WORKFORCE

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A HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES REPORT

THE HYPER-CONNECTED

WORKFORCE

Copyright © 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing.

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SPONSOR PERSPECTIVE

SCOT ALLEN

DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS

COMMUNICATION,

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

VERIZON

One of the amazing things about the digital age is how quickly ideas can

become reality. It wasn’t that long ago that companies put employees on

planes or crammed them into conference rooms to brainstorm ideas, and

then it took weeks to get those ideas into the marketplace. Now marketing

teams can collaborate virtually in real time and get a campaign up on

digital billboards before lunchtime. Examples of collaboration like this

aren’t just hypotheticals—they are happening in companies around the

world every day. And that’s driving results.

Connected Working Is Now Less Disruptive

As this research shows, having to stay in the office to work effectively is now

the exception. For eight out of nine employees, working from home, on the

road, or in a nontraditional office is now business as usual. Forty-eight percent of respondents said

that their work group uses remote/mobile working extensively, and a further 41 percent said they

used it moderately.

In the early days of mobile, working users complained about the poor experience. Their colleagues’

productivity was also affected, and IT complained about how difficult it was to secure and

manage devices. But those days are long gone. Today’s tools, like mobile device management and

collaboration software, make remote/mobile working painless and governing use much easier.

Connected Working Is Now More Disruptive

Despite this pervasiveness, mobile working remains a competitive game changer. The potential

transformative effect of being able to access applications and collaborate from practically anywhere

is incredible.

There’s speed. We all remember playing “phone tag” as we tried to get ahold of the right people.

Today’s tools powered by highly reliable, high-performance networks give people instant, seamless

access to information and expertise.

There’s richness. Connected working is about much more than conference calls and email. Driven

by the apps they use in their personal lives, employees are driving companies to adopt more

sophisticated tools like HD video.

And then there’s innovation. Take a paramedic as an example. Having access to medical records

and the ability to videoconference with a specialist could transform patient outcomes. Or engineers

designing a new component. Today they can share plans and virtually whiteboard, and it won’t be

long before they can collaborate in 3-D using virtual reality.

Put Mobile Collaboration at the Heart of Your Plans

We’re in a period of immense change, and whether you’re in financial services or civil engineering,

it’s time to be imaginative. There are companies out there creating mobile-first business processes

and business models based on connected working and collaboration. They’re winning the best

employees and gaining market share. Make sure that you’re one of them.


THE HYPER-CONNECTED

WORKFORCE

Digitally connected communication, collaboration, and other mobile and remote work

practices are having an overwhelmingly positive impact on organizations today, according to

a new study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. The increase in connected work

has contributed to greater business agility, more collaboration, increases in productivity, and

greater geographic diversity of teams among the 439 business leaders who responded to the

survey—a mix of executive and senior management from around the world and from a variety

of industries and functions, including logistics, marketing, operations, finance, technology,

and human resources. The use of more mobile and remote work has also helped many of their

organizations lower both overhead and operating costs. These benefits are leading companies

to further increase their investments in connected work.

Much of the demand for this is coming from a new generation of employees who have different

expectations for how and where work gets done. But the shift to a digitally connected work

environment doesn’t just happen. Companies that recognize the value are investing in the tools,

training, policies, and processes to truly transform their organizations to a new way of work.

Not long before he died, the late, great Peter Drucker declared that increasing the productivity

of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the

21st century.” There’s every evidence that trends in connected work are fulfilling that mandate.

CONNECTED OR MOBILE/REMOTE WORK:

Work accomplished by employees regardless of their physical location through the use of

communications and information technologies. These include:

• Technologies to access

corporate systems and

data from home, from

client sites, or on the road

• Virtual collaboration

tools and communications

technologies to work

with colleagues in other

locations

• Mobile applications

and devices such as

smartphones and tablets

THE HYPER-CONNECTED WORKFORCE 1


CONNECTED WORK IS BECOMING PERVASIVE

The use of connected work is widespread. Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) say their use is

extensive and that they have access to most of their data, systems, and colleagues independent

of physical location. figure 1 These respondents say they are able to do most things as well out of

the office as in it.

This is a growing trend. More than half (53 percent) say their use of connected work has increased

significantly over the past three years and that it is a high priority (29 percent) or even essential

(22 percent) that this increase further. figure 2

More than a third of respondents (36 percent) say the pressure to increase connected work is

coming primarily from individual employees. This is followed by managers (senior or mid-level)

at 27 percent and business unit or function leaders at 22 percent. Only 15 percent named C-level

executives as pushing for more connected work.

“This is a behavioral trend more than a technology phenomenon,” says Tom Koulopoulos,

author of The Gen Z Effect and founder of Delphi Group, a Boston-based think tank that specializes

in innovation strategies. “It’s being defined by when you came into the era of mobility.

Millennials—and especially Gen Z—have never known anything else.”

As a side note, people within this age group tend not to identify with these generational labels.

Indeed, says Koulopoulos, as the age of workers extends in both directions, it will serve organizations

better to stop making these distinctions. In the meantime, however, respondents note

some important differences.

For example, the vast majority (87 percent) say that employees under the age of 35 have higher

expectations to be able to use consumer-like tools to communicate. This has manifested in what

many term shadow or rogue IT—when employees adopt technology tools of their own choosing

(e.g., iPhones, Snapchat, Dropbox) to get work done. “Millennials and Gen Z seek the most direct

route to get from point A to point B, and they will hack through every policy, procedure, and

piece of red tape put between them and their destination,” says Koulopoulos.

k on pie chart to edit data

FIGURE 1

CONNECTED WORK IS PERVASIVE

Percentage of respondents indicating the extent to which their work group uses

mobile/remote work processes and technologies.

48%

EXTENSIVE USE

41%

MODERATE USE

11%

LIMITED USE

SOURCE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES SURVEY, AUGUST 2015

2 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES


k on pie chart to edit data

FIGURE 2

PRIORITY TO INCREASE

Level of priority respondents place on increasing mobile/work capabilities in work groups.

22%

ESSENTIAL

29%

HIGH PRIORITY

29%

MEDIUM PRIORITY

20%

LOW PRIORITY

SOURCE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES SURVEY, AUGUST 2015

Of course, this doesn’t apply just to Millennials. With the advent of cloud services and more

user-friendly tools, line of business leaders and managers have taken full advantage of their ability

to gain new capabilities with the swipe of a credit card. In the process, they’ve become centrally

involved in the decision making for what technology tools they end up using—formerly the

domain of the central IT department. This has created a challenge for corporate CIOs: to not only

eliminate as many roadblocks as possible but to find ways to amplify and accelerate this new way

of working—while still maintaining the security and integrity of their data.

“Rather than try to put the brakes on it and hand out a lot of go-to-jail cards, [progressive CIOs

are saying] let’s figure out a way to embrace that,” says Bob Egan, chief analyst and founder

of Sepharim Group, an executive advisory and market insight firm, and the author of Forbes’

“Things Mobile” blog. “Let’s figure out what users are looking for, mediate the security risk

in the short term, and in the long term, go back to suppliers and say this is what we need to

have.” The payoff of this approach includes gains in productivity as well as employee engagement

and retention.

In the long run, enabling individual employees and work groups goes only so far. To maximize

the value of connected work, organizations need to take a more all-encompassing approach, and

the leaders are doing that. A plurality of respondents (41 percent) says the use of connected processes

and technologies is consistent across the enterprise, with many groups sharing the same

technologies, policies, and practices. More than a third (37 percent) say they have some sharing

of practices and technologies across groups, while 17 percent say their approach is completely

siloed to unconnected pockets of the organization based on individual needs. As collaboration

spreads beyond work groups and specific technologies and practices prove their value, they are

brought into the enterprise framework. The supplier community is responding by “industrializing”

formerly consumer-based applications and services, building in the security and controls

enterprises require.

Another thing that distinguishes the new generation of workers is that they are serious collaborators.

Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of respondents under 35 said that their cohort is

THE HYPER-CONNECTED WORKFORCE 3


inherently more inclined than older workers to find collaborative ways of working. Mobility is

the vehicle that enables them to work this way. “Mobile gives an element of being hyper-local,”

says Koulopoulos. “It doesn’t matter where you are—I have the benefit of having you next to

me, whether you’re a customer, an associate, or a partner. That gives me an experience that is

much more intimate and responsive than I could have otherwise.” Increasingly, the best talent

is demanding this capability. The majority of respondents (75 percent) believe that their business

must support connected work in order to attract and retain the best talent. Employers who

do this well get a double lift from it since connected work literally opens up the entire world of

talent to them.

Virtual collaboration is the main driver for the increase in connected work (rated 8-10 on a

10-point scale by 57 percent of respondents.) figure 3 Business agility and productivity were the

second- and third-highest named drivers at 53 percent and 52 percent, respectively. These three

form a virtuous circle in which results are accelerated and amplified. Collaboration shortens

cycle times by collapsing iterations. This lets people move more quickly to the next problem or

opportunity, getting more done in the process.

PRACTICES AND PAYOFFS

Instant messaging has joined email as a near-ubiquitous tool for connected work, used by 84

percent of respondents (compared to email’s 97 percent). These two stalwarts are followed by a

host of other tools, including video (79 percent), collaboration spaces and document sharing (66

FIGURE 3

TOP 5 DRIVERS

Percentage indicating issue has been influential in driving their organization’s use of

mobile/remote working capabilities. TOP BOX SCORES 8-10, WHERE 10 = EXTREMELY INFLUENTIAL

Support collaboration without regard to physical location

53

57

Increase responsiveness to changing business conditions

Get more output from the workforce

52

Reduce costs (e.g., by decreasing travel or eliminating office space)

43

46

Address changing workforce expectations to attract/retain the best talent

SOURCE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES SURVEY, AUGUST 2015

4 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES


percent), and the ability for employees to access their personal desktop, applications, and documents

from any device (62 percent). For the most part, respondents find these tools to be very

effective. The only technologies rated “very effective” by fewer than half of those who use them

were social networking tools—either internal or external.

Video has tremendous potential for both collaboration and knowledge sharing. Younger employees

prefer it to other means of communication, and some companies have started producing

video assets (including short “snackable” video) for everything from CEO messages to team

updates, marketing assets, job training, and knowledge sharing—replacing or augmenting written

assets in the process. But there is room for improvement. “For all the hype around video, it’s

still not living up to solving the problems of best-of-breed collaboration” for most, says Egan.

One impediment is that quality videoconferencing has historically been a tool for executives;

the experience available to most employees has been less than great. As prices have fallen and

the tools have gotten easier to deploy and use, more companies are adopting mobile video and

easy video production tools that make it more accessible to all. But just having the tools doesn’t

ensure they are used effectively; this requires a change in expectations, mind-set, and practice.

Finally, for collaboration to happen easily, the infrastructure has to be there to support it. A quarter

of respondents said that their organization’s network doesn’t sufficiently support the kind of

mobile and remote work experience they expect.

The payoff for investing in connected work is substantial. More than two-thirds of respondents

(78 percent) say it has increased business agility and responsiveness, while 68 percent say it has

increased their employees’ productivity. figure 4 “If we took away tablets and mobile phones and

said the only time I’m going to respond to a client or peer is when I get back to my computer, then

things would really slow down,” Egan says. Mobility has both extended the traditional workday

and filled in its gaps. People are away from their desks for large chunks of the day. “Mobility

makes it possible to collaborate and respond during those hours. That’s where companies are

seeing a return,” he adds.

More than three-quarters of respondents say connected work has increased both collaboration

inside their enterprise (67 percent) and the geographic diversity of their teams (65 percent).

More than half (53 percent) are seeing improvements in external collaboration—a critical benefit

as the relationships within business ecosystems become more interdependent. There are

indications of direct bottom-line benefits as well; around a third say their use of connected

work has decreased operating costs (34 percent) and overhead costs (31 percent), while 30 percent

say it has increased revenue.

THE MANAGEMENT CONUNDRUM

Despite the bottom-up nature of the demand for more connected work, as organizations become

“hyper connected,” business leaders need to take a more active role in ensuring it’s done well.

More than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) say that connected work that is not well managed

leads to less collaboration, not more. At many organizations, it requires significant culture

change—one of the hardest things any organization can undertake.

To ensure that virtual collaboration is as good as or better than face-to-face requires management

attention and investments in training and process change, not just technology. Not all employees

have the same level of dexterity with mobile tools and practices, and it’s management’s job to

THE HYPER-CONNECTED WORKFORCE 5


provide awareness, incentives, and training for those who need it. Progressive organizations are

eradicating policies and processes that get in the way and replacing them with more open policies.

And they’re putting in place the technologies to enable accessible and easy connectivity.

Koulopoulos compares this to where we were 20 years ago with globalization. “Every company

wanted to be global,” he says. But while many expanded geographically, they were usually

decentralized and disconnected. “It was a huge step from that to creating a global culture, global

FIGURE 4

IMPACT OF CONNECTED WORK

Percentage indicating the effect that mobile/remote work has had on the following in their

organization.

● DECREASED SIGNIFICANTLY ● DECREASED A LITTLE ● NO CHANGE ● INCREASED A LITTLE ● INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY

1x

2 16

x49 29

Business agility/responsiveness

1 1

29

36 28

Geographic diversity of their teams

1 7

23

46 21

Internal collaboration

4

23

51 17

Productivity (volume of output)

3

External collaboration

37

36 17

1 4

36

37 13

Employee attraction/retention

10 24

30 17 5

Operating costs

9 22

32 19 4

Overhead costs

SOURCE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES SURVEY, AUGUST 2015

6 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES


supply chains, and global economic systems that worked seamlessly—the things that would support

a global organization. We’re at that place today with mobility. We’re doing it mechanically,

but we’re not architecting it into how we do what we do”—especially in the sense of building a

connected, collaborative culture and all the expectations and norms that go along with that.

The immediate barriers to more effective mobile and remote work, according to survey respondents,

are a lack of skills to adequately leverage the necessary tools (41 percent); insufficient IT

resources (38 percent) and management guidance (31 percent); a lack of the right tools (27 percent);

and the inability of networks to sufficiently support connected work (25 percent).

Broken down by age group, there are some interesting differences about barriers. For example,

a higher percentage of those under 35 say they lack the right tools, while a higher percentage of

those over 50 say they lack the skills to leverage the tools. figure 5 This is further evidence that

the gap between “digital natives” (those who grew up with the technology) and the rest of us

is real. “We can all adapt,” says Koulopoulos, and many people have, “but we’re still shaped by

a set of behaviors that makes it hard to deal with the hyper-connected nature of it. Millennials

have never known anything but mobility. For them it’s not a technology phenomenon; it’s just

the way the world works.”

For the rest, the rapid pace of change in technology can be overwhelming. Companies that want

to get this right and increase adoption are investing the time, training, resources, and management

guidance to make sure all employees know what the tools are, what the tools can do for

them, and how to use them.

FIGURE 5

GENERATIONS DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT’S MISSING

Percentage by age group indicating item is a barrier to effective mobile/remote

communication and collaboration in their organization.

● LACK OF THE RIGHT TOOLS

● LACK OF SKILLS TO LEVERAGE THE TOOLS

39

42

46

30

27

21

UNDER AGE 35 AGE 35–50 OVER AGE 50

SOURCE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES SURVEY, AUGUST 2015

THE HYPER-CONNECTED WORKFORCE 7


Millennials were also less concerned about the security of company data on mobile devices.

Only 37 percent were very concerned, compared with 55 percent of respondents over 50.

Overall, respondents were more inclined to say connected work has increased the security of

company systems and data (43 percent) than decreased it (21 percent), with more than a third

(36 percent) saying it had no discernible effect.

SECURITY VERSUS ENABLEMENT

Collaboration trumps security for many people. Almost twice as many respondents said overly

stringent security measures were a barrier to effective connected work and collaboration than

those who said that insufficient security measures were a barrier (20 percent versus 12 percent).

This creates tension between the lines of business trying to get work done and those who are

responsible for things like regulatory compliance and security of company systems and data.

There is an urgent need for new approaches to security management in this increasingly mobile

environment.

That tension between enablement and control is something business leaders will have to manage

as more purchase decision-making authority moves out to the edge while still requiring the

support of central IT. Lines of business are heavily involved in specifying the devices and applications

to enable connected work, with 27 percent heavily involved and 7 percent having the

final say. An additional 40 percent provide input, while only 26 percent say the line of business

is not very involved. At the same time, close to two-thirds (61 percent) said they are not able to

increase connected work capabilities without the involvement of the IT department.

“We’re moving away from an environment where IT defines all the software and services, and

then wraps a control mentality around that, to an environment where IT qualifies and coordinates

solutions as a provider to the lines of business,” Egan says. This is a very different model

from traditional IT, requiring a robust platform upon which an organization can rapidly deploy,

secure, and manage a much more diverse set of services, increasingly specified by—or at least

with—the lines of business. Most organizations are still finding their way.

CONCLUSION

There is little question that we are moving toward a fully connected, mobile work environment,

and the technology is mostly there to support it. Most organizations have started on this journey,

and things are changing fast. Pioneers have already realized significant benefits, including

improvements in business agility, collaboration, and productivity. The rest need to invest in the

systems, training, and processes to support this new way of working and to architect this connected

mind-set into everything they do.

“Don’t expect this to slow down in terms of the degree of disruption this is going to cause,” says

Koulopoulos, pointing out that Gen Z will be hitting the workforce in large numbers over the next

five to 10 years. “Millennials are like the beta test for this. Gen Z came out of the womb with an

iPhone in hand. They know nothing else of the world, and they will accept nothing less than full,

complete, immersive collaboration.”

Organizations that are able to transform their operating models and cultures to this new way of

work will have a distinct advantage over their competitors. Most are on the journey now; the

question is how quickly you can accelerate it.

8 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW ANALYTIC SERVICES


RESPONDENT PROFILE

Harvard Business Review Analytic Services surveyed a total of 439 individuals.

SIZE OF ORGANIZATION

About a third (33 percent) were from organizations with over 10,000 employees, with another

32 percent from organizations with between 1,000 and 10,000 employees.

REGION

Respondents’ own operating units were primarily in North America (45 percent) and Asia/Pacific

(28 percent), with 17 percent from Europe, 5 percent from Latin America, and 5 percent from

Middle East/Asia.

KEY INDUSTRY SECTORS AND JOB FUNCTIONS

They represent a wide range of industries and functional areas, with more than a third (39 percent)

who were director level or higher.


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