Q&A: Providing differentiation and choice are key to remaining competitive

Inside HR interviews Safi Obeidullah, Field Chief Technology Officer at Citrix about how providing differentiation and choice are key to remaining competitive – themes all HR professionals should consider in 2021.

1. Explain how and why differentiation and choice are key to remaining competitive in 2021?

In 2020, we had a growing number of Australian business leaders turn to Citrix to adjust their business priorities to focus on providing flexible work models that ensured the safety and productivity of their employees, and maintained ongoing business operations.

One of the most surprising outcomes from this situation – which we discovered in our Australian Housing Survey – was that Australian employees were not only able to embrace working from home but also remained just as productive. In fact, one in two respondents (49 per cent) believed their productivity levels were higher.

This year, we expect a continued focus on secure, flexible working. Employees have become accustomed to choosing where, when, and how they work, and business leaders now recognise that by giving employees the space they need to succeed, they can unlock their engagement and performance.

The real competitive differentiator for companies in 2021 will be getting the employee experience right. Why? Because improving the experience of employees can ultimately improve the experience of their customers.

Simply, employees can’t have a great experience – and deliver great work – if they don’t have the right tools at their fingertips. Workplace technology needs to be calibrated to simplify work so it is efficient, effective and unobtrusive, especially now with a much more distributed workforce.

We must keep in mind however, that technology isn’t a panacea for an ailing employee experience. There’s much more to it. There is a delicate science behind integrating workplace technologies into the working lives of employees to unlock advantage. This means the collaboration between HR and IT teams is now more vital than ever, to uncover seamless interactions and experiences that all employees have come to expect.

The real competitive differentiator for companies in 2021 will be getting the employee experience right. Why? Because improving the experience of employees can ultimately improve the experience of their customers.

2. What specific actions can HR professionals take to capitalise on opportunities to bolster competitiveness?

The general operation and hiring practices of today’s human resources function is key to creating teams and motivating employees to help an organisation stay competitive.

While every workplace operates differently, a few simple adjustments HR professionals can make to drive employee engagement and unlock the advantage of intelligent workplaces are:

  • Rethink what “workplace” means and create digital environments that accommodate new work models, to attract previously inaccessible pools of highly skilled talent According to our recent Talent Accelerator Survey, 88 per cent of employees stated that when searching for a new position they sought out organisations that offer complete flexibility. In fact, com.au has even added ‘working from home’ as a filter option for job seekers.
  • Develop career agility in employees to keep their teams’ skills on pace with changing technology and processes Our Work 2035 survey confirmed that 62 per cent of HR directors believe workers will need to hone their current skills or acquire new ones at least once a year to maintain competitive advantage in a global job market, in particular as we see new roles emerging such as AI trainers, advanced data scientists, and privacy managers.
  • Prioritise digital wellbeing to decrease digital distraction and employee burnout Today’s employees can connect to the office anywhere, anytime, but it doesn’t mean they should. Two in three employees (67 per cent) believe being “always on” has a significant negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Technology can in fact enable intelligent filtering and prioritisation, showing employees only what they need at the time they need it, deferring other notifications and tasks as necessary.

3. How can business leaders manage and/or measure the actions afterwards; e.g. there is mention of identifying signs of burnout while employees WFH, which would be a management concern if HR professionals adopt a hybrid or purely remote workforce?

Organisations have traditionally placed a heavier focus on the physical wellbeing of their employees while mental, spiritual and emotional aspects often took a backseat. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly propelled employee wellbeing right to the top of the business agenda.

The uptake in hybrid work models does now mean that managers are not able to always identify employee burnout by sight (i.e. physically in the workplace), forcing business leaders and human resource managers to rethink strategies for how technology can foster better digital wellness in their employees.

So, what’s the secret? Social connection and creating a sense of ‘belonging’. At Citrix, there are a few ways we keep employees connected to each other to identify disconnect and burnout, including:

  • Establish personal connection – ‘Water cooler’ conversations happen naturally in an office setting but is more difficult remotely. We take the time to ask colleagues about what they did over the weekend over a virtual coffee, or give a shout out for good work in team catch-ups held online.
  • Ensure the entire team is heard — During virtual meetings, our round-robin dialogues are great for getting input from everyone. And we change up our meeting ownership to encourage a sense of shared leadership.
  • Use the camera — When we are on camera, we are more focused and less likely to be distracted by multitasking. Cameras also show us a colleague’s body language and allows everyone to better understand and engage with one another.
  • Encourage breaks – When remote working it can be very easy to simply go from one virtual meeting to the next; those natural breaks that existed in the physical office between meetings no longer exist. In addition, working from home can often result in work hours extending; especially now without a commute. It’s important that employees are encouraged to take breaks, go for a walk outside, got to the gym – to try and bring back some of those breaks from work. Leaders should ensure they are leading by example here also.

The uptake in hybrid work models does now mean that managers are not able to always identify employee burnout by sight, forcing business leaders and human resource managers to rethink strategies for how technology can foster better digital wellness in their employees.

If we couple this with giving employees more control over their workplace technology – prioritising tools that reduce distraction – and reserving unplugged whitespace time for your team, organisations will be able to drive a culture of wellness that will keep burnout at bay.

We know organisations cannot succeed without its people, and as employee experience and wellbeing takes centre stage, the future of work is set to become incredibly human. The unintended implications of the pandemic have certainly helped to bring humanity and empathy back to our conversations about work.