The pandemic has created a new world order in the business landscape. Digitisation plans accelerated, plunging people into a new workplace dynamic that naturally created opportunities for change. But those who don't adapt can fall behind.
So, how can businesses prepare for tomorrow’s technology today? Is there potential for new players to rise in the ranks, and how much of a culture shift can we expect? Our sister company, Protiviti, recently sat down with renowned tech venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge for an interactive discussion on the future of business tech as part of their Inspiring Speaker Sessions event series: Tackling Tomorrow Today.
As well as being a leader in early-stage tech investment for businesses like Monzo, Eileen is also a founding partner at Passion Capital and former chair of Tech Nation. She shared her predictions on how tech will continue to shape the workplace post-pandemic, how it could create equal opportunities, and the colossal role of ESG in tech investment and beyond.
How the pandemic has influenced workplace tech trends
Hybrid working is the standout trend for Eileen. She points out that companies in various sectors were already beginning to implement remote working once every few weeks. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen the largest UK trial of a four-day workweek, which is now underway across multiple organisations.
“The pandemic helped accelerate hybrid working. It forced organisations and leaders to foster productivity and collaboration while supporting their people in a remote environment,” says Eileen. “I think we'll end up with a cohort of people in every organisation that prefer to be in the office and then others that'll prefer to work remotely. I think hybrid is here to stay.”
Exploring the impact of hybrid working on technology
According to Eileen, the impact of hybrid work on technology has been twofold. There was a surge in demand for tech that could simulate in-office working patterns, like meetings and collaboration, plus a need for tools which supported company culture.
Eileen says: “It's not just about the technology that brings services to people; it’s also the underlying technology. For example, how does an organisation measure contentment or employee and job satisfaction in a hybrid work environment? What technology should be in place to collect that feedback?”
How to recreate serendipitous ‘watercooler moments’ in a remote workplace
Eileen believes it's possible to create a virtual environment where people feel comfortable with small talk, getting to know one another, and jumping on calls. But, like all matters concerning company culture, it must come from the top.
“I do think those ‘watercooler moments’ are still possible in a remote-only organisation”, she says. “I've had experience working with companies that are fully distributed and remote. It's clearly harder, but I think that's where the onus is on leadership.”
Tech can help trigger greater board diversity
Technology has a huge role in holding boards accountable for issues around diversity. Platforms like social media disseminate information (for better or worse) and help foster reactions or get direct responses on issues. Despite this, Eileen believes the real change starts in primary schools and homes.
“The process needs to start early — it’s too late when you’re sitting around a board table,” says Eileen. “When we talk about technology, STEM, innovation…if we want greater diversity, we need to improve the pipeline by having those conversations with our kids at a really, really young age.”
Could hybrid working allow more women to climb the corporate ladder?
Eileen is keen to point out that there are pros and cons to either way of working but that there’s a net positive. Collaborative software and video conference tools make it easier for everyone to shine, rather than just the loud extroverts.
Eileen says: "I think it's interesting that the pandemic had a much greater impact on women than others because of the caring responsibilities that fell on them. It wasn't all positive, but I think it's net positive in terms of inclusion."
Mitigating the tech sector talent shortage
Technology and innovation provide a wealth of opportunity in terms of digital methods, new ways of thinking, and propositions that can benefit the customer. Because of this, Eileen believes there’s a significant talent shortage in the tech space and a dire need for skills.
“I think the shortage is global,” says Eileen. “There's not a single tech hub that isn't experiencing a talent shortage.” Her solution harkens back to her thoughts on increasing diversity at a board level — encouraging young women and people from under-represented social classes to embrace careers in STEM.
Read more: What are the latest tech hiring trends?
How can we encourage companies to embrace ESG?
Social media has done much to further the conversation between consumers and brands regarding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment screening criteria. Eileen believes we’re seeing an increase in the number of people choosing to spend with brands that reflect their values.
"ESG is a no-brainer. It's a must-have, and I think leaders that don't take it seriously might not suffer in the near term, but over time, they'll become obsolete," Eileen says. She also believes that companies who engage on the topic will be rewarded with customer loyalty.
Read more: How important is ESG to jobseekers?
Which ESG aspects do tech investors look for?
“We do ESG reporting, but we don't have benchmarks or minimum requirements in place,” says Eileen. “You can't change what you don't measure, so we're going to start measuring it.”
Eileen points out that progress will likely be difficult for any company trying to make gains in all three categories of ESG at once, despite how intertwined they are. She also notes that the focus shifts between environment, social, and governance, depending on social context.
“I think what happens is it sort of ebbs and flows. There will be different events that impact different things,” she says.