Human-centric design and hybrid work should be "a normal strategy"

Gartner analyst advocates for empowering variety, not plurality, as IT's new key mission, during a session at IT Symposium/Xpo Monday.

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Image: Shutterstock/SFIO CRACHO

Digital workers became even more tech-savvy during the pandemic with 35% feeling empowered enough to call themselves experts, according to a Gartner analyst who spoke Monday during a session at Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo.

"Digital workers seized the opportunity to be heroes through the pandemic,'' said Whit Andrews, vice president and distinguished analyst, who presented the findings of Gartner's 2021 "What Workers Want" survey of more than 7,000 digital workers about how and where they work, what technologies they use and what they want to use.

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The digital workers survey is conducted every two years, and the latest finding is a big uptick from 2019, Andrews said. "This shift was unprecedented," he said, adding that the firm has "never seen such a large proportion of workers increase [their] sense of mastery."

Think in terms of human-centric design

Andrews talked about how to "not lose momentum" going forward and to think about human-centric design. This refers to refactoring and reimagining digital systems and the human systems surrounding them to make humans as successful as they can be, he said. This is key to boosting productivity.

"This is about teaching computers … to understand humans better," Andrews said. They deliver flexibility and in terms of the devices employees are using and where. The Gartner survey found an 18% increase in the proportion of work time on portable and mobile devices to get work done, compared to 2019. "People are really seizing the alternatives you saw happen around [how] people can get their work done."

This suggests there are now things people can do on their mobile phones that they couldn't do before.

In 2019, the same Gartner survey found that 81% of workers preferred one of three top ways to solve digital problems: ask a coworker, look it up on the internet or call the help desk. "That meant back in 2019, four out of five people chose one of these three things to solve the digital problems we faced," Andrews said.

In 2021, the change has been significant, with only 44% preferring any of those top three ways, and Andrews said, "honestly we've never seen anything like this … what's amazing is workers spread their preferences to a degree we've never seen before."

The difference in 2021 is the growth in using self-serve mechanisms like FAQs to solve digital challenges.

What this is showing is "the decline of majority optimization" and "plurality optimization" and "the shift toward variety optimization. It's important for organizations to reach beyond the idea that one-size-fits-all" in devices, software access and ways to contact IT.

Organizations should assume data is located everywhere, which means they have to start "this optimization for variety, instead of plurality." Devices that people are using are "intensely various," he said.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids' education is a mammoth task. Here's how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Rethink the workplace to attract and retain talent

The pandemic illustrated that people want to be anywhere when they collaborate. Andrews also discussed how they want that collaboration to take shape. "The truth is virtual has emerged as a winner here," but not as a winner takes all, he said. People do miss in-person experiences, he added.

He advised organizations to rethink the workplace and evolve the role of offices and rightsize real estate portfolios to support hybrid work.

In 2019, workers spent 8.1 hours a week in meetings. Andrews said that it was amazing to see that in 2020 meeting fatigue was real, but while meeting fatigue is real, in 2021, the figure was virtually the same--8.3 hours were spent in meetings. This came from more than 10,000 people in several countries, he said.

"They like virtual meetings and find them to be much more effective than they used to,'' Andrews said. "So think virtual first or even think zero-first. Hack your meeting approach … do it a different way."

For people who are tired of meetings, he advocated for offering variety and suggested they record a short video and send it out. Organizations that do this will get better access to talent and skills, which are now available anywhere, Andrews said.

This means your competitors for access to talent and skills you need are now available to anyone anywhere in the world, he noted. "So you're going to be investing in this autonomy and you're going to be optimizing for variety" to get access to people anywhere.

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Another significant finding is that workers want flexibility with the software they use, he said. Forty percent of workers are collaborating with others using technology they got for themselves that the organization approved in 2021, he said. That figure is up 10% from 2019, he said.

From a hardware perspective, 55% of digital workers are using personal devices for at least some of their work. This is especially true for young workers and workers in mid-sized organizations, Andrews said.

Provide work time flexibility

The 2021 survey also revealed that two out of three workers agreed that they would only consider a new job or position that gave them flexible hours. While this is not the only factor they'll consider, it will make it easier to attract workers with flexible hours, Andrews said.

Additionally, 18% of workers would work some of the time between 8 pm and 8 am if they had the choice, he said. People who work remotely also were twice as likely to say their productivity improved.

"A lot more people will spend a lot more time working from home,'' Andrews said. While this won't be the case for everyone, and a lot of teams have found remote work to be disruptive, "we have to reach beyond a universal workplace to make hybrid a normal strategy,'' he said. "Your remote work policy, strategy, is no longer founded on the idea that remote work is a privilege you have an opportunity to take away."

Giving workers more autonomy was another big theme of Andrews' session. Teams are demanding variety and autonomy and they expect to work from anywhere, he said. "So organizations have to reach beyond the defaults that make them easier."

Among Andrews' recommendations:

  • Inventory apps that are permitted but not provided, and make that list bigger based on what is unpermitted but used.
  • Make hybrid work the norm, updating policies to unshackle it from privileges and punishments.
  • Meet with CHROs to rebalance compensation and recognize compensation is not just about money but time, place, status and an opportunity to seize and exercise autonomy.
  • Measure specific task outcomes and provide frequent manager-employee check-ins.
  • Conduct employee digital monitoring according to law, culture and with the intention to improve instead of tagging someone.
  • Topple the tyranny that one-size-fits-all is the future of work.

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