Digital home working, now enforced worldwide by Covid-19, has accelerated the transformation in the workplace that was only slowly starting to happen in many organisations. But what effect has it had on those working at home and on the corporate cultures they operate in?

Last Thursday’s EACD webinar, in partnership with Cisco Systems and the Nordic Alliance for Communication & Management (NORA), explored the latest research into the impact of the new ways of working and the use cases of technology and AI that are driving the workplaces of the future.

Moderated by Dennis Larsen, EACD Team Norway and Co-Chair Working Group on Reputation and Regulatory Risk, and Managing Partner, ReputationInc, researchers from NORA began by discussing the parameters of their recent studies and their applications to industry.

NORA was founded this year by a group of researchers from the Centre for Corporate Communication at BI Norwegian Business School, united by an ambition to create a research hub around practice and communication topics with strong managerial implications. These are developed in close collaboration with industry partners who help design an applied research agenda that matters to communications managers, explained Dr Alexander Buhmann, NORA’s Director.

Moving from a pure corporate communications approach to cover wider communications and management topics allows the group “to explore the intersection between communications, digital technology and management”, he continued, focusing on topics such as crisis management, cyber security, ‘algorithmisation’ and engagement, and the impact of digital technology and AI on business ethics. How do technology and automation change the relationships between organisations and stakeholders?

For NORA member Prof Sut I Wong, what motivates their research is the changing face of working models and, in particular, remote working. No matter how familiar we are with digital tools and digital teamwork, she said, their research reveals that digital teams tend to share less and feel more isolated than co-located colleagues. This is true even in tech-savvy companies, so the experiences and transformations needed in more traditional companies are even more acute. Given the current crisis, it is even more vital to identify some of the key challenges to digital working and collaboration. “While we like the degree of freedom we get from working from home, we still need structures,” she noted. “We need a balance between autonomy and structure and clarity so we know what we individually are supposed to do and as part of a team so we can co-ordinate.”

Prof Gillian Warner-Søderholm, also a NORA member and Head of the Department of Communication, Culture at BI, agreed that we still need to build ‘digital water cooler’ time into our home working schedules, where we can discuss issues and just check in with one another. Sometimes, a simple one-to-one phone call can be much more effective at boosting morale and engagement than a group conference. She highlighted other key findings of their research: a tendency for bosses to want to micromanage staff who are at home, which can lead to staff feeling disempowered and disengaged; and the human tendency not to engage in ‘double-loop learning’ – not looking back over the day to see what communication worked in a particular setting – which is needed more than ever now to build transparency and trust and avoid ambiguity in team communications. Other small measures such as good housekeeping – having clear ‘house rules’ – can help enable the best digital workplaces where everyone is engaged and empowered, and play a significant role in beating the loneliness trap, she commented.

Alexander added that the crisis has led people globally to quickly look at new platforms and services that can connect us digitally. “How should we judge how they work to enhance working as a team, or team experiences that won’t alienate them? Or do we just need to tweak existing tools to make them work better for the organisation or the team?”

In response, Sut I mentioned the need for a variety of different methods for different purposes. For complex meetings or brainstorming sessions video-conferencing and digital breakouts are key, but for simpler or routine tasks, having short synchronised calls and digital documents that can be referenced again at more convenient times is more than enough. Many organisations at the start of their lockdowns made the mistake of having only videocalls for every kind of meeting which became a burden for staff and reduced productivity. “We’ve seen the techier companies break down tasks into smaller functions and apply the appropriate digital tools which seems to be less stressful for all those involved.”

What of the technology that is enabling home working?

The keynote speaker, Sandeep Mehra, Vice President & General Manager – Webex Devices & Telepresence at Cisco Systems, believed that “communications today is now blended. As Sut I noted, the types of tools used to communicate depend on the content you want to disseminate and the purpose of what you want to communicate.”

So, what is the best approach? In his view, we need to think about these tools from a digital platform perspective and blend that into the digital workplace. Cisco’s blueprint for action on workplace transformation is based on the principle that the world works better face to face and having a strategy for digital transformation is vital to make it happen.

He outlined 5 key drivers of digital transformation:


  1. Evolving workforce

There are now four generations in most large workplaces, from Baby Boomers, through Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z (those born after 1995). Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025.

What are the motivations and core values of each of these generational segments? What is their work style and what are their work preferences? Baby Boomers truly value face-to-face communication, whereas Gen Z tends to love videos. He cited research* which found that 42% of millennials came into the workforce already using real-time messaging and expected it to be provided for work collaborations. Perceptions of an organisation’s purpose and culture are also critical: 93% of Gen Z want to work for a company that will make a positive social and environmental impact.

So, organisations need to think about how they align their communications and tools with the different needs and preferences of each generation of their workforces.


  1. Changing nature of work

We’ve seen large companies going in a few short weeks from having anything from 10% of their workforce working from home, to 100% due to the Covid-19 crisis. How do we adapt to that sort of culture? A lot of business leaders believed that working outside the office wasn’t work, people needed to be together and on site to function and be productive. Necessity has largely shown that to be a myth.

On top of this, 91% of the Gen Y cohort only expect to stay in a job for less than 3 years. So, what tools need to be employed to drive engagement and retention?

Informal huddle rooms are expected to represent 70% of all video-conferencing rooms by 2022 – to bring together different teams, which also ties in with NORA’s findings about the need for appropriate settings and tools for specific purposes.

Teams are expected to form and disband at a much faster rate, putting a premium on workforce agility and fluidity.


  1. Demand for flexibility

Even before the current crisis, the trend was towards 90% of companies having to offer some flexible working options to their staff; 77% of UK workers were already demanding workplace flexibility.

Co-working spaces are already growing at an exponential rate. This is not likely to change when some sort of normalcy returns and people can work together in a physical space again.


  1. Technology disruption

Attitudes to technology tools and AI are markedly different among millennials, with 82% saying that the availability of leading technology and AI would influence their decision on whether to accept a new job, and two-thirds (67%) open to AR/VR in collaborative meetings and projects.

At Cisco, this means thinking about that from a meetings perspective – for example, how to mute non-human intrusive noises through AI/machine learning. How can we embed machine learning and AI into driving productivity?


  1. Growing customer expectations

Affinity to brands strongly influences consumer behaviour: 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase from companies that know their names and can make tailored recommendations based on their buying histories.

AI-powered virtual customer assistants will mean 70% fewer calls, chats and email enquiries. Organisations need to be customer-centric with uninterrupted workflows across all touchpoints to serve customers better.


He summarised what a successful workplace transformation means to Cisco:

  • Improved employee engagement
  • Winning the war for talent – attracting and retaining the best people
  • Elevating customer experience – retaining customers
  • Optimising office space and reducing costs

His final message: “You must transform your workplace – your customers and workforce are demanding it.”

The webinar raised many other questions from cultural appropriateness and the importance of personality in organisations to how to interpret social cues and body language when remote working, who should be doing the talking when culture dictates communication, and what builds trust in an organisation?

These and other insights will be explored in more detail Friday 8 May in an EACD Dialogue, at 12.30 CET, facilitated by Inge Wallage and  Dennis Larsen Join the conversation on May 8. Register here


*Listen to the full webinar recording and view slides: password PpU4TBtX


For further information about NORA, visit: