By Sara Castellanos
Information-technology leaders are ramping up investments in
collaboration tools and automating repetitive tasks as they
reimagine a new era of "hybrid" work in the coming months, with
employees splitting time between their homes and physical
Atlassian Corp. is experimenting with virtual avatars to lessen
so-called Zoom fatigue. PepsiCo Inc. is exploring how to automate
business processes to free up time for employees. Meanwhile,
SurveyMonkey Inc. is testing a way to answer many IT-related
questions through artificial intelligence-based chatbots. The U.S.
division of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP has developed an app that
allows employees to reserve physical workspaces.
Even though the efforts aren't uniform, chief information
officers are rethinking the tech and processes that have guided
their companies over the past year of remote work. Some believe
physical offices will be reserved for employees whose life
circumstances don't allow them to work remotely, as well as for
face-to-face client meetings. Tasks that require individual
concentration would be handled from home.
Technology that helps promote collaboration and feelings of
inclusiveness among all employees, regardless of their location, is
becoming even more critical, said Archana Rao, CIO at Australian
business-productivity software maker Atlassian. "(CIOs) are
beginning to worry about how we are going to find solutions to
create belonging and trust, and how we really ensure a strong
company culture," she said.
The Sydney-based company's executives recently issued a
companywide mandate requiring employees in shared spaces to call
into video meetings from separate computers, even if they are in
the office, so that remote workers don't feel left out, Ms. Rao
The majority of Atlassian's 5,750 employees world-wide are
currently working remotely, with the company last July announcing
they aren't required to come back to an office.
Along the same lines, an Atlassian team formed over the past
year dedicated to managing the workforce's collaboration tool is
experimenting with "futuristic" videoconferencing solutions that
include employees using virtual avatars on video calls instead of
their real faces, Ms. Rao said. "People do get tired of being in
that box on the screen all day long," she said.
Business reliance on such tools will only increase with hybrid
work. The world-wide market for so-called social software and
collaboration tools is forecast to grow to $4.5 billion in 2021, up
from 17% over last year, according to technology research firm
IT leaders are thinking about what it means to support
innovation in a hybrid world, said John-David Lovelock, chief
forecaster at Gartner. "It's now moving to more about what the new
'anywhere employee' is going to look like," he said.
"The office is really not going to be a place for solitude
email," said Seth Cohen, global CIO of beverage maker PepsiCo Inc.
"It's going to be more of a place for collaboration." Some
employees, however, may need to go to the office more often than
others because their home environment might not be conducive to
productive work, he added.
Mr. Cohen is exploring the use of advanced analytics to
determine, for example, whether people are using conference rooms.
Real-time data will help the company repurpose rooms based on
Most of PepsiCo's approximately 120,000 employees in corporate
positions in the U.S. are continuing to work remotely and the
Purchase, N.Y.-based company expects to begin reopening some of its
offices this summer and ramp up capacity over time, he said.
For years, CIOs have been focused on how technology can be used
to improve the experience of business customers. But with remote
and now hybrid work, they are turning their attention to technology
that makes employees lives' easier, said Eric Johnson, CIO at
online-survey software maker SurveyMonkey.
Mr. Johnson recently began testing how an AI-based chatbot made
by software maker Espressive Inc. can automatically answer common
IT-related questions such as how to reset passwords. Such a tool
will be useful for employees in the new hybrid mode because they'll
get real-time support regardless of what time zone they are in and
whether the help desk is open or not, he said.
"(Employee) experience is becoming a much more important part of
business strategy," Mr. Johnson said.
The San Mateo, Calif.-based company's more than 1,300 employees
are working remotely with tentative plans to go back to offices no
earlier than July, he said.
Professional services and technology firm PwC's 55,000 employees
in the U.S. and Mexico are still working remotely and some U.S.
employees are planning to go back to offices at a limited capacity
beginning in May, said Joe Atkinson, chief products and technology
officer of PwC's U.S. division.
When they go back, they will use a proprietary app called Astro
to reserve physical workspaces and conference rooms before they
enter the building. Astro will also include an in-app badge that
allows employees into the office only if they are approved to be
there on a specific day and time, based on social-distancing
guidelines and health checks.
"Return-to-work in a hybrid mode (is) going to require some
innovative technology," Mr. Atkinson said.
Write to Sara Castellanos at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 12, 2021 17:32 ET (21:32 GMT)
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