If like me you have been working remotely in the wake of the corona-virus lock-down, it will no doubt have increased your need to connect and collaborate more with your friends and colleagues.
Your work days will probably include lots of team meetings, webinars, wind-down quizzes and virtual pub sessions. Exploitation of tools such as Microsoft Teams or other popular video conferencing software will have likely fuelled this adaptation to your working ways.
Whilst these tools are great for plugging the obvious need to connect and collaborate, I have always felt there is more we could do to do to emulate the physical and co-working collaboration we were so used to before.
Seeking to find a richer experience, some companies have taken it to another level. Looking to other technologies such as Virtual Reality when video calling just does not cut it.
Virtual Reality (VR) has promised for many years to deliver that richer and more connected experience for employees and business to collaborate. However, VR to date has mainly been perceived as a consumer entertainment technology.
With the emergence of better and more usable devices and platforms, using VR for business is becoming ever more serious. Early business use cases are providing the ability to enable a rich consumer experience allowing business to market its products and services in new and exciting ways.
VR is intended to be an immersive experience giving you the ability to experience three dimensional environments in a contained space. Many of the early use cases have focused on training and enablement of employees. However, several innovative vendors such as “The Wild” and “Spatial” are pushing the boundaries further and expanding into providing virtual collaboration and co-working solutions that seek to expand the overall employee experience from our current two dimensional plane to an experience that mirrors some of our real-world collaboration experiences and brings people together no matter where there located.
The Next Computing Platform…
Several industry leaders have stated that VR is the next computing platform. And whilst it’s difficult to predict if this is going to be true, like most disruptive technologies it’s not so much about the technicalities and the platform, it’s more about the use cases. Planning how to use VR to change how we live and do business will determine the true success of VR.
So, if VR is to become the next computing platform what else needs to fall into place? Well like most new technologies hype often exceeds reality, VR is no exception to this rule. Many have touted VR to be big for many years now. But only recently has the technology started to evolve to a point where the expectation starts to meet reality.
Companies such as Facebook and the Oculus product are providing the technology and platforms that allows consumers and business to exploit the potential of VR. However, whilst companies like Facebook have made significant strides in the past few years there are still many mountains to climb. Comparisons to other past/current technologies such as the smartphone will give you a view of how much there is to do and what will make VR a success.
For the Future Look to the Past…
If you can remember what the first smartphone looked like, it was costly, bulky and lacked some killer content and features, and was only used by a handful of early adopters. Fast forward to today and it has become mainstream across the consumer and enterprise, its technologies and capabilities have drastically evolved, putting it firmly into that “I can’t live without this” technology bracket.
Alike the smartphone market, VR will also need to evolve, with development of lighter more powerful devices with improved connectivity and access to engaging content and applications.
If VR is to be the next big platform, then we are likely to be in a world where we no longer look at our smartphones, but rather look into a device to visualise the content in front of our eyes and interact with this device through, voice, visual recognition or hand gestures.
It’s quite hard to imagine that the smartphone as we know it could be significantly diminished in this new future, but then that’s the inevitability of technology it either evolves or dies.
What is evident is that VR is one of the fastest developing technologies of our generation. This is no passing fad. VR promises to deliver our need to learn through experience and touch, rather than through reading and clicking. It’s not quite delivered on the promise that the film “Ready Player One” paints yet, however we’re on the journey and its fast becoming a reality.
Over the last two months many if not all of us have experienced some of the most drastic changes to all our lives and working patterns. We have had to deal with huge shifts and adaptions in where and how we work and, in some cases, if we could work at all.
As we are all starting to embark on getting back to work or adjusting how we work its important we take time to reflect and factor whats happened, and what we need to do for the future to make the “Return to Next Normal” work for both companies and its employees.
React and Respond…
During this period large numbers of IT providers were the early responders as the corona-virus crisis unfolded. Pulling out all the stops to enable companies and their employees to continue to function. New ways of working were quickly implemented to keep us all working.
However not all decisions that were made were based on long term thinking and rationale thought. This does mean some of these decisions will require a review for their longer-term implications.
This enforced event however has given us all an opportunity to experience change at a rate we were unlikely to experience at any other time. Whilst this has no doubt been disruptive, it has provided companies and their employees with a view of what the future might look like for us all.
The Big Reset….
We have had some time now to be able to evaluate and reflect, and get a sense of things that have worked and things that don’t quite work for us. This provides us all with a unique opportunity to hit the reset button on our old ways of working. Now is the time for companies to review their employee workstyles and patterns, evaluate the policies and actions that were taken during the crisis and review their methods and technologies to see what works and what needs to change for the future.
Key to making the return to ‘next normal’ work effectively is to ensure the needs of the employees are considered: –
- How will your employees return to work, what is the next normal for them?
- Will the office work environment be different?
- Will remote work continue? Will it be for selected groups?
- Do you have the right technology for remote workers?
- Is the right network, secure and capable for our employees to work remotely?
- Do we need to consider how we enforce social distancing at work?
None of these questions have obvious answers and for some employees’ and their workstyles this will likely be a divisive moment.
Companies must also not ignore the affect this situation has had on its people both emotionally and physically. Factoring in their health and well-being into this review is paramount.
It’s difficult to predict when we will finally emerge from this crisis and what the future of work may become. But what is certain, is we are quite likely to find ourselves in a world that is significantly different from the one before this crisis. It’s very likely that our employees’ workstyles, patterns and behaviours will have changed, and hopefully for some its permanent.
Adapt and Evolve…
The huge shift in employee work patterns we have experienced needs careful consideration on how we are to adapt and evolve how were going to work in the future. Companies need to start now in re-imaging the future of work, use these lessons learned and take the opportunity to adapt and embrace totally new ways of working.
Gaining the buy-in of your employees will be key to making the return phase and beyond work for all. Companies and leaders should be empathetic and demonstrate an understanding that their employees need to come to terms with this new and changing experience.
Giving them the time to adapt to new ways of working is key. Employees coming back after furlough or a period of remote work may find the physical layout of their workplace changed and their routine adapted. For office workers, returning to a workplace may require a mindset shift for those who’ve adjusted to working remotely. In order to navigate these changes, leaders should make sure employees understand what’s being asked of them and what steps the company is taking to protect them. Companies need to allow employees the chance to voice their views and concerns and be part of the identification of potential problems with their return plans.
Engaging in open trusted communication, is the only way both employees and companies will get through this next phase of the crisis. And hopefully in time provide an opportunity to increase overall employee engagement and boost their productivity.
NOW is the time to work together to get this right, let’s not waste it….
This is a blog by Senior Lead Consultant Kevin Sandberg for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, taking place May 18th – May 24th. In a time where looking after our mental health is more important than ever, Computacenter are proud to be supporting this initiative and spreading the message that #KindnessMatters.
I’ve almost been working for Computacenter’s TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence for five years. In reality, it should be closer to 7.
Back in 2013, I took a dream trip. I was celebrating my 33rd birthday and I found myself sitting in a pool in Orlando, Florida. Beer in one hand, floating on an inflatable. I was relaxing before going out for a meal with my wife and parents-in-law at the Hard Rock Café. It was everything I could ask for in a holiday, but I was sad.
Hiding the symptoms
This wasn’t the typical birthday blues. I felt down. If I couldn’t be happy in this scenario when could I be? Later that month, I opened up to my wife about it. At first, she was upset as she hadn’t realised anything was wrong. That wasn’t her fault though; I’d been very good at hiding it.
I realised that I was feeling isolated and started looking for a new job. My reasoning was that maybe I would be better off in an office-based role with more day to day interaction with other people.
I didn’t feel good enough to do my job. I didn’t feel up to it and I felt like I was going to be caught out at any minute. Every day was like treading water. I was exhausted and I felt like an imposter.
Later that year, I was approached by a former colleague who wanted me to join her team. I knew a couple of people who worked at her company already, we had all worked together at the NHS.
I thought it would sort everything out. But of course, it didn’t.
New challenge, same me
After an initial bout of feeling good about myself, I quickly reverted to how I was when I was working at home for the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence. I was up and down – more down, though, if I’m being honest.
It was great being with my former colleagues again and I loved managing the team I had. I will always be proud of what they achieved but I wasn’t enjoying my new job.
I missed working with ServiceNow and I felt restricted in what I was doing. I couldn’t seem to achieve what I wanted to.
Coupled with the imposter feeling that I still carried with me, I now felt frustrated that I couldn’t easily do for my team what I could have done if I had different tools.
When life gives you a Volvo
When I took the role there was a possibility the new company would be implementing ServiceNow. They actually went with another vendor and all of a sudden, I felt like someone had swapped the keys to a Ferrari and given me keys to a second hand Volvo; functional, but lacking.
After a particularly ranty social media post on my part, a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague reached out and said to me, ‘You know Kev, we would love to have you back.’
I thought about it long and hard.
I knew quite soon into the new job that this wasn’t the quick fix I had hoped it would be in terms of my general mood. Logically, coming back to the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence was the best choice for my career.
I would make the working from home work.
I missed that ‘family feeling’ that I had lost when moving to a larger organisation and felt less involved.
It was also nice to feel wanted. I was in the middle of a major project and had to work a 3 month notice period.
So, even though the then TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence MD asked if I could shorten my notice period as they were keen to get me back, it was important to me that I didn’t let down my new team or my colleague who had offered me the opportunity.
Time for honesty: I suffer from mental health issues
So here goes, full disclosure – I have now realised that I have struggled with mental health issues for years and probably long before I even joined TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence in 2013.
I have good days, I have bad days. I can have good weeks and I can have bad weeks.
Lately, I have learnt how to manage it better. It’s still hard to talk about. It’s hard to convey what I am feeling as I don’t fully understand it myself, but I deal with it better than I used to. Sometimes. Some days it takes all the effort I can muster to get out of bed and face the day.
My biggest issue at first was that I didn’t know why I felt this way. I had a good job, a good career, lovely colleagues, great friends, great family and a gorgeous loving wife who I adore. I know I had a life a lot of people would give their right arm for, but I still felt really low and unbelievably sad at times.
I told a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague about my issues and she couldn’t have been more understanding. Eventually, I opened up to more of my colleagues, including my current line manager.
Getting mental health support from my employer
A couple of years ago, I referred myself to NHS Talking Therapy sessions. I was lucky and got an appointment quite quickly. I began to have a weekly 30 minute session, before being referred and having 60 minute sessions each week.
The TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence have been fantastic, giving me the time off to go and have these sessions in work time.
I couldn’t have gone otherwise, and although I tried not to let it affect my work, I could come out of those sessions on a Friday physically and emotionally drained. I had to sit in the car for a good 10 minutes after one session before I was even up to driving away.
I learned a lot about myself. I also had an event in my life happen at this time which wasn’t nice and that didn’t help, but the support and understanding from people did. I tried anti-depressants to see if they would help.
The side-effects didn’t outweigh the benefits and eventually, I made the decision to come off them after trying a number of different types. I am aware people have found medication to be a massive help but I have found talking to be the best therapy, and now most of the people I am close to are aware of the struggles I have had.
I call them my ‘fluffy’ periods.
Reaching out and overcoming a reluctance to talk
I understand the reluctance to talk about mental health. I was brought up in the North East of England in a working-class area where you don’t show weakness. Especially the men. It’s a sign that you’re not tough enough.
You definitely don’t talk about it even though that’s the worst thing you could do. And this is what I had been doing for years.
I guess if there is a message in this blog, is that if you can relate to anything that I’ve said and want to talk about it. Reach out.
Reach out to somebody you are comfortable talking to about it. Some people would rather talk to someone they don’t know that well, others want to talk to someone they are close to.
Mental health: An ongoing journey
I am not going to sit here and say I am 100% better now. I have finished my therapy sessions, and I deal with things better. I don’t bottle things up anymore. I’ve learned to reach out if I’m struggling and for me, that’s major progress in itself.
I still feel like I am an imposter at times, that I’m going to get found out at any moment. I’m rubbish at receiving praise and I can tend to focus on the negative. I worry about things I can’t control, and some days I do want to hide away – but I am aware of it now – and I try to manage it and deal with it as best I can.
I went back to Florida with my wife last year, I was in the exact same pool that I had been back in 2013 with a beer and I can honestly say, it was two of the happiest weeks of my life.
If you are struggling please don’t suffer in silence. Please do reach out to someone you feel comfortable with, and if someone reaches out to you, you don’t need to have all the answers – just listen.
You’ll be doing more good than you’ll ever know.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and for support regarding mental health issues, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.
It’s anybody’s guess what the new normal will look like either post lock-down or post corona-virus. The only thing that is certain is that it’s bound to be different from how it was before. The crisis is already pushing the U.K economy into recession and Its certain it will leave a big mark on how consumers live and how they spend their money.
Retailers in the U.K are facing many different challenges. Some are struggling to scale and keep up with the increased demand as they see their sales rise beyond their capacity; some are taking to limiting sales and customer volume; whilst some are seeing sales suddenly drop off a cliff.
These opposing challenges force very different responses, whilst one is looking at reducing costs and outgoings others are trying to deal with technical scaling and logistics issues. Never has there been such opposing issues within either the same companies or sector. You might argue that having a scaling issue is a nice problem to have. However, you must have one eye on the future and consider what you might do with all this extra capacity once things return to some level of normality, can you just turn the taps off, is this going to be the same now and in the future?
Customers are in part creating these opposites by doing things they have never done before, the obvious rise in online shopping has had a large effect on how we shop, however what we are buying and the volume of it has also changed.
There are the predictable shifts of using online grocery shopping during this period, but other more bizarre growths in things like garden furniture for instance due to lock-down, and things like gifting-wrapping services due to the fact we cannot do this easily via traditional methods.
Coping and Adapting…
The focus for many retailers now is drifting towards what do I need to think about or do once were back to some level of normality.
This raises an interesting point on what normal might look like. Whilst is difficult to predict the future, it’s quite likely that retailers will need to consider how this has affected their customers’ shopping patterns. Changes in customer behaviours are not likely to one hundred percent be reversed once our situation changes.
Science indicates that it takes something like two months for a behaviour change to become automatic. Something that is likely to influence us all as the situation continues.
I know from personal experience that my family will be continuing their online grocery shopping post this as they have overcome their initial fears and barriers and now see the upsides on this approach. Predictions are that at least 25% of customers will not return to what they did when we get to new normal.
Being close to your customers and understanding their needs has never been more important and will become paramount to succeeding during the new normal. Providing the services, they need, how they want, with minimal disruption and going the extra mile is likely to retain your customers. Focusing on what kind of experience you want to create for your customers, being personal and knowing what they want, giving an opinion and making it memorable.
Many retailers will also have to ask themselves “Can I operate at sub-scale?”, if not what do I need to do to adapt. Retailers will need to understand what new normal means for them, do I need to increase my prices to factor in reduced volume in customers or work out how I can significantly reduce my operating costs. Likely answer might include a bit of both.
The new normal whatever that is…
Retailers are likely to experience a paradigm shift in customers buying patterns and behaviours post lock-down. New normal is going to look significantly different from old normal. Factoring in that customers are going to be fearful of infection and that significant numbers of customers are likely to have less money to spend due furlough or redundancy. Combined with learning new ways to shop from new channels then any expectation that a return to old normal levels of customer behaviours and levels of business seems very unlikely.
Retailers need to be innovative during this period, “How are you going to be different from anybody else?” Providing customers with a better experience, giving them something they can’t get from either your competitors or online needs to be considered.
If you have a large brick and mortar estate, use it to your advantage, create personal experiences that will encourage your customers to make the effort to visit. Being different and providing services that others don’t is likely to be the factor that keeps one company going vs your competition.
There is also a view that there will be a resurgence of whole localisation of shopping, the traditional high-street if you will. Personally, I’m sure there is place for big outlets and local shopping to co-exist but changes in behaviour driven by the corona-virus to shop more locally and find those local agents could engender a change in our behaviours which will stick and grow in new normal.
As those customers who have adjusted during this period are likely to stick doing what they are doing either for some time or permanently. They will have shifted into other places or channels. This does make it harder to understand what the future state will look like. All we can say is that it won’t be the same as it was.