Feb 24 2021

CDW Tech Talk: How Dynamic Technology Enables a More Flexible Workforce

The changes to our workforce are likely to stick with us post-pandemic. For a successful shift, find tools that meet employee needs and keep leadership in the conversation.

The time before the pandemic might feel a little hazy, given everything that has happened in the past 11 months, but according to Jorge Perez, vice president for the North America Client Solutions Group for Dell Technologies, research shows that the working world was already moving in an increasingly remote direction. The pandemic just sped things up.

Before the pandemic, 27 percent of workers in the U.S. and 28 percent globally were in primarily remote roles, and those rates nearly doubled as a result of the pandemic, according to a study Dell conducted with Illuminas in the fall.

“What we’re seeing is what we call the decoupling of work, location, geography, careers and even wages, and each element is bringing essentially independent variables into this equation,” Perez said during a 2021 CDW Tech Talk series session on technology’s role in the evolution of the workforce during the pandemic.

He emphasized that Dell expects most workers to return to a physical workplace as COVID-19 vaccination becomes more widespread. But over time, it predicts, many workers will go back to a more remote workflow, especially in fields built around knowledge workers, many of whom will fit into the gig economy.

“The benefits of a remote working scenario will start to outweigh the benefits of having 70 or 80 percent of the workforce in an office, and companies will adjust,” Perez explained.

Technology Is at the Center of the Remote Shift

Technology will play a significant role in how this shift will happen. For example, Dell anticipates that the desktop computer category will become less prevalent as the workforce makes permanent shifts and that IT infrastructure will increasingly fit into an “as a service” model, Perez said.

Technology will also become more collaborative, said Perez, highlighting a series of monitors with built-in videoconferencing integrations with Microsoft Teams. Not only does new technology make employees happy, he said, but poor technology will also make it harder for companies to attract and retain employees.

Keeping Work Moving Onsite

Of course, not everyone is able to work offsite — for example, North Valley Health Center in Minnesota. The rural medical facility had to change its technology offerings overnight to match a sudden need: building curbside COVID-19 testing facilities for the surrounding community.

Josh Benson, the IT manager for North Valley, highlighted how this required a more portable technology solution. The health center eventually came across a mobile cart solution from Ergotron.

“We were really trying to identify the different ways that this was going to change the way we took care of patients,” he said.

Helping Benson find a solution was Quinn Chapman, a healthcare account manager for CDW•G. Chapman explained that shipping costs were high because of the equipment’s weight, but a little creativity helped clear that hurdle.

“We were able to pull the equipment out of the Minneapolis-based warehouse and get all the carts onsite free of charge,” he said.

Benson noted that employees often played a role in this conversation, with the technology decisions predicated on worker needs.

“Almost every kind of workflow change we had to make — our nurses, our medical staff, lab technicians, everybody — they were involved in figuring out how we were going to address the problems and challenges that they were facing,” he said.

Chapman added that empathy is important when adding technology in any situation.

“A lot of this transformation is being driven from a technological standpoint, but I’m never looking to come in and capitalize on a negative situation,” he said. “It’s always, ‘How can we support you?’”

Leadership’s Role in the Transformation Conversation

In the end, management and the human resources department, not just the IT department, will drive much of the conversation over where the workforce goes.

Dell effectively went remote over the span of a weekend, a move Perez said was driven by human resources and collaboration concerns: “The first set of discussions and meetings was less around ‘what type of technology do we need?’ and it was almost exclusively around ‘what does this mean from a people standpoint?’”

Perez said that would likely continue over time and would involve leadership as much as the HR department. “Anything that’s related to people and culture is really a CEO-level decision, in my opinion,” he said.

Not every CEO will feel the same way, he said, noting the differences between major companies such as Facebook, which appears to be encouraging a permanent shift to remote work, and Netflix, which expects to bring workers back to the office.

It comes down to the culture that employers want to encourage, he explained.

“One of the things that we try to stress is that, believe it or not, this is actually an investment in your culture — what type of culture you want to drive,” Perez said.

These discussions drive technology decisions as well. Detailing his own organization’s shifts during the pandemic, Benson explained that he started by talking with stakeholders in the organization to understand what they need to be successful.

“Once you understand that, then you can maybe have some more difficult conversations about the compromises that may need to be made, either from an organization standpoint or from a management or employee standpoint,” he said.

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of the CDW Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for the event series here.

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