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How to successfully head back to the office | Key insights from technology leaders

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With lockdown restrictions having been lifted in the UK, many organisations are looking to return to the office.

But while some employees want to jump straight back into the workplace, others are reticent. So, how can businesses help alleviate concerns about the return to the office?

Below, business leaders from a variety of tech companies have shared their reflections on what the future of work will look like and how best to welcome workers back into the office.

 

Clare LoveridgeClare Loveridge, Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Arctic Wolf

“As teams gradually return to the office, many businesses are still working out what this means for their future operations. For many, this is bringing a whole new set of cybersecurity challenges, which in some cases are even more complex than going fully remote was a year ago. If worker devices continue to move between different networks, their company security can quite easily be compromised, identity and access management becomes harder, misconfigurations are easier to miss — all increasing cyber risk.

It is therefore vital that organisations, of any shape and size, are actively taking the time to review their security practices and protocols, with a hybrid, often disparate networks, in mind. Businesses must ask themselves these questions; how fast they can react to an incident; how quickly they can pivot from investigation to containment, and how well do they know the environment and what runs within it? Only then can freedom from cyber risk be truly realised.”

Simon O’KaneSimon O’Kane, Head of EMEA at Asana

“With pandemic restrictions having lifted in the UK, many Brits are evaluating how and where they want to work. At Asana we champion an office-centric approach, while other organisations may prefer to return to the office, shift to a hybrid working model or remain fully remote. No matter how companies choose to work, prioritising tools that enable clarity and accountability for all their staff is key, no matter where, when, or how they are working. But, without a clear blueprint for hybrid work, providing clarity and collaboration across the organisation is a massive obstacle.

In response to the sudden shift to remote work, many companies rushed to introduce a plethora of apps. But 18 months on, it’s clear that teams spend far too much time switching between apps to source information and updates. In fact, Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index showed that knowledge workers switch between 10 apps 25 times per day since shifting to remote work, resulting in longer hours and higher burnout rates across the country.

To tackle this issue and prepare for the next wave of work, organisations need to evaluate and streamline their tech stack. Businesses must eliminate the tools they don’t use while integrating the ones they do into a single platform that removes information silos and drives clarity even when distributed across locations and time zones. Now is the time for organisations globally to reset and reimagine the way they work for the better.”

Asam AkhtarAsam Akhtar, Channel Manager, UK at Envoy

“One thing I’ve learned from the pandemic is that employees want and expect the freedom to choose how, when, and where they work. And for many, that means a hybrid work schedule.  They also expect to return to a safe environment.

To encourage a speedy return, leaders should invest in tech that keeps people safe. Tools that can track workplace density to help ensure social distancing. Technology that can verify vaccine status – or can survey and screen employees before they come into the office.  Rather than relying on gut instinct, use workplace analytics to help guide your next steps. From employee health surveys to aggregated data on how often employees are going in, these insights can provide valuable guidance in setting policies and reconfiguring workspaces.

Data on how many people work on-site each day can help managers right-size the office layout and minimize wasted space.

This kind of data-driven decision-making is going to be critical to rebuilding an office model that works for everyone and offers employees the right resources to do their jobs effectively.”

Dominic AllonDominic Allon, CEO at Pipedrive

“The ‘work wherever, live wherever’ landscape is here to stay and is only the beginning of a continued digital evolution. IT improvements are often confused with true digital transformation. Upgrading your hardware and software is just the start, but acquiring maturing technologies that use innovative data processing methods to automate practices that transform your business for the better is the real future.

Businesses globally have proven throughout the pandemic that a rapid shift in digital mentality is possible, and it is vital that we continue on this trajectory. Successful organisations will continue to adapt to their users’ and customers’ needs. State-of-the-art machine learning tools can now monitor, in real-time, trends, variations, anomalies and foresee any potential errors. Automation is not only what your business needs, but it is what your customer wants.

Replacing human interactions with artificial intelligence will allow for a faster, omnichannel and data-backed positive customer experience. More importantly, these tools will continuously adapt their process and provide feedback and actionable insights about customers back to your business, which can be used to improve marketing, sales and customer service practices. Unifying valuable information to create a customer-centric approach will continue to play a vital role for organisations of all sizes in the coming years.”

Stuart TempletonStuart Templeton, Head of UK at Slack

“The pandemic has shown us that the office is no longer the ‘gold standard’ of productivity. Less time wasted in rush hour commutes means more time to spend on things that really add value. Flexible work also helps retain employees who need to shape work around life in different ways. Businesses must therefore use this moment to take learnings from the past year, and reimagine the future of work. This is crucial as our recent research of over 1,000 UK knowledge workers, examining current working habits and how employees feel about the future of work, found that the majority (42%) of UK employees who have worked from home in the last year are concerned they won’t have the same level of flexible working in the future.

While every organisation will approach this challenge differently, staying aligned must remain the top priority for all business leaders. Now that physical offices are so much less a part of the employee experience, having a digital headquarters—a central place for work and social interactions—has become critical. It’s not just a reflection of flexible, asynchronous work; it’s also an enabler of it.”

Damien BrophyDamien Brophy, Vice President EMEA at ThoughtSpot

“The future of work will be characterised by insights at the core of everything. Not only will every employee be expected and empowered to find insights, but connecting systems together means those insights will trigger actions across the business. This is the evolution of work. Not just more informed, but insights powering processes.

It’s people enabled by modern technology (machine learning, AI, and automation) to drive innovation, uncover hidden insights, and provide business value, using self-service analytics to answer urgent problems.

A world where users can simply ask and answer questions without sifting through data. The future of work will revolve around AI-driven insights using algorithms to uncover hidden insights automatically, surfacing answers to questions that staff didn’t think to ask, yet.

With this freedom we are all empowered to provide more business value using less time and effort. Imagine spending less time writing reports and more time refining business processes, improving operations, reducing financial risks, simply doing the job much better, and adding ever-more more value. Where workers can change the way business is done and how their customers are served through smarter insights, quicker answers, and deeper, more inclusive thought, it’s positively redefining the future of work.”

Jamie MilroyJamie Milroy, CEO & Co-Founder, DASH Rides

“September marked a gradual return to the workplace for a huge raft of employees as organisations kick-started their return to the office strategies. Whilst the transition back to a physical workplace will be welcomed by many, enterprises need to demonstrate that they are empowering people with safe and sustainable travel options.

After almost two years of being in and out of national lockdowns, our relationship with the daily commute has irrevocably changed. Employees are increasingly calling out for new modes of travel that improves their health, wellbeing and productivity but their environmental footprint too. With many UK workers citing the daily commute as a barrier to a full-time return to the office and 82% stating they would like their employer to use COVID as a catalyst to revamp their employee benefits, such as travel or cycle to work schemes, we’re already seeing sustainable travel become central to the future of work.

Attitudes around work have fundamentally changed and as we begin to build a ‘new normal’ in our working lives, employees are placing a higher value on workplace benefits that address these challenges. Perks and benefits that are both easily and immediately accessible and help contribute to healthier, more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyles will be increasingly important as we rebuild. At DASH Rides, we’re working with companies to help supercharge their workplace travel through the cycle to work scheme. Each ride, on one of our e-bikes, is carbon offset by 400%.”


International Women in Engineering Day 2021: How has the pandemic impacted gender diversity?

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Every June, the tech industry comes together to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day.

Ada Lovelace springs back onto social feeds, talented women around the globe are championed, and talk inevitably turns to what can be done to encourage more women into the sector.

Before COVID-19, the industry's male to female ratio was imbalanced by as much as 77% in favour of male directors. The pandemic has only exacerbated this. In fact, a new study of women in tech reveals:

  • Over half (57%) feel burned out at work this year, compared to just over a third (36%) of men
  • Women are nearly twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the pandemic

So what does International Women in Engineering Day mean today for leading figures in the industry today?

Why trust will drive greater success

Natasha KiroskaNatasha Kiroska, Technical Lead, Amelia, says women must be made to feel their ambition will be matched by their progress. “In my first position as a Telecom developer, I was working with a lot of internationals and seniors from all over the world and I was always trying to identify who is the best in some particular area and always trying to learn from them. We had few excellent engineers who I can consider as my mentors. Environments where trust and respect are served gain the maximum of everyone's potential. In those kinds of environments, women will be more confident and brave to pursue the next steps in the career and not be stuck on the same level.”

Eliza Dickie, Data Analyst, Grayce, believes woman are the perfect answer to the current skills gap. “As a young woman working in data engineering, I am constantly reminded of businesses’ need for data skills. I hope that this International Women in Engineering Day will reach more females and inspire them to pursue STEM education and careers, no matter their age. Starting out in my role, I didn’t realise how many sectors you can work across or how versatile it is, but more importantly how in demand data engineering professionals are!”

Celebrating female employees and showcasing creativity

Nuria Manuel, QA Technical Lead, Distributed, believes companies have a responsibility to make sure their female employees feel celebrated. “Firms can ensure women feel as though they belong in the sector by giving them access to key decision-making roles in the business and championing and celebrating key awareness days, such as International Women in Engineering Day, which helps to drive the narrative that the business is fostering a diverse environment.”

Akhila DsouzaAkhila Dsouza, Rich Web Community Lead, UK and Ireland, Cognizant Technology Services believes recognition of the value of women in engineering is slowly getting there. “There is also recognition now that teams are stronger for having women in them, especially in tech and engineering, which is often about perfecting certain things. In my opinion, women are naturally perfectionists! It has taken a lot of hard work, and I am constantly learning and improving but I am very proud to be a woman in engineering and of what I have achieved and hope others can find the same belief.”

Edel KellyEdel Kelly, Senior Manager of Development, Genesys, also highlights how rewarding a career in engineering can be today. “International Women in Engineering Day is a timely reminder that a career in this field can provide women with high levels of job satisfaction, and is well suited to those that enjoy problem solving and creativity. Individuals considering courses in computer sciences can look forward to a rewarding career upon graduation, and whether the goal is to stay closer to home or explore the world by travelling internationally, software engineering can tick that box.”

Widening skillsets and identifying role models

Clair Griffin, Projects Director, Vysiion, comments how important it is to inspire others to step outside their comfort zone and seek opportunities to grow, much like she was given the opportunity to do. “With a widening digital skills gap, especially in cyber security, the opportunities on offer should be made available for everyone. Online training courses have become more available over the past year, making it easier to extend existing skills and develop new ones. To increase digital knowledge, organisations need to recognise aligned skills, encouraging women from different areas of the business into more technical roles.”

Lisa GuessLisa Guess, SVP Global Sales Engineering at Cradlepoint believes mentorship and sponsorship are critical tools to develop and support diverse talent, as these are customisable providing equity for each individual’s needs. “For women leadership, especially in technical roles, its critical to help lift up those who may benefit from guidance. And, people are inspired by what they see: the more women in senior roles in the industry, the more those just starting out will be able to envision themselves in those roles and work towards them.”

Lynn CarterLynn Carter, Data Centre Operations Manager, Sungard AS, highlights how role models can come many forms today. “Role models don’t necessarily have to come from the industry, it is hugely beneficial for young girls to see female accomplishments in all walks of life. As someone who loves sport, I have always been inspired by the Irish Olympic athlete Sonia O'Sullivan. She has a fantastic trait of always looking forward, learning from her experiences and improving, which is something that can be adopted by women in the engineering industry. Whatever your career path, it is vital to have people that inspire you.”

Kerry FinchKerry Finch, Software Engineer, Civica, echoes this sentiment, stating a teacher played a crucial role in inspiring her into the profession she thoroughly enjoys. “I took computer science A-level and had a wonderful teacher who always said I would enjoy working in software development. After school I studied Maths at university, which included computer science modules which I thoroughly enjoyed and inspired me to start searching for jobs in software engineering so that I could use my maths degree background to continue with something I enjoyed.”

Addressing an industry imbalance

Rosie GallanczRosie Gallancz, Software Engineer at Labs, VMware Tanzu, is hopeful the current gender imbalance can be addressed soon. She concludes “What’s made the difference for me, has been seeking out supportive environments, inspiring individuals – both who I work with, but also in the wider industry – and pursuing encouragement have all been conducive to my growth as a woman in engineering. I’m hopeful that as more women enter engineering fields, and rise through the ranks, the imbalances that I saw when I started out will diminish.”

Lisa McLinLisa McLin, Global VP Alliances and Channel Chief, and Head of POWER, Rackspace Technology takes a similar stance. “On International Women in Engineering Day, I celebrate all women that are shaping the world and helping to make our planet a better, safer, more innovative and exciting place to be. We need more women engineers, which is why we should all be a voice guiding our young girls and showing them the possibilities and career opportunities available in engineering.


The importance of women in STEM post-pandemic

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Although working from home has been a positive experience in the sense of boosting productivity and enhancing work life balance, several studies have shown that female employees have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

For example, many female parents have been left feeling completely exhausted, having to juggle work with caring responsibilities such as homeschooling. According to a study from the Office for National Statistics, more women reported that home schooling was having a negative impact on their wellbeing, with 53 percent struggling compared to 45 per cent of men.

Women in STEM are excelling

Despite this, many women across the country have excelled throughout the year. The pandemic has been such a turbulent time for many, yet we have seen an impressive amount of innovation, especially within the science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing industries. Professor Sarah Gilbert, for example, will go down in history as a co-inventor of one of the Covid vaccines, saving thousands of lives to-date. Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed have also done amazing work by creating an app to tackle the rise in gender-based violence during the pandemic. In addition, Anja Stolte is an engineering innovator who has combined the best of 3D printing to create metal parts using additive casting, helping businesses throughout the UK reduce their carbon footprint.

A positive impact

Throughout many industries, including the engineering sector, the pandemic has resulted in richer academic research through collaboration on digital platforms. The ability to work from home coupled with flexible working has given women in the industry an opportunity to see what is possible. It has resulted in greater diversity within the workforce which can lead to more creativity in engineering product solutions for all of society. Agile working has meant more inclusivity for single parents, disabled people and women taking care of older relatives. It has also allowed meetings to be more inclusive as a more diverse group of people can now attend a meeting virtually.

As we gradually ease out of the pandemic, it is great to see women using this time as a chance to innovate. It is important to note that every person is different, depending on their work and home life, and this pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. Prior to the pandemic, many women have felt as though they had to make a choice between a family or career. However, this time has hopefully given women the chance to showcase their ability, talent, and leadership skills.

Keeley Crockett headshotAbout the author

Keeley Crockett is an IEEE senior member and a Professor in Computational Intelligence in the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. She is a knowledge engineer and has worked with companies to provide business rule automation with natural language interfaces using conversational agents. She leads the Computational Intelligence Lab that has established a strong international presence in its research into Conversational Agents and Adaptive Psychological Profiling and practical Ethical AI. As an ambassador for women in STEM, Keeley regularly advocates for equality and inclusion on both a regional and national basis.


Discover more for International Women in Engineering Day:

Inspirational Woman: Jen Marsden | Director of Design Engineering, SharkNinja

Jen Marsden is Director of Design Engineering at leading home technology firm SharkNinja and is originally from the Wirral, Merseyside.

From a young age she was fascinated by engineering, sparked by her Dad, who having previously worked as a Navy Engineer, would teach her about how things work.

Jen’s interests grew throughout secondary education and she gained a place to study Design Technology BA at Loughborough University, graduating in 2005.  She started her career as a junior designer at Vax, where she worked on floorcare products for 11 years, swiftly working her way up to Head of Product Development. Keen to progress her skills in a different sector, Jen joined SharkNinja as Design Manager in 2017. Over just three years, Jen has progressed to a leadership team role. During her time heading up New Product Development for the Ninja Heated category, she has led the team through the development of several hero products including the Foodi Pressure Cooker, Ninja Foodi Health Grill and Which? Best Buy’s Ninja Air Fryer.

Read Jen's full interview here


Mechanical Engineering featuredBreaking Down The Barriers: Why More Women Should Consider Engineering

Sorria Douglas knew she wanted to go into a technology or science-related job - she just wasn't sure what exactly until she took an online questionnaire which highlighted mechanical engineering as a possible career choice.

Sorria, now 26, didn't even know what mechanical engineering was at the time, but she thought it sounded interesting.

After watching videos and contacting universities for information on their related courses, she enrolled at the University of Derby and studied Mechanical Engineering (BEng Hons). She was one of only five females on her course - out of 100! Here she shares her journey and why she thinks more women should consider a role in her field.

Read the full article here