The exigencies of the pandemic continue to bring new changes to the way we live and work, necessitating new tools and processes that will allow us to communicate and stay connected.
However, the questions and challenges raised go beyond the merely technical issues of smooth connections and clear video. As the future of work looks increasingly hybrid, how can companies continue to build a workplace culture? How might training new hires change in a remote workplace? How will physical offices change to incorporate the new technology and processes? And – especially relevant to the financial sector – what are the points of concern for compliance heavy industries when it comes to communicating internally and externally?
Executives from Logitech, specifically Mischa Sturzenegger Head of Global Accounts EMEA, and Bryan Lee, Head of Video Collaboration & Category Manager of Southeast Asia, recently had a conversation with several technology leaders from the Financial Services Industry (FSI).
The decision-makers discussed changes observed during the pandemic as organisations seek to maintain collaboration and communication while navigating unique challenges in the sector.
Challenges to moving forward
A clear challenge for all organisations at the start of the pandemic was adapting to collaboration online, having virtual meetings, and managing a dispersed workforce.
However, while the need to adapt has been urgent, attitudes and processes often need to be updated as well. Introducing new technology – whether software or hardware – into an organisation can face many bureaucratic hurdles.
These bureaucratic hurdles can be more challenging when the organisation involved is a multinational company, which typically deals with different vertical industries on a global scale.
For example, an IT vendor may try to introduce a product that usually works in retail banks located in certain regions. The problem is that this product might not be suitable in other countries where the bank is also operating.
Another roadblock that is particularly relevant to FSIs is the security of sensitive and critical information. IT teams face challenges incorporating new technology into FSIs that may be running on legacy systems, configuring the new systems to comply with existing policies, and understanding the threats around the systems used. Yet these new technologies are now crucial for an organisation to communicate and function internally, while maintaining ways to communicate externally with clients and partners.
Compounding this issue of security is also how the FSI has to manage regulations in different regions; some of which may not have technological familiarity or perspectives of global companies. For example, regulations may not yet recognise the nuances of new cloud technology. As a result, this may pose challenges to organisations seeking to adopt the cloud.
Nonetheless, despite these hurdles, change is afoot. The idea that the cloud is as secure – or perhaps even more secure – than on-premises systems is a newly established perspective that participants were observing. Mischa notes that there are banks in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) moving towards Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet from their previous on-premises systems, despite security concerns. This suggests that the new technology has now been evaluated as safe enough. Overall, it is a very different kind of conversation than a decade ago, where the thought of a bank having its systems on the cloud might have been unthinkable.
Implementing new tools across an organisation
As the workforce moves towards hybrid models where staff may be working from their homes or out of centralised offices, the distinction between corporate and consumer hardware and software become less clear.
On the other hand, a free-for-all where employees use any device and solutions they have would be a headache for IT and security management. This begs the question of whether implementation of new solutions and practices should be something strictly enforced from the top and standardised across an organisation, or should some flexibility be allowed – and if so, how much?
Participants suggested that control and oversight were still generally preferred, though they seem to have observed somewhat more flexibility in hardware, compared to software. Generally, financial institutions, like many large organisations, have certain central policies on using technology and providing awareness to individuals on what is approved and allowed – though whether they adhere to it is another issue.
Describing the situation in their own organisation, one of the FSI executives noted that as part of their policy, employees should use their existing enterprise solutions for internal communications. These are often equipped with the capability to invite external parties into communications should the need arise. However, if there is a clear need to incorporate other technologies – for example, collaboration meetings with other partners who strongly prefer a different solution – exceptions can be made. In a similar way, for employees requiring apps that are not in the list of approved software, there is a process of verification and justification before it can be allowed.
Flexible approaches to employees’ hardware
While there is a strong push to standardise the software used within an enterprise, there seems to be some flexibility when it comes to the hardware they use, particularly when the software is standardised and on the cloud.
One approach is for security teams to assess hardware by vendor or brand. Suggesting that organisations need to move away from prescribing and providing a limited range of approved devices, one of the leaders described an alternative where a security team assesses the security methodology and enforcements of particular vendors, to say that they are comfortable with any device from that vendor. These devices can be bought anywhere, rather than the company buying them en masse and making adjustments.
“I don’t think we live in that world anymore where we have to wait three weeks for a device when it can be bought on Amazon in two hours. I don’t think there’s an appetite for people to accept that anymore,” a tech officer said. “There needs to be a shift away from rigid policies, where organisations say, ‘We’re comfortable with these providers and you can use those types of providers on your device, and give people more flexibility’”.
In such a situation, while employees can get what they need faster and more conveniently, there may be issues with technical support. One possibility is that when particular brands of hardware are approved for employee use, the organisation also arranges for the vendors to establish dedicated tech support for their employees, or even outsource some of the support structures to the vendors.
This represents a more flexible approach by organisations: more conservative ones continue to require employees to use what has already been approved, and justify their use of any alternatives before they can be assessed. Ultimately, what participants suggested is that while the CIO and CTO often have the final say about whether new processes and technology can fit into the organisation’s architecture and strategic plans, this is not entirely top down: decision makers also have to stay responsive and open to hearing the business needs of their organisation’s teams, as well as the needs of partners and clients.
According to Bryan, interoperability becomes an important feature where software interrupt or hardware can be used to enable different platforms. “We try to solve this for customers by developing products such as Logitech Swytch, which can switch between Zoom/MS Teams environments. The Swytch is an example of tools that clients are looking at for multi-app environments.”
“On top of what we want to do as an organisation, at the end of the day we have clients,” reminded another decision-maker. “We need to work with them as well as we can. So if a client is really adamant that we use Zoom, then we have to find a way to use Zoom. If we’re not comfortable using it, as an organisation we have to find a way to adapt.”
The new normal of work
Since the pandemic began, there has been a major shift towards having the workforce outside the office: what was once nice to have is likely now a default, whether by an organisation’s choice or the need to safeguard public health. A recent survey by Jicara Media and Logitech found a near-even three-way split between respondents who felt that their organisation was more productive in the office, those that felt more productive at home, and those that felt equally productive.
Participants generally felt productivity had not suffered. While a remote workforce seemed an area that organisations were reluctant to invest in pre-COVID, once they were forced into a corner, they adapted quickly to the new situation. “We’ve shown that we can be productive: people who are productive in the office can be productive at home and vice versa. We just need to provide the right setup and support,” an executive said. For them, the question seems to be one of cultural norms.
“The struggle – especially in Southeast Asia, is the mentality that we need people in the office,” another FSI tech leader remarked. “We need people sitting there whether they’re productive or not, whether they get their work done in three hours or 10 hours.”
“Coming from Australia, it’s a little bit different. I think this has forced organisations to trust their employees more. If someone wants to find a way to be unproductive, they will find ways in the office, or find that at home,” the tech leader added.
Bryan observed that COVID-19 put companies and employers to the test, forcing them to manage employees in a way they previously were unwilling to accept. “The result [to productivity] doesn’t deteriorate; probably sometimes it improves, so they can trust employees working at home. This is a time where it gives the employer more assurance that remote work is working.”
Beyond concerns about productivity are also technical concerns about security, particularly for such a sensitive sector. Mandating the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) for employee access has helped provide some measure of protection, as have the new security tools being developed, though it is still a challenge for IT teams.
Another area of concern is data loss prevention. As an organisation now shares great quantities of its data across the cloud from employee laptops connected through personal ISPs (internet service providers), this becomes a challenge that teams have to manage.
“We’ve reached a point where people work from home en masse,” noted Bryan. “The focus for IT departments is supporting every employee. I think a proper enterprise management app is important and the preference is to keep it simple. If there is one brand or one app that manages everything, it will help IT departments a lot. That is definitely what Logitech is working towards,” he remarked.
Workplace culture and mental well-being
On the other hand, this accelerated shift has also highlighted some of the intangible benefits of having an office. Despite the rapid incorporation of messaging tools, digital whiteboards, and collaboration software, there is a sense that it cannot – or has not – reached the ease and interpersonal connection of merely turning to speak with someone next to you, or popping to a colleague’s cubicle for a chat.
Another area of concern is how workplace culture can be brought to new individuals joining the company. While video helps – and people are slowly getting used to the new ways of collaborating and working – the extent to which it can truly replicate interpersonal interaction in an office is an open question. For example, interns or new recruits being on-boarded can no longer learn by sitting next to experienced staff and observing them. These concerns – and the extent to which our online tools can help us mitigate them – will likely shape the eventual future of the workplace.
A key concern for participants was the toll on mental health that working from home takes, which can be driven by various factors. One is a sense of disconnect brought on by the lack of face-to-face interaction. This can be mitigated to an extent by video technology that enhances the user’s experience of using collaboration tools.
“Video enables us to be as productive as we were in the office,” said Mischa. “We have to be clear and honest with ourselves, it will not replace the small talk by the coffee machine or the socialising after work, but it helps connect people when they’re far apart. It’s a tool that’s now appreciated and is now business critical. COVID-19 helped push video into the mindset of people – that’s very interesting to see.”
Burnout is another significant factor, with work now being brought into the private sphere. Before COVID, many enjoyed the benefit of leaving their work in the office. Now that the work laptop is at home, it has become common for employees to put in work after dinner, or after spending time with their kids. Others even wake up earlier to finish work.
An important insight raised when evaluating the impact of working from home on mental well-being is how the concept of working from home actually varies widely depending on the location of the employee, the social norms within the country, and the internet infrastructure in place.
In Canada, for example, where homes are more spacious, and internet connectivity is excellent, working from home is much easier. But cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong which have smaller living spaces in highly urbanised environments may just not be as conducive – or even possible – for some. While internet connectivity is comparable between those places, paying attention to other factors like family size, the possibility of setting up a suitable workspace in the home, and individual privacy concerns can help organisations better employ technology, craft processes, and encourage norms that protect the well-being of their employees.
Discussing how communication technology will evolve into a future where remote work features strongly, participants recognised that a major shift has taken place, and it is unlikely to return to how things were pre-pandemic. Predictions for future technology include:
- A reduction in the number of devices for each employee: VPN and authentication technology may be available – for example, as an app – to be used on a wider range of devices, reducing the need to own multiple devices. An employee may eventually be able to access virtual desktops on cloud space securely through non-enterprise devices, removing the need for, say, a work laptop, and a home laptop.
- Enhanced collaboration tools: These may eventually allow multiple people to work on a document at the same time, and actively see what people are working on. A wider range of devices may be able to effectively run collaboration tools such as virtual white boards that could facilitate spontaneous meetings.
- Communication/Collaboration tools extended externally: Current tools for establishing communications and collaborations within an organisation may eventually be extended to customers or partners. This will allow banks to extend their reach – for instance, a Philippine bank can use these tools to engage with overseas Filipino workers (or OFWs) – and also help protect public health by reducing the necessity for in-person transactions at physical branches.
- Changes in the physical workspace: Participants observed that organisations across all sectors are still exploring what it means to “go back to work” and what exactly will be the new normal they put in place. Some traditional institutions—such as older banks—seem keen to bring back their workforce to the office, though the more modern ones appear open to shifting away from having staff fully in the office, unless the role demands it. As many organisations start to cut down on office space, different types of workplaces may be designed. For example, rather than having Central Business Districts within cities, there may be a shift towards decentralisation, where companies have smaller offices in various locations which staff can access for their business needs: meeting rooms, technical facilities, or spaces to meet clients.
- Convergence of consumer and enterprise technology: Organisations and vendors will need ways of managing consumer devices entering the enterprise world. Hardware will need to be adaptable to various software that are likely used in differing personal and business contexts. Enterprise management apps may also become important to allow IT departments effective ways to manage and serve employees.