As regional economies have started opening, many technology and business leaders have speculated on what the future of work will look like. This includes how and where work is done, whether it is conducted in a hybrid office/remote environment, along with how the work itself is sourced. 

According to a recent poll of more than 150 technology executives conducted by HMG Strategy, more than 75% of executives believe that work will either be ‘highly distributed’ with most employees working from home as of Q4 2020 or it will be ‘very distributed’, with at least a 70/30 split between remote workers and office staff.

HMG Strategy recently spoke with Maria Latushkin, Chief Technology Officer at Omada Health, to get her perspective on the changes that are unfolding in the business environment. Latushkin is an Advisory Board member and will be a speaker at HMG Strategy’s HMG Live! Silicon Valley CIO Virtual Summit on July 2.

HMG Strategy: As regional economies begin to open, what do you anticipate the near-term future of work will look like? For instance, do you expect to see many people returning to dedicated office spaces, or will we continue to see a high percentage of employees working from home?

Maria Latushkin: When we return to work, the way we work as well as our workplace itself will undoubtedly be very different from what we are accustomed to. 

Consider the office itself: Many companies designed offices with an open environment in mind, which will have to be reconsidered to allow for social distancing. This change, in turn, will pose the question of office space redesign, and ultimately put constraints on how many employees a given office space can accommodate as we return to work. 

Many of us will have to consider commute options and weigh the associated health risks. Some of us will have to balance the changing nature of family care given potential school day schedule modifications coming in the Fall. 

In the light of these and many other constraints, most organizations will have to prepare for a large portion of their workforce not being in the office on any given day. 

We also need to keep in mind that regional economies open at a different rate and companies have varying philosophies on the length of the work from home period, with some suggesting not opening their offices until the next year. These factors will require companies to prolong the virtual nature of external events, such as sales meetings and conferences. 

COVID taught us that we can work and be productive in a remote environment. Prior to March this year, if asked, many leaders would categorically state that their organization cannot operate in a fully remote fashion. This Spring, we learned that we can. We also learned that a fully remote environment creates fatigue, anxiety and feelings of isolation. The lines between work and home become increasingly blurred and the stress of juggling work and home commitments becomes overwhelming. 

As we return to work, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start looking at the time at the office as a way to connect with each other, foster relationships and strengthen the sense of belonging while we adopt a remote-first approach for driving organizational performance. 

The most important consideration is that once a certain portion of the employee base is working remotely, the whole company needs to become a remote-first organization. To remain productive, companies need to make major changes in how they communicate, document decisions, set expectations and conduct performance management.

Many have observed over the past few months that the rapid shift to digital work tools has positioned CIOs and technology executives well for their ability to help their organizations to pivot quickly. As we look to the future, what role might CIOs and technology executives play in helping to reimagine and design the future of business?

ML: The rapid shift to digital work made apparent the fact that the default ways of working will not suffice in this new environment.

For instance, with `hallway moments’ gone, organizations found themselves needing to be much more deliberate in communicating across available channels. 

As new employees join companies without the benefit of absorbing the culture – including norms and processes that are assimilated through simply being at the office - onboarding needs to become much more comprehensive. Finding space and facilities for creative work and brainstorming sessions becomes much more difficult in a remote environment. 

Most importantly, organizations need to find new ways of fostering psychological safety, trust and alignment, which are paramount to the health of any organization. 

There are several categories in which CIOs, and technology leaders in general, can help businesses make the transition. 

Whether large or small, all organizations will find bumps in the road in transitioning to the new digital channels for their day-to-day business. Whether we are talking about shifting to video as a default way of conducting business or incorporating messaging tools into core company workflows, technology leaders can use their expertise in designing, recommending and introducing solutions to their organizations that will make connectivity and communications as seamless as possible.

Technology leadership is a highly cross-functional role, and as a result, CIOs typically have insight in how most, if not all parts of the organization function and interact with one another. This unique vantage point can help CIOs provide insights and recommendations on reimagining and adapting business processes to the digital work mode. 

Possibly one of the most fundamental ways CIOs can help organizations thrive in this new work mode is through data. Having a comprehensive view of different data points and signals those data points provide across the organization, CIOs can help with putting governance and processes in place to enable business leaders to use the data to truly understand what is happening across the organization and workforce from monitoring business performance to measuring productivity.

Last, but not least, is Change Leadership. Introducing new concepts and implementing changes whether in processes, technology or tools is something that is very core to the nature of technology leadership as a profession, which positions CIOs very well in helping their organizations to pivot quickly.

From a high level, how do you expect the future of business to change? For instance, will we see an increase in digital business models being created? What other changes might be on the horizon? 

ML: As the world emerges in the post-COVID reality, the biggest change I foresee is what we continue to rely on physical interactions for and where we look for digital services. 

It takes about two months to form a new habit. During the past few months, as certain services were not available in their physical form, their digital counterparts gained strength - from healthcare to retail to fitness. As economies reopen, people will eagerly go back to the physical forms in some cases, and in others will find the digital business models more appealing.

For instance, the healthcare industry is going through a shift to increasing reliance on telehealth. With COVID, we found ourselves with limited access to physical healthcare for a period of time, which led providers to increased use of telehealth for the services that don’t absolutely require physical presence. As both patients and providers became more familiar with telehealth visits, this new form of care took root.

 Similarly, I see more reliance on AI in different aspects of the business, from process automation to customer interaction used to amplify the human touch. As an example, at Omada, we use AI to help amplify the work our coaches do, not automate it. One of the undeniable benefits of digital care is the fact that it happens to be at the participants’ service at all times. The ability to receive information from our participants as they go about their day, examine the different signals and draw insights from those signals through the use of AI is a powerful tool that our coaches use in order to offer the right interventions at the right time. At the end of the day, we rely on the power of human empathy in our treatment, but the suggestions we are able to offer our coaches through the use of AI allow us to do so at scale. 

The impact of COVID on the economy will undoubtedly lead businesses to look for ways to streamline costs and at the same time double down on creating unique value propositions to their customers. The digital forms of business carefully paired with human empathy allow to do both at scale.

To learn more about Maria Latushkin and other speakers at HMG Strategy’s HMG Live! Silicon Valley CIO Virtual Summit and to register for the event, click here.

To learn about additional HMG Live! events, click here.