Cast your mind back to January 2020. It feels like it belongs to another age. Squeezing onto a packed train or bus first thing in the morning, sharing a joke with a colleague across the desk, or gathering in a meeting room with your team – many of us haven’t done anything like this for months.
And while we all hope to see this pandemic go away as quickly as possible, there are aspects of traditional working that haven’t been missed. Many people have spent years commuting an hour or more each way, while there are countless examples of talent going unfulfilled due to the prohibitive costs of relocating to where the work is. As the question of how and when we return to physical workspaces dominates the opinion pages and our LinkedIn timelines, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider whether we can use this opportunity to not just return to what we had, but instead to create something better.
Our vision for the future of work is that it can happen in any place, at any time, on any device in a secure and flexible manner. This will enable employees to make their jobs work for them, with greater scope to adapt their working patterns – and location – to their lives. Rather than the employee going to where the work is, the overwhelming dynamic in what we call the “omnichannel workplace” will be work going to the employee, enabled by digital technology.
This trend will play a huge factor in a business’s future success or failure. Just as the retail industry experienced its own omnichannel revolution, causing big problems for companies that didn’t adapt to the rise of online shopping, organisations that think they can return to what normal looked like in January 2020 will get left behind. Moving to new, digital-first operating models will allow businesses of all kinds to take full advantage of their talent and make the most of the growth opportunities that are out there.
Putting people first
This new way of working will mean that we are not tied to rigid working times in particular locations. People will be able to choose how often they go into a workplace, and will be under less pressure to live in expensive cities such as London. This period of lockdown has proven that many can work very effectively from home and, while some of us are keen to return to the office at least part-time, the benefits of flexi- and home- working have been made clear.
We’ve seen these benefits ourselves here at TCS. Within a few weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak, we moved more than 95 per cent of our workforce to an operating framework we call Secure Borderless Workspaces™ (SBWS), while enabling essential industries and leading businesses around the world to do the same, as well as UK customers such as Halfords, Mace, M&S, Morrisons and Seadrill.
For food, clothing and home retailer Marks and Spencer, ensuring the safety of its customers as it continued to meet their demands was the top priority. While its bricks-and-mortar clothing outlets had to be immediately shut, there was a surge in the demand for food essentials. This required quick technological interventions to demand and fulfilment and supply chain systems, back-end distribution set-up, as well as warehouse management – all to ensure that the in-store visitor had an undisrupted shopping experience.
In a move to ensure essential supplies reached its consumers, M&S expanded its online clothing platform to deliver food, and saw heavy demand as a result. A TCS team was put in place to enable customers to purchase M&S Food Boxes – hampers that included a mix of food essentials designed to last a household for roughly a week – which were made available in under a week. The team also developed an online chilled ready meal food service which was implemented within two weeks – requiring intervention with new vendors and delivery partners.
Similarly, for Halfords, when lockdown was first announced, many of its stores were temporarily closed and there was a sudden spike in online sales, requiring rapid and comprehensive changes to stock and personnel. Warehouse management systems had to be reassessed and redesigned, and the movement of some goods was revised, while there also needed to be continual monitoring and liaison with vendors.
Technological innovation enabled the deployment of collaboration platforms, cloud-enabled infrastructure and robust security practices to continue critical operations, and TCS’s customers were seamlessly transitioned to a remote working model thanks to SBWS.
The virtual experience
Of course, the office-centric way of working brings many benefits that are adjacent to employees’ main roles and responsibilities. Conversations in the kitchen or on a lunch break, building new connections and friendships, or creative workshops – it’s “ambient” moments and interactions such as these that do so much to give work meaning.
Technology is making great strides in replicating these experiences and the more employees get used to video calls and chat functions for core work, the more we will start to use them for quick chats and catchups with colleagues too. Technology must enable this human desire for conversation and interaction, not get in the way of it.
Because of this, we believe that, by 2025, just 25 per cent of the TCS workforce will work out of our facilities at any time. Associates will spend 25 per cent of their time in the office and only 25 per cent of a global project team will need to be in the same location.
This is an inflection point – the pandemic has accelerated our thinking and the very fundamentals of work are changing before our eyes. We must all come together to make sure the workplace of 2021 and beyond captures the best of what we’ve seen over the past few months, while preserving the intangible qualities that bring vibrancy and humanity to our working lives.
Find out more about what TCS can do for you here.
by Ashok Krish, Global Head, Digital Workplace, TCS