Necessity is the mother of invention. For many businesses, those words have never felt truer than in the past year. With no choice but to convert workplaces into remote offices and sales floors into on-demand delivery, organizations have had to embrace new ways of operating, seemingly overnight.
While it’s been challenging, organizations have made it work, and some have even found remote teams to be more productive without commutes and workplace distractions.
Now, with the development of the vaccines and other therapeutics, it seems like a return to “normal” may be on the horizon, which offers new insights for employers.
Lessons from the lab
The rapid development and roll-out of multiple vaccines is unprecedented, and this feat of science offers some important lessons for employers looking to the future. Innovation, collaboration and new technology were all critical in bringing the vaccines to market so quickly and carefully—factors that are also essential to productive workplaces.
“None of us could have imagined that we would be able to rally together as a society, as a scientific community, and develop effective vaccines and therapeutics on a timeline that is unparalleled in human history,” said Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte US, during our recent CEO Conversation webinar. “It is a miracle of modern science. It is a reflection of the good that can come from accelerated technology solutions.”
Here are five takeaways about embracing advanced tech and innovation in the workplace from Joe’s conversation with Great Place to Work®:
1. Lead with people alongside technology
Just as the vaccine breakthrough was the result of technological advancements, it was also made possible due to human traits—critical thinking, compassion and dedication—of medical researchers. Workplaces must recognize that innovative tech and great people go hand-in-hand. It’s not an either/or situation.
“There has been some fear that the proliferation of advanced technologies would be a job destroyer,” said Joe. “There is some level of displacement, but on the whole, the net new opportunities that technology creates are considerably greater than the ones that go away through automation.”
Related reading: Is your workplace ready for automation?
2. Inclusion and innovation fueled by new tech
As technology advances more and more within the workplace, it’ll be up to employers to ensure no employees are left behind. Joe said employers must “make certain that the transition is equitable, that those who perhaps have not participated fully in the technology-driven economy are given opportunities through a focus on education.”
This means having diverse professionals and client teams. It also means having an inclusive environment where unique, diverse perspectives are welcomed and heard. With the right environment, the best ideas and perspectives are harnessed to create business value, which allows teams to find a solution that takes into account multiple angles of a problem, making the solution stronger, well-rounded, and optimized. At Deloitte, this is part of their commitment to creating an inclusive workplace.
“Take great technology and put it together with great people and capitalize on the best of both,” said Joe. “Let people bring their creativity, let people bring their innovative spirit.”
3. Consider flexible solutions
Even once the pandemic is over, the workplace will never be the same, said Joe. “We’re simply not going back to the old way that we used to do things.”
Collaboration tools have forever changed how we work, communicate, and collaborate. In Deloitte’s case, their future workplace is most likely a hybrid model that optimizes opportunities for both virtual work and in-person connection.
“One hundred percent virtual is probably not the right answer,” said Joe. “There are moments when being co-located matters, where being together cannot be completely recreated through virtual technology.”
Joe said such a model offers the best of both worlds. “We take the flexibility and we pair it with the most impactful in-person moments where that’s important. We create a work experience that is much more meaningful, enjoyable, and productive.”
4. Remember that culture still matters
Deloitte's employee survey data shows that despite so much uncertainty, the flexibility of remote work has actually contributed to an enhanced talent experience in 2020.
“We take the flexibility and we pair it with the most impactful in-person moments where that’s important”
“The explanation is that whatever culture you had going into the pandemic, you were stuck with it,” said Joe. “It’s really hard to pivot culture in a distributed environment.”
He warns that it’s risky for companies to use the pandemic as a gauge of how successful remote work will be in the future, because so much is based on existing culture. And even when the culture is strong, “You need to have opportunities to refresh and reinvigorate that culture,” said Joe.
In Deloitte’s case, it was their people-first culture that carried them through. “We create space for people to prioritize their families and their personal circumstances,” said Joe. “Having a level of trust comes through incredibly impactfully when everybody is virtual.”
5. Be prepared to mitigate risk
New technologies aren’t without risks. “There are some valid questions out there as to how we make sure we can fully capitalize on the positives of technology while tempering some of the potential risks,” advises Joe.
Virtual worlds—both personal and workplace—have always been subject to cyber risk, but this is especially the case when using new platforms.
As well, organizations need to be vigilant with privacy risks when it comes to data management of both their employee and customer bases. Overall, Joe views the push 2020 gave us into a more technologically advanced world as a good thing.
“People have seen the best of technology in the last 10 months. These platforms have enabled so much knowledge to move to virtual, so many facets of the economy to move forward with strength – even in the middle of massive disruption,” said Joe.
“This gives me hope that we will continue forward and work together to responsibly and ethically bring about the very best aspects of technology for the betterment of humanity.”
To learn how Fortune 500 executives view the future of work, read our latest return to work study.