A new team is calling the shots on future models of work

20 July 2021 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read

One of the trends to emerge from the past year is the rise of workplace services and workplace relations practices inside almost all major Australian organisations. Mike Hicks, Principal Solutions Architect at ThousandEyes, discusses the rises of this new team and how they are shaping the future models of work.

There’s a split in where the two positions sit internally. Workplace services tends to be an addition to facilities or property management. In contrast, workplace relations sits within people and culture (the former ‘human resources). Both are relatively new phenomena: a review of LinkedIn profiles shows these positions started to appear around July last year. However, the number of hires in the space has skyrocketed in the past few months. 

The sharp rise is no accident, coinciding with a strategic move by many organisations away from fully remote or work-from-home setups to more hybrid work scenarios. Workplace services and workplace relations are the teams charged with enabling this transition.

Mike Hicks, Principal Solutions Architect, ThousandEyes

Technology plays a hugely important role in enabling the hybrid workplace. The future end-user computing environment will be considerably more complex than we typically see in organisations today, with extra management, monitoring, visibility and security challenges to take into account.

Having that responsibility fall to a new team shows the magnitude of the change that continues to be wrought on Australian business by the pandemic. 

The rules are changing, again

We’re familiar with stories of the trials and tribulations of enabling work-from-home setups for all employees through early-to-mid 2020. In hindsight, these were somewhat easier problems to manage. We shifted our thinking from an office-centric view of the world to an endpoint-centric view and scaled up a mix of platforms – from VPNs and SD-WAN to SaaS applications – to enable the transition. Most organisations got there, even with a nervous and overworked few weeks. 

In this instance, there was broad agreement on how to enable a large-scale move to work-from-home. Now, what’s being contemplated is very different. Organisations aren’t as united in how they expect to work. They are split on how their future workplace looks. 

For example, Apple and Google are proposing variations of three days in the office and two days out, with possible larger chunks of remote work at times. Atlassian requires staff only to attend an office four times a year, though staff intend to split their time 50/50 between office and remote. Twitter is leaving it up to staff to decide where they want to work. Four companies, four different hybrid approaches. 

Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it anymore. The amount of variation will be complex, and that’s reflected in the technology used to underpin these models. That additional complexity is partly why we have new teams in place to manage it, but even so, it’s unlikely we have a grasp on even half of the challenge that lies ahead. 

Continuous productivity

For the administrators or overseers of hybrid setups, the future may require an environment that is conducive to ‘continuous productivity’. I see ‘continuous productivity’ as a wellbeing exercise: a conceptual model for flexible work that encourages employers to create an optimised environment to support a wide variety of employee needs.

It is not an additional expectation on employees – particularly those at home with already blurred work/life boundaries – to work more hours because they have access to systems that enable it. Organisations generally have made great strides around staff wellbeing during the pandemic, and I don’t see anyone wanting to roll back or destroy that progress. 

Instead, what’s emerged from the past year is that productivity needs to be enabled in a way that suits people’s changed expectations for how they want to work. That means allowing staff to put in productive hours when it suits them – in or out of ‘regular working hours’ – to do that, and only asking questions if an agreed outcome or level of output is unmet. 

To successfully empower your people to be productive whenever they want and wherever they are, and to do it safely, everything now has to be running all of the time. Staff need constant, always-on access to tools and bandwidth, and a consistently performing environment and experience.

Digital experience monitoring has never been more important in that context, providing workplace services and relations teams with crucial visibility into what staff are seeing, and paths to optimise and improve that experience.