Covid-19 has brought with it an unprecedented shift in the way we work, with vast proportions of the global workforce shifting to working remotely almost overnight. The conversation mostly focuses on what will happen to the physical workplace in light of this shift and how the physical workplace needs to change in order to stay relevant.
There is somewhat less focus, however, on what needs to happen virtually in order for businesses and employees to function smoothly, and what platforms to use for this physical virtual shift to take place seamlessly and stay effective.
The Working in the Matrix webinar looked to deal with this subject and answer some of the questions regarding virtual work platforms. Working in the Matrix was organised by The Sunday Morning Brunch in partnership with Microsoft Sri Lanka, with an eminent panel of business leaders whose companies have adapted to working virtually, not simply in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic but in a larger sense, recognising remote working as an integral part of future work. The panel included Microsoft Sri Lanka and the Maldives Country Director Hasitha Abeywardena, AIA Sri Lanka Chief Technology Officer Umeshi De Fonseka, and Nations Trust Bank Plc Chief Information Officer Sajith Sameera.
Virtual work platforms are software that combine multi-aspects of business functions like email, chat, file sharing, and video conferencing into one cohesive platform for smooth working processes and workflows. Abeywardena commented that work is not a place you go to simply work; it’s a place to meet people and be part of a culture, and it is for businesses to reimagine how their workplaces and culture can go virtual with the help of a virtual work platform.
On integrating businesses to virtual work platforms, Sameera commented that in NTB’s case, the company was already using Microsoft Teams as a virtual workplace platform but it was used within the physical office, and many people didn’t use it fully or used it only for particular things. The shift to needing to work virtually during the pandemic opened lots of eyes to the functionality and versatility of a platform like Microsoft Teams, with the ability to email, share files, meet via video or chat; all being possible with minimal disruption within the platform.
De Fonseka shared that AIA Sri Lanka also was one of those companies that adapted early on to Microsoft Teams, integrating to the platform in early-2019. With the pandemic and lockdown, this left them fairly well-prepared for integrating to working remotely. There were issues, but this was more to do with the whole country going into lockdown, and were overcome fairly quickly with business as usual seeing almost no interruption.
Discussing the limitations of virtual work platforms, Abeywardena commented that the main challenge would be getting people to commit to it and to use it properly, which can be more challenging for some employees more than others. Disciplined practices like sticking to meeting times and working hours are also something that needs to be paid attention to when adapting to virtual work platforms.
Maintaining employee engagement is also important. Checking in to work, whether virtually or physically doesn’t equal productivity. Effectively allocating work and monitoring performance is something to be considered. There are systems for this in virtual work platforms like Microsoft Teams. Managers need to be more proactive with allocating work and ensuring employees are able to do the work assigned to them in a virtual setting.
On maintaining security, particularly the security of information, Sameera weighed in sharing that this will fall on companies to ensure that information is shared securely and only through the virtual work platforms. In the case of NTB, Sameera explained, employees are only allowed to access the platform on devices provided by NTB, and that sharing information across any other devices would be a violation of security. In terms of strengthening security within the platform, Sameera shared that this can often be achieved through the use of specific add-ons and security patches.
Abeywardena stressed that it is important for virtual work platforms to be appropriately licensed, and while this can be an expense, a real security breach can cost companies a lot more money in the long run.
The panel also spoke about work-life balance. De Fonseka shared that while virtual work platforms are meant for work, they can also sometimes be used for social connection, sharing that AIA held a small virtual event via Microsoft Teams to mark Avurudu during the pandemic. Employees should also be given breathing space, with less of a “work, work, work” approach.
Abeywardena and Sameera both commented on how work going forward would become a hybrid of virtual work and coming into the office and that maintaining work-life balance would require setting and understanding boundaries, and taking small steps like creating an office space at home and making it clear to those working at home with families that though they are at home, they are still in fact working and are not to be disturbed.
The panel also addressed paperwork and virtual work platforms, with Abeywardena sharing that paperwork is set to become a thing of the past, and that there is functionality within virtual work platforms for companies to go paperless, but that it is up to companies to reimagine systems and processes to facilitate this.
In closing, the panel noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge catalyst for digital transformation, condensing two years of digital transformation into two months, and that this transformation will give rise to lots of new policies and systems that will make it easier to function in a world that blends physical and digital, both on a personal and professional level.