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CIOs chime in on reimagining work for the next normal


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If you’re like most of us, you probably can’t wait to put 2020 behind you. And after a year of upheaval, businesses are no different. 

From having to reinvent what the office means after sending workers home, to grappling with IT and supply chain challenges, organizations of all sectors have faced a uniquely challenging year. While we’ll soon turn the calendar page on 2020, enterprises are still grappling with what the future may bring and how to best prepare for the next normal. 

To gain an understanding of how business leaders are approaching the challenge, we convened a discussion panel of CIOs for a webinar on Reimagining your Global Workforce Strategy and Operating Model for the Next Normal, sponsored by Evanta.

“If nothing else, the past nine months have taught us that people need to be able to quickly change the way they’ve worked, change what they’ve held sacrosanct, and change the way that they engage with others,” Scott Strickland, CIO for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, told participants during the session. In other words, nothing heading into the next fiscal year is the same as it once was. 

Amid so much upheaval, business leaders are rethinking all aspects of their organizations, taking a fresh look at how to shore up key internal resources to foster greater resilience. 

Here are three ways the leaders we spoke with are re-envisioning workforce strategies and operating models for the future.

Wanted: Agility

Seeking workers with finely tuned emotional intelligence, or EQ, was a major hiring trend of the last decade. Beyond 2020, however, new recruits will also have to hone their sense of flexibility and ability to roll with the punches. “There (are) a whole bunch of characteristics like curiosity, tenacity, grit, and other things we would have described our talent as,” said Mindy Simon, CIO of Conagra Brands. Bundled together, these qualities bubble up to an overarching trait that Simon calls one’s “agility quotient.”

“Historically you look at IQ on the bottom of the pyramid, layered in by EQ. … The top of the pyramid is going to be AQ or that agility quotient,” Simon said. High-AQ employees demonstrate agility on multiple fronts—they’re able to adapt to working in different environments, quick to grasp new skills, and ultimately, are agile in all aspects of how they serve the business. 

“Figuring out how we develop (agility), grow it, seek it and find it in the team that we have, as well as in the team of the future, is going to be crucial,” she said.

With this need for agility comes a lessening emphasis on deep specialization—especially as outsourcing technology and automation lessen some internal demands.

Rethinking the office

The lockdowns of the office forced an overnight exodus from the office—and with more and more businesses planning to continue flexible work arrangements, a full return to the office does not appear to be in the cards anytime soon. But new distributed and virtual work models mean reconsidering physical office space.

“When you look at the office space (of today), it’s largely designed around 80% individual workstations and 20% collaboration space, whether that’s team spaces or cafeteria-type areas, where people can collaborate informally,” Simon said. “The early estimating coming in (is that) next year it’s going to flip completely the opposite and have 80% collaboration spaces and 20% individual work.”

This has major implications on all aspects of work, from the technologies that will be needed to support hybrid and work-from-anywhere models to how businesses maintain employee engagement from apart. The boring online happy hours we saw in 2020 won’t cut it for much longer, the executives on our panel said, but businesses are getting creative and finding new ways to deepen both informal team interactions as well as formal ones, such as performance reviews. 

The leaner and meaner imperative

After the economic upheaval of 2020, many organizations are looking at some form of cost containment to help propel recovery in the coming year. But instead of making cuts purely to reduce budgets, the leaders we spoke with are looking to fuel efficiencies wherever possible. “This is our chance to reduce apps and total app spend,” said Wyndham’s Strickland, as one example. “So if we have two or three (apps) that are doing one thing, and we can consolidate that down, that’ll simplify both the IT support services and the overall business, as we harmonize processes across that. 

“As we looked into ‘21, we’re saying we can get a lot of bang for our buck if we consolidate onto platforms wherever possible. We’ve always wanted to do that, but this has been an accelerator because it takes costs out and streamlines processes at the same time.”

2021—the year of agility and efficiency

There is a common theme that we heard from our webinar panelists: to rebound from the upheaval of 2020 and weather future uncertainties, businesses must place a heavy emphasis on fostering agility and efficiency across their organizations. 

While people and reimagined physical spaces will indeed play a role, the right technology will underpin this new normal on all fronts. Providing video conferencing, team messaging and phone within a single app, RingCentral streamlines communications and removes the friction of collaboration, delivering on the key demands of the next normal.

Originally published Oct 20, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023

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