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RB’s Digital Workplace: a technology-led rethink that is inspiring an exciting new working culture and giving all employees even greater freedom to succeed

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the shift to remote and flexible working for almost every organisation in the world. Until this year, changes in how we work had been slow. US telecoms giant AT&T was experimenting with “telecommuting” in the early 1990s, but by 2018 the figure for Americans working from home more than half the time was still less than four per cent. Covid-19 changed things fast and, many firms say, for good.

One reason why remote working at scale is now so feasible is the availability of technology, from laptops to software and networks. But, as with any transformation, everything centres on the people. Like most businesses when the pandemic struck, RB made a rapid shift to remote working. The priority was to ensure a high-quality employee experience, meaning the IT team had to put in place systems that would give colleagues the freedom to succeed in their “new normal”.

Now the IT team is driving a collaborative culture change to create a working environment that will attract and retain the best talent.

Speed, security and innovation

RB’s switch to working from home began in China, Hong Kong and Singapore – where the pandemic first made itself felt. It quickly became clear that the majority of the business – 40,000 employees across six continents – would need to work from home. The IT team had just two weeks to find an extra 1,500 laptops, upgrade the network capacity to cope with increased remote traffic and complete the roll-out of Microsoft Teams: the software platform on which colleagues would depend for collaboration.

Security was vital, too, says Andy Lindsay, RB’s Product Director, Digital Workplace. He explains that fraudulent email “phishing” attacks increased by more than 350 per cent as cyber criminals realised employees might be more vulnerable on their home networks. RB needed a seven-fold increase in network capacity to transfer security software to every laptop.

Although some RB colleagues have now returned to their offices, at their own discretion, maximum capacity is limited to 25 per cent of usual levels. For now, much work will continue to be done remotely. So, Andy’s team has worked to ensure a good employee experience by putting together guides on which of the many available software tools colleagues should use, as well as tips on how to manage an effective online meeting. The team is also developing video tours for new joiners, who are in the unusual position of starting work at a company without ever setting foot in its facilities.

A foundation for positive change

RB had been preparing for the digital workplace, but the pandemic accelerated plans; these are now serving as a foundation for future change. Much of the work done in strengthening networks and providing training over the past months will continue to pay dividends.

The way that technology is provided will be the next thing to change. At present, an IT expert must install the necessary software on each new laptop before it is sent to an employee. In future, laptops will ship to employees direct from the factory and all the necessary software will automatically download when they’re first turned on. Building on this, RB plans to adopt an “evergreen” approach to software, installing new features using cloud-based updates instead of upgrading programs every few years.

And, as mentioned above, video tours for new joiners will pave the way for virtual reality (VR) tours that will give colleagues the experience of an RB factory, for example, without them needing to fly halfway around the world. Augmented reality will soon be used to speed up maintenance issues, so instead of visiting a facility engineers will be able to make a video call and guide an on-site worker through an inspection or repair.

The new normal

We have to start a conversation about change to understand what people need. The pandemic has made that conversation easy, but the change has to be collaborative, rather than top-down.”

Andy Lindsay Product Director, Digital Workplace, RB

That means working with teams across the business. Rethinking meeting rooms, for example, requires close collaboration with the facilities team. Optimising rooms for meetings that several participants will join remotely means positioning microphones and using smart whiteboards so everyone in the room – and online – can follow the conversation.

“In many ways, the tech is the easy bit. How you lay out the room is more important.”

Andy Lindsay

Younger workers and millennials, the oldest of whom are now approaching 40, expect flexibility and a modern working environment. If a company can’t offer this, valuable talent will move elsewhere, or not join the company in the first place. That’s why RB’s Digital Workplace team continues to be on the lookout for innovative ways to maintain the employee experience, meet the evolving needs of all its workers and keep colleagues at the centre of the transformation.

IT’s involvement in shaping working culture is important, says Andy. It’s not about applying technology for its own sake, but about finding ways to give colleagues what they need to fulfil their purpose. In RB’s case, to protect, heal and nurture in a relentless pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world. IT’s mission is to make that as easy as possible.