The future of the workplace, in the eyes of Capita’s chief growth officer

Hosting a virtual Digital Transformation Expo (DTX) talk, Capita chief growth officer Ismail Amla spoke about the trends he has witnessed during the pandemic, as well as what he believes the future of the workplace will look like, before going on to describe the challenges he has come across.

Currently, Capita has 37,000 people (60% of the workforce) working remotely globally, while 21,000 (30%) are unable to work from home and are working safely in offices and client sites, and 3,000 (5%) have been furloughed.

Chief growth officer Amla, during the talk, said that 5.1% of employees worked from home last year, up from 4.3% in 2015, before this went up to 49.2% in April 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a massive change,” said Amla. “We’ve crossed the chasm, and working from home works because it has to work.”

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Capita’s chief growth officer went on to explain that flexible working “is becoming business as usual”, and companies have learned that “we might need to manage by output, rather than whether employees start work at 9 o’clock”.

However, even though tasks that were previously only thought to be suitable for the office are being completed remotely, Amla identified remote engagement with colleagues as an aspect that “often remains far more difficult than face-to-face. Zoom fatigue is very, very real”, meaning that the relevance of the office is dependent on technology.

Workplace challenges

When discussing the challenges he came across during the pandemic, Amla said the biggest barriers involved “organisations that wanted all of their people sat in a factory doing call centre work”.

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He explained: “When they said “we can’t make this possible anymore”, we needed to convince them that we can still work with the same integrity, productivity and data security that we did in a closed environment, and also roll out the technology that allowed us to do that.

“Thirdly, there was the challenge of making people comfortable about working in the same way.”

Another challenge encountered by Capita involved reacting to government clients “in a way that made sense, regardless of process and financial aspects, in order to do the right thing.

“We had one instance where a government client contacted us on a Friday, and we had to have a team available on the Monday, which made us think about how to work internally, as well as how to work with the client.”

The most prominent general challenges that companies must address going forward, according to Amla, include accomodating the needs of younger and older employees, given that “people are living and working longer”, as well as catering for the growing gig economy, in which over 300,000 self-employed people have more than two jobs, and tend to join companies on a temporary basis.

“The question here is how does a workspace accommodate the flexibility, where the requirements are going to be very different from a 9-5 office worker?” he said. “WeWork‘s value, for example, plummeted more than 70%, but the real challenge for companies like WeWork is how do you compete with home working, or employees working from coffee shops?”

Evolution of collaboration tools

Looking to the short term, Amla explained that new virtual tools, such as whiteboards could come to fruition amongst workforces.

Miro, for example, recently got £50 million in funding, which is unheard of for that sort of company,” he said. “But they will get to a place where you can have virtual meeting environments, and this would be really useful in terms of how you use technology.

“There are other tools that fold into collaboration tool environments, such as Slack and Teams, that will add functionality, and emails as we know them will become less useful.

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“What I used to do is log on to emails and my to-do list at the end of every week to make sure I’ve gone through everything. Now, what I’m doing is using different channels depending on the type of work I’m doing.

“These channels allow us to ensure that we communicate with all team members that are interested in that piece of work, and that all aspects and conversations relating to that piece of work are in one place. I think this kind of technology will supersede the use of emails.”

IoT and augmented reality

Loking further forward, the Capita chief growth officer went on to cite the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality as possible drivers of further innovation within the future workplace.

“IoT would come in useful when it comes to track and trace,” said Amla. “We are currently struggling as a nation to deal with that, and I think IoT will play a key part in that.

“I think IoT will also, within an organisational construct, allow us to make sure that we are complying to the social distancing policies we have in place, making sure that spaces are fit for purpose, and ensuring that we are using our energies properly, for example when people are only using one room.

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As for augmented reality use cases, Amla said: “With augmented reality, there’s an idea that you can get more 3D and 4D aspects that enable people to feel like they’re in a room and engage in a way that isn’t two-dimensional across a video.

“This is something that will be accelerated massively, and we’ve talked about virtual and augmented reality being real-time for the last decade, so I believe this will be in real-time within the next few years, because the opportunity is so massive.

“If you can imagine that the likes of Teams and Zoom have benefitted from providing basic video in 3D, you can only imagine what augmented and virtual reality would do for a business, and we know that the biggest tech providers are investing heavily in that space.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.