Four ways leaders can equip people for how work gets done

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Tech and tools empower people to do their best work, writes Colin Erasmus, COO at Microsoft South Africa.

South African employees embrace working with new technologies and rate it highly in their career progression. According to research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 36 percent rate it in their top three desires – higher than the global average of 27 percent.

Microsoft most recently conducted a survey to take stock of how people feel about the digital tools they use today and which of those they will need to succeed in the future. The survey, which included 2,700 employees and 1,800 business decision-makers from various job functions and industries – from marketing, sales, and customer service to finance, supply chain, and IT – yielded interesting results.

According to the survey feedback, four key principles emerged that can guide business leaders in 2023:

1. Empower people by involving them in new technology initiatives from the start

Today’s employees are hungry for better digital tools: 87 percent of employees believe pursuing digital transformation is more important now than ever before. While 84 percent of surveyed business decision makers say digital transformation projects remain a top priority, 61 percent of employees say they are not an integral part of that process.
The majority – 85 percent – agree that people across all departments need to be involved. And organisations that have put their people at the heart of digital transformation efforts have seen the value. For instance, Investec, the banking and wealth management group adopted a cloud-first strategy, and involved all people from the start through intensive training and certification. There has been a 43 percent reduction in costs, with the cloud offering a pay-as-you-use model that allows development teams to build and test solutions and applications on demand.

2. Use collaborative apps to stay connected and share information in the flow of work

Flexible work is here to stay. The BCG research found that it is still the preferred work model, with nearly 60 percent of South Africans favouring that way of working over fully on-site.
As organisations navigate this new world of work, 85 percent of employees cited collaboration tools as one of the most necessary parts of their company’s digital transformation efforts. People want to be able to collaborate with their colleagues and partners right then and there, whether they’re working on a customer situation or trying to resolve a supply chain issue. Collaboration capabilities need to be infused and embedded in everything we do.
Asked what would work best for them, 86 percent pointed to the same solution: a single, centralised platform or portal where teams can collaborate in multiple ways. Where companies have invested in centralised tools, productivity and collaboration have improved.

3. Accelerate innovation by equipping anyone in the organisation with low-code tools

We’ve entered a new phase, where people are using low-code and no-code tools to create new apps and experiment with new ways of engaging with customers, managing and automating processes, or accessing business insights.
Nearly nine in 10 people with access to low-code tools said the tools help the organisation automate repetitive or menial tasks, reduce costs, improve analytical capabilities, better manage data, and foster innovation.

4. Help people feel more fulfilled and engaged by implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automating busywork

Automating mundane interactions – like password reset requests to a call centre – has the power to substantially improve both the employee and customer experience, not to mention a company’s bottom line.
The same goes for AI. Banking group Nedbank, for example, deployed an AI-powered virtual assistant to help customers. In a matter of four months, the technology was handling 80 percent of inquiries at 10 percent of the cost. Staff were freed up to provide higher-value services to customers. For those that do have access to automation and AI-powered tools, the vast majority (89 percent) feel more fulfilled because they can spend time on work that truly matters. The ultimate goal is for anyone in the organisation to have access to all the information they need, and to be able to put it together in a way that they feel is useful. That’s the future of work.

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