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Eight lessons about the future of the digital workplace

Mark Twain claimed to “know a man who grabbed a cat by the tail and learned 40% more about cats than he knew before.” This year’s cat is named “COVID-19.” By holding onto its tail, we at Unisys have learned more in five months about securely working-from-home than we ever knew before.

Lesson 1 – Intelligent Automation – Before the pandemic, one of our customers invested heavily in automating their IT processes. By the end of 2019, they saw phenomenal reductions in the lead time for complex functions like employee onboarding, application provisioning and employee offboarding. They invested in this automation without anticipating the coronavirus, but were able to quickly put these automations to work for employees having to work from home for the first time. These employees could be quickly and automatically re-onboarded and re-provisioned with the new tools they need to work successfully from home: laptop, video collaboration tools, and so on.

Looking ahead to 2021, this client’s plans include enhancing these automations with artificial intelligence to guide a manager through the onboarding/offboarding/provisioning options. This same AI will also be available on every employee’s laptop, guiding the employee through unfamiliar processes as they learn to work from home.

Lesson 2 – Merged Reality – One of our most fascinating cases during the pandemic came from the healthcare industry, where practitioners were desperate for information and support, but equally anxious to keep their distance. Imagine life-saving equipment at a hospital failing, but repair technicians unable to travel to the site. Merged reality technology enabled remote experts to demonstrate in real time with hands-on assistance how the onsite user of the equipment might make the repairs and remain productive. Imagine a hospice care provider, restricted from visiting patients, showing a hospice patient’s spouse how to clean a port or administer sensitive treatments. Or a surgeon walking a small-town primary care physician through an unfamiliar procedure. Undeniably, there were lifesaving steps taken during the pandemic that would not have been easily accomplished without merged reality.

Lesson 3 – Virtual Desktops in the Cloud – Our third example comes from the public sector where a government agency made a heroic transition from working entirely on-prem to extensive remote work. In the office, the state employees used under-the-desk workstations with large monitors – equipment that was not going home with them. One option might have been to procure thousands of laptops to provision and take home, but with supply chains abruptly interrupted, that was not possible. Instead, the agency transferred their physical desktop contents to the cloud, allowing employees to connect to virtual desktops from their personal devices at home. Of course, this technology requires high connectivity, so it is not for everyone, but it works brilliantly for information workers. Looking beyond the pandemic, enabling virtual desktops in the cloud has the side benefit that the state can “cloud-burst” – quickly expanding from on-prem capacity to the cloud when demand for computing capacity strikes.

Lesson 4 – Personas – Enterprises that put some thought into differentiating their employees’ digital workplace and support requirements by “persona” found it much easier to keep those employees productive during the pandemic. For example, the air cargo industry, which played a vital role during the pandemic, needed highly responsive and personalized support services for such roles as:

  1. Information Workers in marketing, HR, and accounting roles (who tend to work in a traditional office environment) continue to use standard service desk support – call the desk, report a problem, get a call back – or perhaps use a nearby IT locker where they leave a laptop to be repaired one day and retrieve it the next without undue inconvenience.
  2. Flight Crews, on the other hand, have entirely different support needs. They are too mobile to get a call back and they might be an ocean away by the time a tablet or smartphone gets repaired. Their support needs are best met with a Tech Café in or near the flight briefing room where they get immediate in-person help. During the pandemic, the Tech Café can be converted to a virtual Tech Café that uses merged reality to enforce social distancing.
  3. The third persona is the Flight Maintenance Crews who do not have a set physical office and use shared PCs in various locations to do their job. Generally on a tight schedule, they do not want to go to a Tech Café or call the service desk for help. For this persona, a Tech Button on each PC offers the capability to automatically create a ticket to have a technician swap out the defective device as soon as possible.

Lesson 5 – Sentiment Analysis – There are multiple studies showing that happy employees are productive employees. Yet, too often leaders have trouble discerning who is unhappy and why they are unhappy – and, therefore, they are unable to help those employees. Sentiment analysis collects data on the service desk interactions of each user, ascribes an emotion to each interaction, and highlights trends (both positive and negative) that leaders can use to determine where they need to take action. For example, did the switch to Zoom improve user satisfaction or not? How do employees feel about the latest Windows updates? By taking their emotional “temperature” this way, leaders can rapidly correct problems and ensure productivity.