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Work From Home Wake-up

Work From Home - WFH - SharedLogic

One morning in 2020 workers woke up to find that the office was closed. Throughout Australia, and the world, businesses were confronted with a problem. How to keep the business running when all the workers were in lock-down. Many turned to a model that would mean that employees would be enabled to continue working and collaborating from outside of the office. This created a huge change for many companies and individuals. Overnight the concept of "work from home" became the norm and office lights were turned off. Some organisations found themselves on a wave that was unexpected as the change from "face to face" to online forces businesses to rethink strategies and markets.

Zoom (ZM) share price chart 2019 - 2023 ShapedLogic
ZOOM (ZM) Share price

Companies that enabled the new paradyme saw rapid change, for example Zoom (ZM), which enabled video conferencing from anywhere, saw share price go from US67.00 at the beginning of 2020 to a high of US$559.00 by October 2020. Shopify (SHOP), which enables ecommerce and online sales, went from US$41.00 January 2020 to a high of US$169.00 in November 2021. Many companies saw a similar trend but most finished up back to where they started by 2023.

Hybrid and remote work arrangements, Work from Home (WFH) has always existed in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. But changing methodologies and impact from the pandemic made WFH more the norm. WFH is utilised by ITC workers who sometimes favour odd hours and long sessions. Technical collaboration tools were readily available. Generic business tools like Teams, Zoom, Bluejeans, Google Meet and others improved quickly with the advent of COVID. Responsibility for successful adoption of remote working placed an onus on employers and employees, and the client, or customer. There was a general agreement that this was a near perfect solution to the problems caused for businesses by COVID. But not everyone was happy.

Productivity improvement or a black hole

Many of the pundits believed that there were productivity improvements with the WFH processes. However I have yet to have any company confirm that productivity did actually increase. In 2003 I founded an ecommerce software, services, and hosting company, eCorner. It was built on the basis that employees could work remotely for part of every week, generally 40 – 50%, and works hours were not based on 9 to 5 mentality. All tools and services were “in the cloud” and accessible from any location. At its peak the company had people in four cities, in two countries and just one physical office and running up to twenty concurrent projects. When COVID hit in 2020 we just extended the WFH process to 100% of the work week. You would think that would be easy but no. There were issues such as the tools required, high speed reliable internet access in home, project management and productivity. All data and services were hosted in the cloud and external to the physical office which retained an administrative presence. There was a discernible reduction in productivity in some circumstances which had to be managed.

WFH has it's advantages but it comes at a cost and there are considerable distractions. At the time that employees were going online from home so were the school kids. Parents were faced with more responsibility for managing the simple day to day issues. Many younger office workers live in shared accommodation or from their family homes. Crowding and space became a factor in availability and performance.

WFH doesn’t fit everyone or every company.

Not everyone wants to keep WFH and many corporations are now pulling staff back into the office as an example Tesla’s Elon Musk recently announced he wanted to bring all staff back to the office and Commonwealth Bank in Australia has indicated that they want staff back in the office. Many city businesses who are financially hurting through lack of customers are asking employers to bring people back to the office and city.

If the business is maintaining a remote working policy then what are some of the key issues to ensure that the implementation and long term operation is successful for all stake holders.

What are our Core Responsibilities as Management?

  1. Provision of Suitable Technology: Employers in the ICT sector must provide the necessary hardware and software that allow for effective remote or hybrid work. This may include laptops, VPNs, remote desktop software, collaboration tools, etc.

  2. Security Protocols: ICT companies often deal with sensitive data, making cybersecurity crucial. Employers must ensure employees are using secure networks, have up-to-date antivirus software, and understand best practices to avoid security breaches.

  3. Technical Support: Quick and efficient IT support is key in a remote work setup, as employees may encounter technical issues that need resolving.

  4. Training and Skills Development: Employers should provide training on new technologies and processes and offer opportunities for further skill development.

  5. Work-Life Balance Encouragement: Employers should set clear boundaries to prevent employees from overworking, as remote work can blur the line between work and personal life.

  6. Clear Communication and Teamwork: Employers should ensure that there are effective communication channels, tools and procedures in place. Regular meetings and updates should be held to ensure alignment to project goals and objectives.

These were generally generic across all industries but there are some more ICT important issues.

What are the Key Issues in the ICT Sector?

  1. Cybersecurity, Privacy and Confidentiality Policies and Procedures: As mentioned, data security is a significant issue when working remotely in the ICT sector.

  2. Technology Access and Internet Stability: Ensuring that all employees have access to reliable internet and the necessary technology can be challenging but is crucial for productivity and efficiency.

  3. Collaboration methodology and tools: For development teams, maintaining effective collaboration and agile practices can be difficult in a remote setup.

  4. Keeping Up with Technological Advancements: The ICT sector evolves rapidly, and staying up-to-date with new technologies and techniques is crucial.

  5. Governance: Ensure that the organisation has the correct policies and procedures in place.

How should graduates and new entrants prepare?

  1. Familiarity with Tools: Graduates should familiarise themselves with common tools used for remote work, such as project management tools (like JIRA), collaboration tools (like Slack or Microsoft Teams), and version control systems (like Git).

  2. Strengthen Technical Skills: Graduates should keep learning and updating their technical skills. This includes staying updated with latest programming languages, cloud technologies, cybersecurity measures, etc.

  3. Soft Skills: Time management, self-discipline, communication, and adaptability are all important for remote work.

  4. Understanding of Cybersecurity Best Practices: This is especially important in the ICT sector. Graduates should understand how to secure their own networks and protect sensitive data.

  5. Networking Skills: Building professional relationships online can be challenging but is still important in a remote work context. Leveraging online platforms like LinkedIn effectively can be very beneficial.

  6. Continuous Learning: The ICT field is constantly evolving, so graduates must be prepared for continuous learning to stay relevant and up-to-date with their skills.

Will AI replace remote workers and WFH?

Generative AI refers to AI models that create new content, be it text, images, music, or even code. They're often used to automate or augment tasks that traditionally require human creativity. AI may in fact help improve the outcomes and manage the processes while working remotely. Already we are seeing organisation deploy AI assisted help desks and chat system. These will become more functional overtime and may replace some human workers. But there is a long way to go.

In the context of IT systems, application design and development, generative AI can be used in several ways:

  1. User Interface (UI) Design: Generative AI can be used to automatically generate UI designs based on certain parameters or styles. For example, an AI system could be trained to generate a UI design based on best practices, current trends, and user preferences. Airbnb has experimented with AI to convert design sketches into code for rapid prototyping.

  2. Content Generation: For apps that rely on content, such as blogs or news applications, generative AI can be used to create new content. For instance, OpenAI's GPT-4 and Google Bard can generate human-like text that can be used for article creation, product descriptions, or other written content.

  3. Personalised User Experience: Generative AI can be used to create personalised user experiences by dynamically generating content or features based on individual user data. Netflix, for example, uses AI to personalise recommendations for each user.

  4. Automated Testing: Generative AI can generate test cases and scenarios for application testing. These systems can generate a wide range of scenarios that might not have been considered by human testers, helping to identify bugs and issues before release.

  5. Automated Code Generation: AI systems like OpenAI's Codex can generate functional code based on natural language instructions. This could be used to automate certain aspects of the development process, reducing the amount of manual coding required.

  6. Prototyping: Generative AI can be used to rapidly generate prototypes or proof-of-concept of apps based on initial design ideas. These prototypes can be used for user testing or to get feedback from stakeholders early in the development process.

  7. Chatbots and Virtual Assistants: Generative AI can be used to develop chatbots or virtual assistants for apps, generating dynamic and natural-sounding responses to user inquiries.

But don’t panic, AI should be seen as a tool that can augment and assist with the app design and development process rather than replace human designers and developers. It may be a very effective way to improve productivity for remote work. The human touch is still crucial for understanding user needs, providing creative solutions, and making ethical and user-centric decisions.

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Cancer is terrible and almost 40% of all men and women will be diagnosed with cancer. People with cancer and their families and friends need support. Dry July is a fundraiser that encourages you to go alcohol-free in July to raise funds for people affected by cancer.

The funds you raise as part of your Dry July will provide invaluable services for cancer patients, their families and carers – whether it’s a lift to a life-saving appointment, guidance from a specialist nurse, connection to an informative voice, access to therapy programs or a bed close to treatment. Please support Dry July and make a donation to My Dry July at Your donation is fully tax deductible.

Author: John Debrincat FACS, MAICD

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