Andreas Storz IDC
Andreas Storz (Senior Research Analyst)

When European governments issued lockdown measures and travel restrictions a year ago in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, European technology partners were forced to shift to remote working practically overnight. While specific mitigation measures have evolved over time and have been relaxed (at least temporarily), significant restrictions remain in place all over Europe.

To learn about IT partners’ experiences and to share insights into remote-working strategies, IDC’s European Partnering Ecosystems team held a special session with members of its Partner Advisory Board. The advisory board comprises senior executives representing a diverse group of European technology partners active in the UK.

The special session focused on discussing strategies to manage a remote workforce and assessing the impact of the changing ways of work on partner organisations. Organised in a sprint format for accelerated content creation, the session revealed key insights into how partners have responded to an altered environment, what they have learned throughout the pandemic, and what they see as the main implications for their organisations and employee relations.

Productivity Largely Unaffected

Most partners were able to switch to remote working relatively easily given that the required systems and technologies were already in place and parts of the workforce usually worked partly from home prior to the pandemic. By and large, partners say productivity was not negatively impacted as the pandemic continued.

Often, teleworking enabled more focus time and many employees appreciated the greater flexibility and effective work-life integration without the need for a daily commute. Partners also found effective and innovative ways of leveraging collaboration tools to share knowledge and engage with more team members directly through virtual interactions.

Impact of Pandemic Varies Across Individuals

While certain patterns emerged, partners see significant variation across their workforce in terms of how individuals deal with remote working during the pandemic. Younger employees may find it easier to adapt to new ways of working, but often partners found that experienced employees appreciated the flexibility that remote working afforded them, and many were able to cope more easily.

In fact, younger team members have typically been more likely to miss the social element of direct interactions with their peers. In some cases, social dynamics have become more equal in a remote setting and quieter individuals have in some ways felt more empowered.

Throughout the pandemic, partner executives have recognised the need to look after their workforce and organise regular social outings to keep morale high. This has enabled employees to stay engaged, but partners admit that some employees are feeling the pressure as the pandemic drags on. Also, many who were initially enthusiastic about flexible working have come to appreciate the need for direct interactions.

Face-to-Face Remains Essential

While specifics vary across organisations, there is a consensus that some degree of face-to-face interaction remains critical and cannot fully be replicated in virtual formats. Some partners have found that the pace of learning has slowed as support from peers often isn’t as accessible in a remote setting and many “water cooler moments” simply don’t occur naturally in a distributed, virtual context.

This is particularly relevant for new starters as remote onboarding is considerably more challenging than working remotely across an established workforce. Overall, partners agree that the pandemic has underscored the importance of an organisation’s culture to facilitate social cohesion and strong relationships.

To preserve critical social and cultural elements during the pandemic, the role of senior leaders has changed in that they have had to become social managers that facilitate employee engagement and cohesion across a mostly distributed, virtual organisation.

Hybrid Is the New Normal

While partner businesses have successfully changed to 100% remote work and delivery when the pandemic has required it, board members agree that fully remote working is unlikely to become the dominant model for most partners in the future. The pandemic will have a lasting impact, and some of it will likely be permanent, including a significant amount of virtual engagements and more flexible working arrangements.

On the other hand, sustaining an organisation’s culture, building strong relationships and engaging in creative work will require some degree of face-to-face interaction for most. As a result, partners expect a hybrid model with a mix of office-based and remote work to emerge as the most common format.

What is clear is that the pandemic has had a transformative impact on European partners. This includes how they interact with existing and prospective customers, but it also means that internal structures and dynamics are revisited and altered.

Every organisation will have to find a model that best fits it based on its specific situation, but most partners will function as more flexible, distributed organisations with a higher share of remote engagements.

Effective management in this predominantly hybrid world can be a differentiator for partner businesses. The ability to create a viable work-life balance — or in fact the integration of the two — is increasingly important with “millennials” as well as “Gen Zers”. Providing a compelling proposition around employer-employee dynamics will directly impact partners’ ability to attract and retain scarce talent.

Download IDC’s new report for free to learn more about the partner session.


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