As the pandemic moves to a new phase in some countries, FT Longitude’s editorial team discusses how tech firms, which have been so successful over the past 12 months, must adapt their thought leadership to yet another new situation.
In some countries, the coming months will herald some kind of return to the offices that most of us abandoned in March 2020. This will be a big change, and one that creates new challenges for thought leadership.
Like the rest of us, thought leadership teams have had to adapt to new ways of working over the past 12 months: content campaigns have been adjusted and readjusted, research programmes have been rescoped, and the teams themselves have learned to be agile.
Tech firms have seen their power and influence grow during the crisis, and their thought leadership and messaging has had to adapt faster, perhaps, than any other industry. Theirs is an audience that expects nothing less.
So, what now, as firms in many countries shift away from wholesale remote working – or start to explore a hybrid approach? Here, our resident tech experts help explain how technology firms can stay visible, relevant and influential in this new world of work.
Go beyond the tech comfort zone
When Covid-19 first kicked in back in early 2020, terms like ‘fire-fighting’ and ‘damage-control’ became commonplace as companies rushed to respond, with little insight into the longer-term impact of quick decision-making and operational pivots. Now, as businesses navigate the recovery phase and seek to make lasting changes for the better, we are seeing a much more considered approach to workplace transformation.
Soon, remote working will no longer just mean working from home. It will mean working from anywhere: coffee shops, client offices, workplace hubs or on the commute (whatever that may look like). This hybrid ‘workplace’ will force yet another corporate mindset shift that needs to be moulded if businesses are to maximise growth, productivity, employee wellbeing and the sustainability agenda.
Technology firms will form the backbone of any modern, hybrid workplace, which means they might need to move on their thought leadership even more quickly than their own offering. With all businesses now digital businesses, leaders are looking to these tech firms to drive the conversation on a range of topics that reach far beyond their traditional remit:
- What does the hybrid workforce model look like?
- How can it be designed to support happier, healthier people and the planet?
- How must firms ensure equal opportunities across those who are remote and on-premises, and how can emerging technologies help?
- How do organisations balance employee productivity with emotional wellbeing?
As business leaders seek to understand the broader impact of technology investment on areas like this, tech firms should expand the discussion beyond their own offerings, and help to shape a future that works for all.
Laura Adcock, Senior editor (technology)
Organisational culture needs a tech view
Adoption of digital technologies in the past year has already had a significant impact on organisational culture. The speed at which employees can adopt new tools and technologies critical to their day-to-day operations was a differentiator a year ago. Today, this is the basics: organisations without a strong digital culture simply will not survive.
The good news? People have shown they can adopt new technologies quickly and at scale.
The downside, however, is that the sheer number of tools at employees’ disposal and the constant access to instant messages and email have had a negative impact on people’s work-life balance, unwittingly promoting an ‘always-on’ culture. Organisations will need to find a balance between implementing new technologies and developing their digital capabilities, and creating an empathetic, healthy work culture that promotes employee wellbeing.
Technology might be able to help, with platforms such as Unmind supporting employee wellbeing. Ultimately, tech firms need to show their employees as well as their customers that they understand the impact of new ways of working on their professional and personal lives.
Tech thought leadership so often revolves around technology itself. Now, it is time to go beyond that and address the cultural and societal effects of that technology. That said, words without action can undermine thought leadership, so organisations must show they are willing to act on those insights.
Desi Kozareva, writer and editor
Accelerated digitalisation has risks and rewards
Across industries, the pandemic has rapidly accelerated digital transformation plans. Organisations that had been in the early stages of their digitalisation journey have been forced to transition at scale to a predominantly digital model.
For many, this will mean making complex and high-stakes decisions about which platforms to invest in, how to train employees, and – crucially – how they can minimise any disruption to their customers.
The benefits of rapid digitalisation include a more agile workforce and in many cases greater customer and employee satisfaction. And while for many the shift to digital will have required an upfront investment, it is likely to drive savings over the long term: more streamlined and efficient processes, more competitive services to a broader market, and (potentially) reduced real estate costs.
But digital transformation at warp speed also comes with a high degree of risk. There is, of course, the serious issue of cyber security. But the risk does not end there.
Leaders must take a strategic approach to ensure digitalisation engages with rather than alienates their customers and employees. Larger and more established firms will face the challenge of integrating new technologies with legacy infrastructure – something that must be carefully managed to avoid service disruptions and, over the longer term, data silos. Sectors such as financial services, meanwhile, will have to address regulatory challenges and ensure that any new technologies meet industry standards.
What does all this mean for tech thought leadership? In these uncertain times, business leaders are hungry for evidence-based insights about the risks and rewards of digitalisation and what divides the trailblazers from the slow-movers. Carefully designed research can provide this, and offer a roadmap for organisations that are struggling to navigate the new normal. Their questions are waiting to be answered.
Hannah Freegard, managing editor