Everyone is busy – but are you busy with the right things?

By Natasha Bezuidenhout, Business Executive: Microsoft at First Distribution

Johannesburg, 23 Aug 2023
Natasha Bezuidenhout, Business Executive: Microsoft at First Distribution.
Natasha Bezuidenhout, Business Executive: Microsoft at First Distribution.

First, we had the 'new normal' with people working from home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; that was later modified to a hybrid working model where employees juggled between home and office working; and now, today, we are seeing a growing move by employers to get their workers back into the office full-time.

This means there are now three overarching working models in operation, each of which has its own challenges.

For instance, companies with a pure work-from-home policy are seeing some negative impacts for their organisations’ culture.

Those who chose to implement hybrid working models with more flexibility for workers are juggling productivity, culture and the management of individual workers.

Many companies, including Microsoft SA, have opted for the full-time back-to-the-office model.

Among the factors influencing this decision are the many challenges we face as a country. Power outages, WiFi challenges, water outages, the cost of fuel and work/life balance are just some of the key factors to be considered.

While many individuals prefer flexible working conditions, the model does not necessarily fit an organisation’s vision and expectations.

With so many factors to consider, any attempt to determine exactly what the world of work looks like today – or even to set labels to individual models – is simply not practical. People want one solution, but each organisation needs to find a process that is going to work for both the business and the employee.

The first consideration is to develop a mode that works for the individual.

One thing we learnt from the forced remote working during COVID-19 is that work is not where you are, but what you do. When allowing my team to work from home from time to time, I know that they get the opportunity to be focused, productive and still get the job done.

However, the cultural factor is a critical concern. For my team, the way we collaborate and learn from one another in the office is critical considering the advancements in technology and the need to keep up with continuous changes.

Having said that, flexible work arrangements definitely have their place and benefit. Personally, it depends on what the current focus is and what we need to execute against. For instance, over periods of planning cycles, it is vital to get everyone’s input, ensure we are all on the same journey and adapting to the same vision and objectives.

My personal view is that people should not be working from home on a permanent basis. People are not islands; it is not healthy, and everyone should be provided the opportunity to divide work from home. Their ability to focus on a close group or team is integral for their own development, stimulation and for the larger benefit to the business.

This, however, does not mean that if I don’t see you, you are not working – that is a complete taboo and a critical block that many leaders should overcome.

Video: Revolutionise communication with MS Teams

How are companies transforming?

The overall changing landscape of work is compelling companies to undergo a transformative process as they re-evaluate and reinvent traditional work policies and paradigms. They are striving to strike a delicate balance between employee well-being, operational efficiency, productivity and the overall businesses success.

The hybrid work arrangement has been a prominent trend, offering employees greater flexibility in managing their work-life integration while optimising productivity. But the flip side is that this model does not work for all.

Giving employees the freedom to choose between remote and on-site work arrangements can bolster job satisfaction and enhance retention rates. And it has forced companies to invest in, and leverage, technology and digital infrastructure more effectively.

The downsides to this model include the need to progressively invest in cutting-edge remote collaboration tools, communication platforms and cyber security measures to ensure seamless connectively and safeguard sensitive data.

In addition, companies are increasingly aware of the potential drawbacks related to employee isolation, work-life imbalance and the erosion of social cohesion among teams.

This is why some organisations are pivoting towards a full-time back-in-office approach, recognising the value of physical proximity in fostering creativity, innovation and the spontaneous exchange of ideas. In-person collaboration can also strengthen team dynamics, promote mentorship opportunities and facilitate professional development.

This juggling act is currently happening as companies try to figure out what works today, while effectively planning for what will work tomorrow.

Equip the workforce

When we were forced to work from home, we quickly implemented technologies to manage and adequately measure productivity and effectiveness. When we moved into the hybrid mode, we still used technology to help manage that. But the moment we called people back, companies stopped using these tools.

There was a massive uptake in standard collaboration and productivity tools, but in the last year or so, there has been a massive re-evaulation of these technologies. A lot of companies, especially SMEs, are going back to the mentality that they don’t need them anymore.

But, regardless of what model you are implementing, you still need to know where your people are, what they are doing and whether they are being effective.

It seems like right now we perceive that the market is super busy and there is a lot of noise – but are they effective? Can any organisation answer this question?

There is indeed this lack of visibility that could even have contributed to the straitened economic circumstances we are living with. The going is tough – and we don’t believe it is going to become easier or more progressive any time soon.

While SMEs cut costs, technology is not high on their priority list. But technology tools could help to equip their workforce to be more productive and to collaborate better.

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The cyber security threat

Organisations should also be taking cyber security threats very seriously – not only securing their workplaces, but also taking into consideration that employees are likely using devices at both home and work that are not for work purposes only.

To address threats, companies should be looking to educate employees, put restrictions in place and leverage technology to ensure they are not creating vulnerabilities themselves.

How much investment has gone into technology that lets the workforce collaborate productively and effectively – and securely? If you have deployed something like Microsoft 365, where are employees storing documents? Are they on the hard drive or in the cloud? Chances are they are still on the hard drive.

So, even when companies are investing in technology, they often fail to enable the workforce to leverage them effectively and securely.

It’s still true that employees are the biggest threat to an organisation’s security. But they don’t know what they don’t know. They are there to do a job and the employer needs to equip them with the tools to do the job. But it’s no good putting the tool down and not doing any training.

So how much are you spending on your people? Or are you assuming the people are just doing the right thing?

Video: Boost business security with Microsoft 365

Microsoft solutions

When it comes to technology, both from a collaboration and productivity perspective, Microsoft provides some of the best tools and technologies globally available. The company’s motto is to empower its users to achieve more in life using digital transformation with an intelligent edge. This mission is continuously evangelised to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.

It is especially true when working with technologies like Microsoft 365 and collaboration tools like Teams.

By leveraging the capabilities of Microsoft 365, businesses can enhance productivity, collaboration, security and flexibility, ultimately leading to better performance, growth and success in today's competitive business environment. People can literally work from anywhere and contribute to the company’s objectives.

Further enhancements, such as the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities through Microsoft’s latest CoPilot offering, will enable companies investing in these tools the opportunity to free up time to be much more productive. It allows them to focus more on the most important work and less on the “busy” work.

Microsoft actively positions itself as a key player in helping organisations navigate the journey of hybrid work, which involves a mix of remote and on-site work arrangements. It does this with its comprehensive suite of productivity and collaboration tools, cloud-based services and a focus on providing a seamless and secure hybrid work environment.

Microsoft helps organisations on their hybrid work journey with different types of technologies like Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, Azure Cloud Services, security and compliance tools, as well as Microsoft Viva.

The company has been vocal about embracing its own hybrid work model and has shared its experiences and best practices with its broader community. The company’s practical approach to hybrid work demonstrates the commitment to helping all business successfully navigate the changing work landscape.

Work environments are still changing and, as businesses face new challenges and opportunities relating to hybrid work, Microsoft is continuously adapting its offerings and services to meet those needs effectively.

The role of partners

Microsoft offers the partner channel and traditional managed service providers (MSPs) the opportunity to bring these key technologies to their customers. They are able to position a solution to their customers and add value through their own differentiation.

However, to be successful, it is critical for the partner to identify the customer’s pain points. While Microsoft offers a wide range of tools and technologies, it is critical for the partner to associate the right technologies to resolve customer-specific problems. The days of simply selling licences are over. In a competitive world, partners must add value and differentiate themselves.

Microsoft partners play a critical role in expanding the vendor’s business and customer base by delivering these tailored solutions and services to a diverse industry and markets.

First Distribution value-adds

First Distribution works very closely with the partner ecosystem sharing a wealth of information, updates and insights. One of the key benefits is our focus in upskilling partner sales and technical workforces with the objective of bringing them closer to becoming pre-sales organisations. In addition, we invest significantly in sponsoring partners to attain additional competencies.

First Distribution positions multi-touch activities in demand generation through go-to-market SME scale investments through strategic partners. We also co-host end-customer bootcamps with our partners and support them in delivering the right message, and evangelising the benefits of the technologies we position.

A key operational overhead for partners based on the CSP New Customer Experience (better known as NCE) introduced by Microsoft includes the management of renewals. Our First Distribution platform supports partners with this in several ways, including notifications to remind partners to have the renewal discussion with their customers and how to manage the implications of auto-renewal.

We offer a significant portfolio of professional services, including security assessments, deployment and migration options. Part of our value includes scoping and assessments free of charge. More importantly, positioning the right technology that speaks to the customer pain point and identifying upsell and cross-sell opportunities, all part of our strategic objectives with our partners.

Our full ecosystem leverages our Advanced Support for Partners agreement with Microsoft at no additional cost.