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How digital solutions will save businesses: CX in a COVID-19 world

As a result of the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak, major business and sporting events worldwide are coming to a halt, with further restrictions imposed each week. Like never before, corporations restrict general business travel, forcing people to rethink how they conduct cross-border business. While the extent of the virus is unfolding, I’ve noticed the accentuation of what have typically been slow global shifts over the past twenty years; everyone is rethinking the way we work together, scale resiliently and compete globally. From working with a distributed and remote workforce to agile work practices, these shifts provide real challenges but also opportunities.

Shift #1: The World is Flat — so what?

NY Times Best Selling author Thomas Friedman published his seminal work; the World is Flat, in 2005. This entertaining work reflects on the era of globalisation and the surrounding economic and geopolitical shifts corporations and governments faced at the time. While the messages were varied, the inevitability of the messages around global markets woke many business leaders to the opportunity of how global talent could help solve the pressing issues of access to skilled talent, but with the added benefit of significant operational cost reduction. With some initial reticence due to cultural differences, large enterprises jumped at the chance to outsource en-masse functions of their business. They used partners to improve the maturity of their business, which resulted in providing significant cost advantages.

From delivering digital transformation agendas to outsourcing customer service and back-office operational teams, “Offshoring”, as it became known, helped large enterprises in Australia and other countries keep pace with the cost and scale pressures of globalisation. In 2019, Deloitte released a study stating that the global outsourcing industry is expected to rise from US$ 779.7 Billion in 2019 to US$ 971.2 Billion by 2023.

This industry behemoth is now a mainstay of enterprise sourcing and cost management strategies. Organisations large and small can’t ignore the talent that is global and accessible.

Two more workplace shifts that were taking place around the same time were Agile Software Delivery and Remote Working.

Shift #2: Agile, let’s work together, fast and close

The cool kid on the block in the naughties, Agile Software delivery was the faster of the cultural changes to be adopted, which involved technology teams working in ways that were considered radical at the time. This approach, if done well, was a hugely effective form of working together. To the purists, it necessitated teams to be located together in the same office. It broke the top-down management model, and from the “information pull’’ approach to “information push.”

The corporate walls were suddenly filled with multi-coloured sticky notes admired by hordes of people in “standups”, scratching their heads. Nowadays, many businesses run their entire operations in various forms of this agile approach. However, enterprises with large technology outsourcing contracts were left with the conundrum of leveraging this agile approach with global teams. Not only did this involve a huge structural shift from the traditional waterfall methods, but the commercial, cultural, and logistical challenges in this real-time mode were left unanswered.

Shift #3 Agile and distributed teams

Bubbling in the background, the acceptance by local employers to the work-from-home movement gained traction. SaaS tools and remote working technology, not to mention the exorbitant costs of office space, had reached the point where the only barriers to adoption to this new form of working were cultural and workplace governance.

It was left to the startup community, with their millennial-heavy workforce, the low barriers to entry provided by Software as a Service (SaaS) systems, to adopt these new ways of working. Slack, Zoom, Miro and other tools became unicorns. Businesses and entire industries have been disrupted by organisations that move at lightning speed with their global talent using these modern tools. These organisations have shown the way of combining the shift of distributed agile teams.

The rise of Fiver and other remote worker startups reinforces the recognition that talent is global and hyper accessible. According to Flexjobs, in 2018 alone, there was a 22% increase in home-based jobs. The same survey revealed that 76% of the respondents would be more loyal to their employer if telecommuting were an option. Millennials have been known to trade benefits for the opportunity to work from home.

Enterprises and suppliers take note.

As is often the case with rapid change, larger enterprises had a structural and cultural rigidity that prevented them from moving as fast, finding themselves disrupted at the speed of accelerated change. This was compounded by their outsourcing partner relationships that were also caught off guard by the speed of this change. But even today, these larger organisations struggle to combine the three shifts of global talent and agile working and distributed workforces.

At Groworx, our employees have decades of experience in these shifts. They have found that the shift to a truly modern workforce requires adapting to modern technologies and embracing these organisational approaches.

Key takeaways:

  • Embrace the modern work approach. Recognise that over half of your workforce will be made up of millennials who only know agile and modern distributed working approaches in the next few years. According to a 2018 study commissioned by Ernst and Young, millennials currently occupy 35% of the workforce in 2020, and by 2025 it is projected to reach 75%. While often given lip service, this requires a profound shift in the way we think about our workforce, as these young people refuse to accept the harmful habits of corporate life their predecessors endured.
  • Tools drive culture. Understand that the tools you choose reflects your work ethic and culture. Integrate modern tools in every creative and operational process of the way you work.
  • Pick your partners carefully. Your sourcing strategy needs to include the partners you work with. Do they have the tools and ethos of the truly modern workforce? Do they practice these shifts in their own tools and ways of working? It should be obvious from your very first meeting with them. As a global business, we have found that our persistent yet fun approach really sets our global teams apart and that our clients love being brought along their journey. They actually crave this empowering and liberating approach, even if they don’t wear Vans (they’re shoes!) to work.
  • Drive cultural change from the top. If the leaders don’t lead by example and don’t continue to insist on these behaviours, the organisation will not change. Too often, we’ve seen well-meaning, and well-designed programs fail, not due to a lack of vision but to fortitude during execution. Companies have invested millions of dollars in collaboration equipment to languish unused due to a lack of training and change management. Culture is individual and collective behaviour repeated over time. It’s the “overtime” part where organisations often lack patience.
  • Create a culture of real-time transparency. Push information to be real-time and open. Read Ray Dalio’s book Life and Principles on radical transparency.
  • Think global talent. Scaling fast with skilled talent often requires that businesses adopt a global perspective on talent. It may go against the initial reaction to keep talent local, but many businesses have trouble attracting the best talent at an affordable price. In some areas, the local country has a dearth of a particular skill. Regardless of your size, businesses can now think globally. For some, the reality of cost pressures will continue to be front and centre for those businesses that want to scale and scale cost-effectively.

To stay relevant and competitive, the pressing opportunity is to recognise the inevitability of shifts like these and bring everybody on the journey of the modern enterprise.

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