from his experience that I think will be really insightful for folks who are looking ahead to 2021 and what that will look like. So Siobhan, are you ready?
Siobhan: I am ready.
Mike: Alright, let's Get Reworked. Welcome to the podcast, Dion.
Dion Hinchcliffe: Well, thanks very much for having me.
Mike: Alright, we want to talk to you a bit about employee experience, but I think it's important before we dive too far into it, to understand a little bit about the relationship as you see it between employee experience and the digital workplace. What does that relationship look like from your point of view?
Dion: Well, employee experience is the overall umbrella that contains everything that concerns the employee journey through an organization, right. So the employee experience includes the physical place that the employee works, the culture of the organization, and the tools they use to do their job, which these days are primarily digital in nature. And so it's the whole technology component. So those are really the three legs of employee experience. And digital workplace really focuses mostly traditionally on that technology side of things, right, it doesn't really talk too much about culture, because those that are usually responsible for digital workplace don't have a major role in shaping the culture of the organization. They also don't have a major role in shaping the physical environment of the worker when they're doing work, either in the office or remotely.
And so digital workplace is a subset of the components really centered more around the technology, although it bleeds over all the time, we run into these situations where enterprise social networks, for example, automatically create a new, more open, transparent culture of organization. So rolling out of technology, it changes the culture. So there's lots of interesting places where digital workplace intersects with other aspects of employee experience but employee experience is the overall umbrella.
Mike: I think it's interesting, because once it gets in the hands of marketers, these terms tend to lose a little bit of their sharpness around the edges, I guess. Can you maybe hone in on why it's important for people who are internal practitioners to have a very clear view of the distinctions between the two? Why is it so important that you understand both in order to make them work together?
Dion: Well, most people, when they talk about a subject, it usually is from their perspective, right? So if you talk to the IT people, they talk about employee experience and they really they mostly mean digital employee experience, but employee experience is more than the digital experience. All of it in 2020, that changed. The employee experience became mostly digital, right, much more digital than it had in the past. So that was a very interesting shift. And then IT who's responsible - the information technology department - is primarily responsible for that.
But employee experience is primarily related to people, right? So how do you onboard them? How do you nurture them, train them, educate them, make them work effectively inside the organization? How do you reward them? I mean, those are all aspects of important aspects. In fact, core aspects of employee experience that digital workplace doesn't really address, right? So we can say there's the often deliberate, like, you know, you might have a benefits portal that's delivered by the technology. But the benefits is another completely different subject. It's a very important one to the employee, right. And it's actually an important one to the employer too, and that's all part of the experience. So there's many key aspects. How you are leading an organization, how you are driving collaboration outside of the tools themselves, right? So you know, are people expected to work openly and inclusively? Are they're supposed to work in private groups and really preserve those boundaries, right? So there's a lot of connections between the two. But employee experience is so much more about the people, that worker and all aspects of their experience. And digital workplace is much more about how we deliver those through channels, deliver functionality through technology, interfaces and endpoints. You have to be very distinctive.
And so we see that when HR talks about employee experience, they're talking mostly about the people component, completely divorced from the technology. And when you talk about employee experience in IT, it is almost only the technology component, divorced from the people, which it shouldn't be. What's interesting is that now everyone's kind of on the same page that, hey, we have to be talking about the same picture, right? But these things shouldn't be two disjointed visions, that they've got to come together. And so I'm really excited about employee experience as kind of the organizing construct with digital workplace as a major component of that.
Siobhan: Dion, what you describe as the employee experience has clearly been going on all along. Is it just that we're recently more aware that this is an area that businesses need to take care of? Or how exactly would you explain that difference?
Dion: I think we've seen this growing self awareness about how all this works. Before you had jobs, you had the aspects of the work that was done and the remuneration that was brought in for the employee. And then there was leadership on top, which created some sense of direction and order and expectations and things like that. But the rise of the whole customer experience, so the customer journey conversation out there, really made us understand that the experience is what really matters. That boundary between the worker and the organization - and all the things that pass across it - that boundary and how it's designed and how it's shaped became really, really important because now we realize that's the place where we have to manage everything. And it took us a long while, decades, to figure this out on the customer side. And a lot of that thinking with our changed mindset, we look at the employee experience but that's just, it's actually the same thing. It's the same type of problem. We have to manage it holistically. It's not just a bunch of things you roll up in isolation. If we can design it a bit better, make the pieces fit a bit better, it works better, right.
And that's what we learned on the customer side. Don't give people a bunch of fragmented endpoints that each endpoint has to relearn about the customer. They all work inconsistently and all that. We realize, well, hey, but that's the same exact situation inside of our organizations, right? I've long said, I've said for 15 years, it's all part of one continuum and includes also your business partners and everything. The experience continuum goes through everything. Anytime you're mediating anything with a tool or a technology that requires design. When we do it in person, we don't really have to do much design there, although some people attempt to do that. And so that's really this kind of growing realization.
And so historically, I used to see that there were only solution teams inside of IT. There was a SharePoint group, or intranet team, which sometimes are the same. There is the email unified communications group. There's the desktop team. There's the wiki folks and this goes on and on. In most large organizations, it used to be like six or seven collaboration groups. I always ask, well, who are your collaboration groups? They all profess to be in charge of collaboration but it was all for a particular tool. And then people realize, well, this doesn't really make sense. One, they have a lot of duplication when you look at it that way. And there's no one in charge of the overall experience. It's just a bunch of tools we throw over the wall, and we have a bunch of groups that are responsible for the tool.
So we said, let's stop organizing around the tools. And let's start organizing around the workplace. And so, three, four years ago, I began to see heads of digital workplace were being hired in all those groups to then report up and somebody was really thinking about that master vision, again, because of the lessons of customer experience was a lot of it really made us realize that our thinking was antiquated, and fragmented and siloed on the employee side. And then the last couple years, the whole conversation shifted up one more level, I'm now seeing the very first head of employee experience being meaningfully installed in any kind of scale. So that's how we got here.
Mike: You have the idea that there has to be somebody in charge of it. That makes sense, because there's all these very disparate functions, and they all need to work together. But perhaps they're not working together. That's not an uncommon story in many organizations. But I wonder how as companies look forward, and they get somebody who's in that role, how do they move into a more agile mindset with it? Because when I think of governance, I think of a structure and sometimes that structure in my mind isn't as flexible or it's not as agile or responsive? How do you ensure that there's flexibility and agility built into somebody who now is in charge of employee experience or digital workplace and has to bring it all together?
Dion: Yeah, well, let me preface my answer by stating that we've never been in this position before. It's a unique point in human history where everything is so technology centric and so technology infused. And now with the pandemic, everyone really is distributed. We have a decentralized workplace like we've never seen before. So how to sort that out hasn't been figured out.
Anyone who's telling you they got all the answers is not true, because the situation that we can see it in all of our organizations. Way too much technology complexity, right? We actually need the tools. The tools by and large provide value, which is why they're there and they usually stay there, right? IT departments don't like to pay for tools that aren't being used. And they actually, if that happens, they get rid of them. That's not what's happening. It's the opposite. We're getting more and more tools.
And I've seen over the last five years a doubling and tripling of the number of applications that workers use because of the value they provide. But they all work differently. They all have different user interfaces and different concepts of operation and onboarding a new employee and teaching them all of these things is becoming more and more fraught. What I hear from HR is that we've gotten from years ago, one month onboarding, to then two months and three months and now we're at the four month mark. For the average employee to become really effective in their jobs takes four months. And a lot of it just because of all the technology obstacles.
So it used to be the head of desktop computing would figure out how to organize the default desktop inside a company so that you could find everything. And by and large, I think they didn't do a very good job because of the constraints of the actual operating systems they were given. So now what do you organize the digital workplace around? We've talked about digital workplace hubs, and everyone's going back and forth on whether that's the answer. Some organizations, larger organizations are designing experiences around the journeys, you know, the onboarding experience, the benefits experience, the project experience, the sales experience, the project management, experience, all that. And that's actually working pretty well but it's too expensive for most organizations to do unless you're very large.
Your question was, how do you become more agile around this? Well, we know the tools are becoming more malleable and customizable, right? That we can actually integrate them more easily than ever before. Most applications now have extensive integration libraries with all the top tools, right, they don't usually work very well, because again, we're all new in this position. We've never had to deal with all this. We're only figuring out what works. But we see that we're going to have to reorganize our experience in some way so that it works more consistently, it's more contextual, because the worker has to provide all the context about what they're doing. I'm using these 12 tools to deliver this project or realize this marketing campaign and the tools don't know anything about each other very much and so I had to figure out, I have to be the context, right. So we're looking at the methods for doing that.
And so to be more agile, one, is that you have to take away some of the control from the solution owners who still have an inordinate amount of power in most organizations. The people who are in Office 365 are basically gonna look at the world through that lens and that's going to be the dominant office productivity and communications environment in most organizations that have adopted it. And getting them to understand it, but not as part of a whole. There's usually a lot more applications around the edge. They actually greatly outnumber Office 365 but that group is going to have an inordinate amount of power. And so we really have to flatten.
I think a lot of this is structural or organizational. We have to flatten the organization so that whoever's in charge of employee experience, say, "OK, what are we going to do to actually weave this together to first deliver on the core employee experience in a more agile way." I hate to say taking the control away but basically providing the ability to change faster. That we're going to reshape the organization around the center of gravity, whether that's your intranet, whether that is around design experiences, around some digital workplace hub, which I'm seeing a lot of these solutions for right now everyone is trying to figure out how to solve that particular nut. And they're getting closer and closer, we're seeing now actual tools designed to say, hey, I can take all of this and I can create a core employee experiences much more natural and centric. And so this is going to drive the conversation up to the to the CIO, basically, is about the only person who can basically say, "Alright, let's everyone get on deck. And let's work together to solve this problem."
Mike: Isn't that running counter to what software does, though? I mean, software locks you into a way of thinking. There was a programmer who created it, or a group of programmers that added to it over time and there is a process that it works according to and that's in the interest of the software vendors to have you work according to that process and not deviate too much from it, because then they have you locked in to their software? Have you seen that shift? Have you seen that changed? Or is it just a savvier customer?
Dion: There has been a major change. Nobody now thinks that you can basically force one model on everybody. There's a general realization that you have to work with everything that somebody has, right? If you look at let's say, Slack, for example, a very well known collaboration tool used by lots of people. Their intent is actually to be the operating system for the company. We're going to subsume all of your tools into a collaboration fabric. So they have almost 2,000 integrations now. So you can take a large part of your employee experience and just experience it in one way in one place. If we find a really successful model for a digital workplace or employee experience hub, it's going to be probably somewhere in the collaboration level of the stack. Because that's where everyone works together, right? That's where all the glue is, and that's where you can glue all the applications together.
And so that's one model. And they're not imposing a way of working right, other than they're saying they want to be the dominant channel. This is so you can do all your email, right, you can still use your CRM system, right, you can use all your drives, all your different file shares, and so on. You can still do it from Slack so it's really fast and consistent. And everything just works together, right? So it's a very compelling model. The problem is, is to achieve that very high level of integration they have to use, you have to be essentially a fairly technical user to be able to access all of those capabilities, right? The average worker can't use Slack to do everything I just said. So they've aimed a little too high, in my opinion.
But this is an example of how we're getting closer. Slack has gotten darn close to saying you can do most of your work in Slack. But you have to be a high-end knowledge worker with a real technical bank to do that. But someone's going to make that easier, right? And how many are trying. So that's what we're going to see. But I agree with you, a lot of these platforms have models. Now, the big belief is everything has to be decomposed into something called microservices that allow you to just take pieces and parts, and you can just take them and glue the pieces and parts of that system that matters to you into your other systems. So we're really seeing this eroding that one common model.
Siobhan: Do you see this reflected in how the software industry is still selling its software? I mean, you brought up all the people who are working on Office 365 earlier, and it just seems like Microsoft is bundling more and more into these larger and larger packages. We've now got Microsoft 365. So will it be possible to still have some leeway when you're dealing with a behemoth of that size?
Dion: Well, this is the big fear, of course, right? So Google and Microsoft are the two owners of the core productivity suites and all the different things that are connected to them. But Microsoft is, to their credit, understood everything that we just said in this conversation so far, and that is, they have decomposed Office 365 into all those little tiny pieces and parts, right. So that's in Microsoft's graph. It's a company-wide bet. So we're never going to be able to deliver everything that we have through the standard Microsoft interface. We want to be able to have our functionality exist in anywhere it needs to be experienced, right? So everything in Office 365 can be pulled out and put wherever you need it. And you can use Microsoft power apps to pull those pieces out. Anybody can do it, right. It's not just developers. Anybody can reshape Office 365 into anything you want, except that most people don't know you can do that. They bet the business saying that we know that if we were just this monolithic thing, then try and take over eventually people are going to say this is too structured, too rigid, and I can't adapt this to my business. They've got so much feedback to that extent that that's why they've created all these capabilities. But the mindset of most of the industry is still not there yet. So this is only now leading IT thinkers.
I've written a big piece recently about we're back to the mix-and-match world that we always wanted and know we can ever get right. It used to be you buy the suite because it's the only way you can get all the stuff to work together. Well, that's not true anymore. That is completely changed in the last three years or so. And people don't realize yet because it such a wholesale change. So I'm really excited by that. But I find it that most IT practitioners are way behind in understanding any of this yet.
Mike: So that's maybe a good point for us to just take a quick break and do a lightning round with you, Dion. Siobhan, it if makes sense to you, maybe I'll start off with the topic. Ask Dion to tell us if he thinks it's underrated or overrated or if we are underrated or overrated the impact of this. And then Siobhan we can alternate through these that makes sense, Siobhan.
Mike: Alright. So you brought up Slack, Dion, and obviously the big news of the last couple weeks has been Slack being bought by Salesforce. There's lots of analysis around this. Do you feel like this acquisition, this merger is being underrated or overrated?
Dion: It's a big deal. I'd say it's probably underrated. As much as everyone's weighed in on that.
Mike: What do you think the implications are that people maybe aren't thinking quite through.
Dion: The market share in remote work collaboration has shifted dramatically to new tools like Zoom, like Microsoft Teams, but to a lesser extent Slack because Slack just hasn't been able to adapt fast enough. Teams is releasing features every week to account for how people are working differently this year. Slack just hasn't been able to do that. They don't have the R&D war chest. Microsoft realizes they have a historic time to seize the high ground and create Teams into the ultimate collaboration operating system because they've turned into a whole platform. Now there's a whole app store and the whole thing's huge, right? And so they're trying to adapt to this world as fast as possible, seize as much market share.
And Salesforce has aspirations for being another Microsoft, right? I mean, they already have office productivity tools like Quip and things like that, but they haven't done very well. Slack has a potential to do much better. There is an adoption issue you're gonna have. Slack isn't for everybody. But Slack has one last chance to catch Teams. And to do that they need a very big player in the industry to do that. Together, they could make a lot of hay. I'm not sure that they are organizationally prepared to really do that, but they could, and they're going to so you're gonna see, you know, Slack most likely will do a lot of things very quickly, very soon because of this to try and catch up tap into the whole Salesforce massive ecosystem, partner ecosystem, their large field services operations where they can sell into millions of existing customers. They have a shot to take the high end of the collaboration market. So I think that's what's gonna happen. It's gonna be good for everybody, really, at the end of the day. So, glad to see it.
Siobhan: Alright, Dion, it's my turn. And I think we know what's coming next since you already mentioned it a few times, we saw Microsoft Teams surge in use, especially this year after the pandemic forced everyone home. Do you think it is overrated or underrated?
Dion: It's close to overrated. I'm not actually hearing people that happy with all the changes that are being made to Teams. In fact, this is the one year people don't really want to change and improvement. They just want stuff working. And so I did an informal poll on Twitter. I mean, I'd say half the people like everything the same. The other half are like, I can't constantly update my thing every week. Every time I try and get in a meeting it tries to change everything on me. They've gotten so much press. And so I think at this point, they're at the risk of being overexposed, but I do like what you're doing.
Mike: Alright, we've been through a year of digital transformation, perhaps to the point where we're, maybe have digital transformation fatigue. So do you feel like - end of 2020 - that the idea of digital transformation is now underrated or overrated?
Dion: I think it's still underrated. I don't think people understand how urgent it is to do and remember what we did in 2020 was a hurry. So you know, we had to digitally transform work and we had to digitally transform customer experience because customers wanted to be serviced differently. There's a lot more stuff to be done. And if organizations don't do it, they simply will die.
One mortgage company I dealt with they didn't have digital signatures, right. So you had to go into their office, or they would FedEx you everything. And when the pandemic hit, and the housing market lit up, everyone's leaving the cities, they realized that they didn't have that very, very quickly - a fully digital process, they were going to go out of business. And we're talking a major mortgage company here, not some regional. And so they brought all hands on deck. And they actually rolled out a low code solution saying, if we don't do this, like if we can't wait four months. They've got do this in like two months, less than two months if they can. When they did do it just under two months, digital signatures and other things. So creating fully digital mortgage process. They could have done it at any time. Right? They should have done that a long time ago. But they didn't because they thought they could get away with it.
You have less time than you think. It's later than you think. And we don't know what else is waiting in the wings. And if you've been putting off digital transformation for years, the piper is going to come and pay. I think it's underrated. Organizations need to step up. And I think they know that digital transformation budget is the only budget in IT that not's being cut, depending on whose numbers you look at 70 to 80% of organizations are not touching those budgets, or they're increasing because of everything I just said.
Mike: The journey never ends.
Siobhan: So Dion, last one for you. I actually picked this one because it's something I've heard you speak about before. And I have a feeling I know what you'll say. But thought I'd throw it out anyway: working out loud.
Dion: Yeah, so this is the one skill that if you teach it automatically almost all the really good things you need to have to create a modern digital worker will happen automatically. So working out loud, for those who are not familiar with it, is just the process of in your digital environment, narrating your work. And you don't have to do extensively. But it's telling people what you're doing sharing early work product. It creates an agile process automatically around you where everyone who perceives themselves as a stakeholder will be pulled in because they can see I can actually see what they're doing. And this affects me I can actually can look at it and give them input. People don't ask you so many questions, they can just see what's going on. Right? You don't have status reports, people can just look at what you're doing. You get early and often feedback. You create institutional knowledge, it's automatically stored and people can see how work is created. So you have an onboarding and education tool to say this is how we run projects over there, or whatever it is that you're doing. So all the things you really want to have happen.
I'm always struck every time I think about some broken process on collaboration in a digital workplace. If they've just been working out loud, this never would have been a problem. And it's easy to do. Anyone can understand how to work out loud, anyone can do it. And everyone should. And so I think it's the core digital workplace skill that we need to have. There's a book by John Stepper by that name. There are working out loud circles all over the world that you can use to get some basic educational content. But it's simple. It's not difficult or it's not going to work. Right. I'll tell you right now, if your digital workplace technique is sophisticated and complex and hard to use, it's never going to take off. But working out loud will work.
Mike: Maybe there's a career opportunity in there for out of work voiceover artists or you know, people that can you can hire to follow you around in your work and narrate for you as you go through the day.
Dion: We're mostly talking textual, right? But there are people who create working out loud podcast of the day, here's what I did. Here's what I did today. So it does happen.
Siobhan: Thank you for the quick round. We're gonna go right back into our conversation about what the future holds for employee experience. It looks following this week's news with the first vaccines going out with Coronavirus that us returning to the workplace seems a little more realistic than it did maybe a week or two ago. So I'm wondering if when we go into hybrid work, are there any changes that have to happen with the employee experience?
Dion: The shift to remote work was hard for some organizations, especially if you didn't have big cloud investments. But as one CIO told me, it's a walk in the park compared to return to work. So actually bringing people back together again, and doing it in a safe manner, safe, responsible manner, it's going to be very challenging. I'm actually working with a number of organizations who are trying to sort this out now. I joke, I started working on a return to work strategy template for a strategy for organizations. And I was on page 14, I hadn't gotten very far yet.
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So if you actually go out there and look at government return-to-work policies, they've been forced to actually map this out what happens when you have to bring somebody back. It's an essential worker, how do you make them safe? And that packet of documentation is scary to behold, right. It's a very thick 70 pages of instructions and paperwork, right? How do I make sure that people who are sick don't come into the building? What are the latest technologies for me to scan for body temperatures? I'm working on strategies to provide local notifications on all mobile devices if workers congregate too closely based on webcams, Wi Fi traces.
I mean, there are serious investments going on to say, how do we manage this given that there's 300 million people or so that have to get vaccinated? Maybe 280 million, but that's going to take through next year to do that. And there's a lot of people who are not going to take it right now. If you look at the people who are going to take the vaccine, that's not enough to get us immunity. So now you have everyone asking, what do we do? Manufacturers, especially, I'm working with saying, we're already working in such a limited capacity. What is the strategy for us to get to maximum capacity with a minimum investment level given that we're hemorrhaging cash because we can't make products fast enough because all workers are too spread out in our factories because the machines are too close together.
So we have a long way to go. It is a liability. If one person dies because your return to work strategy's not good enough, that's too many. Never mind that it looks like COVID also causes a lot of long term health consequences, which companies will also be liable for. There's all these unknowns. No one knows what they should be doing. It's like now these manufacturers I'm talking to are doing these massive, huge rooms full of people trying to do the calculations to figure out will the vaccine come out fast enough so you don't have to reconfigure all their factories.
Either way, there's a big expense coming. Either they have to figure out how to bring people back safely, and be able to demonstrate in the courtroom that they did it right. They took all the responsibilities they knew that they had to carry them out as well as using the knowledge they had as accurately because the lawsuits will come. So I've never seen such legal implications. And so I put together who do I need involved in return to work and that list is like 20 roles inside your organization: legal, HR, facilities, health experts, vaccine experts, your CEO, CIO, COO and CHRO. So it just goes on and on. So it's just complicated.
And so it's taking time. So we have a lot of work ahead of us throughout 2021 to get that right. I'm also advising a lot of startups now are also creating all kinds of products that are going to make that process much more repeatable and blueprintable, and so on. So it's a fascinating time.
Mike: So let's imagine that we're third quarter of 2021, or getting into the fourth quarter, and we actually have choices. We can go back to work and be in the office safely. And a lot of those things, some of those barriers you just mentioned have been overcome. But we also now have lived through this year and a half of experience or more of working in this hybrid reality. And that's going to be our OS, our operating system, for how we do things going forward. We're we're not all going to be back in the office one day and suddenly everything's back to where it was in early 2020. What would you recommend that listeners who are thinking about these topics, or thinking about employee experience or thinking about how they get other digital workplace tools to work together, what should they be doing now to prepare for that reality of a hybrid working environment when they want to have a good positive employee experience?
Dion: The big issue is complexity management in general with digital workplace in IT. And there are now emerging strategies to cope with that. But if you're really just looking at where do I have to focus where I get the biggest results? One is I've talked about this notion of remote first, so that the design of the employee experience should be remote first by default, and then everything else. And it was interesting how much pushback I've gotten about that. They go, "Hey, we have workers at work, too." I go, yes, but most of your workers are at home. So who are you going to prioritize? Most of your workers or a subset in the office?
Mike: Does that come from control or does that come from this is just the way we always have done it?
Dion: A lot of it's just how we've done it. We just think that we can't treat the people at the home office like second class citizens, because that used to be our former focus for everything. But now there's nobody there, right? I mean, I do get caught. I work primarily with CIOs these days. And I do see CIOs calling from their [office] like, I'm the only person in the building. So that's not where to focus things.
So I think that even if you try to do remote first, you will still underperform on that that you might actually hit the mark because it's so hard to be remote first. Anyway, even if even if you try to do it, you're going to spend years moving the needle in that direction. I think that's where it's going. Nothing is going to go back quite the way that it was.
If you look at all the data, most people are not expecting to go back. Everyone's built these beautiful home offices now. Talking to the folks at Home Depot, and they go, we're just doing great because everyone's built space at home now, whether it's an addition or bought a bigger new house, and then they had to decorate that home office. Everyone's created a space to work at home. And there's much less reason, then, to go in, and especially to a CIO, every single CIO, and I've talked to almost 200 since this started, have said that productivity is up. Who's gonna want to get rid of that? Productivity is up overall, not to middle managers, but everybody else, productivity is way up. They're not going to want to give that up, as much as we're accustomed to going to the office.
So I think we're going to have much more dynamic home offices where you might go in when you need to and meet a customer, have a team-building meeting, basically, one, maybe two days a week, and the rest will be working at home. That's going to be the more typical model. And so that's a remote first model. So focus on remote first is my one piece of advice. And then the other one is, the state of the art in digital workplace is pretty advanced. And most people are not aware. There's a lot of these new visual collaboration tools or things like enterprise social networks, that we've had for a while but people didn't understand how important they were. These are working much better than the regular meeting tools that we used back when we were mostly in the office and only occasionally had to meet. Those meeting tools are not designed for people to live in them. That's what Teams is trying to address going. Well, if we have to live in this, what's that going to look like? But there are people who have already answered that question.
So I would say redesign your remote employee experience, tools that are designed to support an environment where people are mostly remote. Like there's a great application, this is just an example and I'm not endorsing it, it's called Status Hero. And it looks at what everyone's doing and automatically creates a dashboard of what everyone's working on, recent accomplishments. Did someone close a deal in Salesforce? It will automatically puts that up and says, "Hey, so and so Bob, closed the deal. Sally just completed this project with this fantastic customer rating." And so everyone can actually see what's going on, right? Because the big thing that came out of my recent CIO surveys, the second largest concern they have about the human dimension is that workers don't engage like they used to, they can't connect with each other, they're siloed at home, they're having much less human contact, because there's no way to do it. So these types of tools allow you to do that. They have ways of starting conversations around that too, around these events happening across the organization.
So as you can see, again, what's going on. So we need things like that. Design a digital workplace that's designed to be remote. And remote first, that mindset, will get you there even if you never actually get fully to remote first. I think that's where you should aim.
Siobhan: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Dion, we've got a lot of work ahead of us. But you know, it's reassuring to hear that people like yourself are working on it.
Dion: Great. Well, thank you so much, Mike and Siobhan, for having me on the show.
Siobhan: If people want to learn a little bit more about you and your work, where should they go to find you. I know you're super active on Twitter but any other good places to find you?
Dion: Well, first on Twitter, you can find me @DHinchcliffe. So that's my first initial last name as a great place to catch all my latest research. My new Future of Work Reality Show which which was just launched. Probably my deepest research, my most heartfelt thoughts, are put on dionhinchcliffe.com. And you can also find me on ZD.net with my column there.
Siobhan: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Dion.
Mike: It's always good to talk to Dion, isn't it Siobhan?
Siobhan: He is just an encyclopedia of all things digital business. It's amazing, you could you could ask him, I don't think it would be possible to put him on the spot and have him not have a fully thought out and really insightful response.
Mike: What stood out to you from what he mentioned today.
Siobhan: Personally, I love the concept of working out loud. I admit that I do not practice the concept as much as I could. But it just makes so much sense. And especially with all of us working remotely, being able to know what each other is working on and finding those connections where somebody who you didn't know would have insight and ability to help you with a project, open up that door. I love it. I love the idea of sort of tapping into the network effect in your companies and beyond.
Mike: Yeah, with that in mind, I think what stands out is that he's actually practicing what he preaches. That Future of Work Reality Show - I'm actually intrigued, I'm going to go check it out. And I encourage folks who are listening to check it out as well. What you just mentioned, that is that in practice. Living out loud, working out loud and seeing all the good things and then the challenges that come along with it. So I'm definitely looking forward to that.
And the thing that stood out to me I think was working remote first, even if it doesn't necessarily pan out purely as intended. Having that be the goal and the reality is an important point. Because we do live in a different world, we've all become used to all these different ways of working that have enabled us to work remotely. Sure, it may not be perfect. And you know, we may not necessarily like it all the time. But as we get back into a new reality of working with some people in the office, some people at home, a mixture of that back and forth over the course of the week, we need to bring these practices back into that life so that we don't end up finding ourselves back into early 2020. Again, we've moved forward, we've done a lot of work, let's take advantage of it.
Siobhan: I do love that he did acknowledge that it might not be an actual goal that people can reach but that it's an aspirational goal that we should just continually strive for. Because we don't know how things are going to change. As he mentioned, the tools are constantly updating, they're constantly changing. So just continuously chasing that brass ring is a fantastic goal to keep in mind.
Mike: I'll add that to my aspiration list.
Siobhan: Your mood board.
Mike: My mood board. There you go.
Siobhan: Digital workplace mood board.
Mike: It's actually my Pinterest board. But that's that's for me, not for anybody else.
Siobhan: Well, Mike ...
Mike: Alright, Siobhan, good to talk to you again.
Siobhan: You too.
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About the Authors
Mike Prokopeak is editor in chief at Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work, where he leads content development focused on the transformation of the workplace.
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work published by Simpler Media Group, Inc. Siobhan leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace.