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Building agility into business infrastructure will be critical for enabling future business success: Sampath Sowmyanarayan, Verizon

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Sampath Sowmyanarayan, President Global Enterprise, Verizon, shares his views on the needs of the future workforce, and the key steps that organizations must take to prepare for the next pandemic, in an interview

Some edited excerpts:

What are the needs of the future workforce?
In my view, an organization needs to be both agile and bionic to be successful in the workplace of the future. This means combining the possibilities offered by technology and digital transformation with the irreplaceable human capabilities that make a business a business. Leaders must develop a plan for how their offices are going to function: whether they will be flexible in a primarily remote context or rely on onsite working models to accommodate their employees. The agility comes in how employees and decision-makers collaborate at scale, organizing for change through diversified talent and skill. Though it’s easier said than done, it’s important to consider this well before a business reopens its doors (virtual or otherwise). Most importantly, people – employees and customers – must come first. A leader must involve and engage their staff for the future workplace to be deployed and executed thoughtfully and properly. Technology is important, and a key enabler of the future workforce, but people are the core of any business and I cannot stress enough the importance of preserving the human experience.

How can companies prepare now to get ahead?
Business leaders must walk the delicate balance of presenting optimistic yet realistic expectations for their employees. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every enterprise as they envision the new normal. Flexibility is a must.

We think the key thing for business leaders is to ensure they lead from the front, strongly and authentically. Honesty is important when dealing with employees, especially for the unknowns of what will happen in the next few months. But communicating to employees that you are taking every precaution into consideration is important.

HR, IT and business leadership need to be working hand in hand. Technology is going to be very important in our future workplace. But it’s also important for the IT team to have a strong understanding of the needs of the business — and how HR needs to support all employees, whatever their situation.

And communication is critical. Between the leadership team, among decision-makers, but most importantly, with employees. People need to be brought along on the journey.
We think the key is to lead with the head, heart and hands.

These three interlocking pillars for leadership must work well together as each supports the others in a cohesive organization:
* Head is about envisioning the future and focusing on the big rocks
* Heart is about inspiring and empowering people
* Hands is about executing and innovating with agility.

How should employees prepare now to get ahead?
Just as companies must adapt to the changing times, so do employees. The world around us is so volatile and unpredictable, so employees (from the top down) should be flexible and patient in understanding that constant change is the new normal. There are a few key elements to make sure an organization is ready to continue to face this “business as unusual” head-on.

Remote working setup: Having the right technology is important. Components such as reliable connectivity, devices and accessories, and the latest software help keep an organization current, reduce unnecessary downtime and mitigate daily stress.
Training: Take advantage of every bit of virtual training the company offers. Whether it’s a webinar discussing how to better perform a job function remotely, or a class on mastering collaboration tools, editing software, etc., knowledge is power and something within control.
Mental stamina:  As employees, we strive to work hard, but what we need to remember is that one can only work at full speed for so long. It’s important to find time to take breaks, exercise, meditate, make a healthy meal, disconnect from tech and just breathe. COVID-19 does not seem to be going away anytime soon, so look at this as a marathon, not a sprint. So like I tell my colleagues, pace yourselves, take time to enjoy your family and friends (in a safe, socially distant manner), and breathe.

How to give employees a holistic, in-person experience while at home?
Since this pandemic began and the massive work-from-home shift happened, we saw a meteoric rise in the use of collaboration tools, both personally and professionally. From virtual family dinners, happy hours, game nights, etc., to virtual employee meetings, customer meetings, conferences, and the list goes on. Our acquisition of BlueJeans, couldn’t have been timelier, as it afforded businesses to have a next-level, secure, virtual platform to conduct their day-to-day.

But once an organization has the technology, it’s how it’s applied for employees that makes all the difference. In-depth remote training on how to perform their job functions in a digital world. Employee engagement experiences, such as meditation sessions, fitness classes, volunteering, virtual hangouts and more. Rethinking what we once found to be business as usual and adapting to meet the current working and societal needs of employees.

Additionally, it’s important to have the proper onboarding and professional support for employees. This means giving them the opportunities to meet key people in the business, tips and tricks to help them understand the culture, virtual mentors, and more.

In all, it’s taking what was once standard operating procedure and reimagining it to meet today’s employee needs.

What will the future office look like once employees can return to the office?
Everyone hopes for the return to the office and get back to business as usual, but at least for the short term, it’s unlikely that that scenario will be a reality. In order to get back to an in-office setting, plans (and back-up plans) and protocols must be established. How do companies setup their floor plan to meet socially distanced workspaces? Is it a staggered or rotational approach to bringing employees into the office? What must the organization need to do to meet CDC and other guidelines?

Employee safety and wellbeing is the top priority. It’s an employer’s responsibility to care for its workforce. I think we will see many scenarios where employees are allowed to return to the office, sparking a quick reversal based on societal factors and rinse and repeat.

For every business regardless of size, careful planning, agility and flexibility will be crucial for future success.

What IT considerations should be taken into account?
CIOs and IT leaders should consider six key factors critical to maintaining an effective remote-working model. These factors include:

1. A scalable network enabled by automation, such as software-defined networking (SDN) and virtualized network services (VNS), that can flex to support new usage patterns with work shifting outside of offices, and enable application availability prioritization
2. Cloud-ready applications for collaboration, core operations and support
3. Strong and secure mobile connectivity to access those applications, as well as the corporate WAN (for those that are not cloud-enabled)
4. End-to-end monitoring of network performance to maintain control, usability and security
5. Zero-trust security implementation that strengthens the protection of sensitive information outside of physical offices
6. A resilient end-user support model and supply chain that can deal with spikes in teleworker demand, both in terms of calls for help and the need for laptops, tablets or other mobile devices

When thinking about security, strong and secure mobile connectivity and end-to-end monitoring are key, but zero-trust security helps strengthen that protection with sensitive information now outside of physical offices. For an effective zero-trust security plan, companies need to implement comprehensive protect, detect and respond mechanisms.

We think companies should consider three key areas:
Protect: Establish a security architecture designed to support remote working, e.g., one that leverages strong identity management, multi factor authentication, VPN, trusted mobile endpoints, network segmentation and post-authentication access controls. The use of personal devices for work also must be weighed, as this may pose challenges when it comes to corporate-wide malware propagation and data privacy issues.

Detect: Implement fully integrated risk monitoring and detection capabilities for work-from-home devices to identify potential security breaches. Organizations need to build deep, end-to-end, integrated data and analytics capabilities to detect breaches early, while also working to reduce the impact of phishing attacks.

Respond: How the organization deals with a security threat. This is obviously easier within an “internal” environment and more complicated in a remote work model with multiple mobile endpoints. Cyber-risk monitoring enables organizations to effectively manage their security posture. Organizations should also consider the retention of professional support to assist in the event of a security breach.

What should companies do to prepare for the next pandemic?
Beyond the six imperatives to drive effective remote work, having a comprehensive technology transformation and readiness assessment is vital when preparing for the next pandemic, or the next wave of COVID-19. Companies need to consider four key stages when looking to reshape their technology transformation agenda.

1. Define transformation vision and goals
2. Focus on future-readying people “building blocks,” such as workforce and talent
3. Build scalable and adaptable application, IT infrastructure, data and digital platforms
4. Factor in cybersecurity from the beginning of the transformation

Addressing the six imperatives and giving the four key stages serious thought, can help companies be ready for any potential future global disruption. However, they also need to remember the importance of flexibility — building agility into business infrastructure will be critical for enabling future business success.

If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]


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