Point of View

Adopt Design Thinking to Craft Your Work-from-Anywhere Future

February 25, 2021

Design thinking is re-emerging as a critical transformational activity in 2021 as enterprise leaders move beyond their “fix-and-survive” mode to compete effectively in the “work-from-anywhere” economy

Design thinking is an iterative process for solving problems creatively, fleshing out the desired outcomes from a human perspective, and aligning them with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. In our view, it is the best methodology for effectively designing processes in the cloud that enable the shift.

Our latest research across 400 Global 2000 enterprises shows that barely more than a third of organizations intend to revert to the enforced office-based workstyle of pre-COVID-19 days, as Exhibit 1 shows.

Exhibit 1: Office-based environments will never return to pre-COVID-19 levels—we will have a significant work-from-anywhere workforce

Sample: 400 executives across Global 2000 Enterprises, Q4 2020

Source: HFS Research, 2021

The new mentality is all about measuring work outcomes, not on measuring work inputs and this is where design thinking has a significant role to play

The nature of work is fundamentally changing as we emerge from the pandemic era. If companies manage this shift from yesterday’s people-heavy clusters to today’s connected digital (OneOffice) experience effectively, it will transform the work environment for the better for ambitious enterprises.

What’s needed is a solid grasp of what the long-term pivot to a “work-from-anywhere” environment means for organizations and a plan to embed the remote workforce as part of the OneOffice mindset. Ideally, these changes switch the mentality to an outcomes-focused model where all that really matters is that work gets done and customers and employees are satisfied, regardless of where they are physically situated.

Organizations left behind in the rush to embed design thinking into their mindsets are placing severe limits on the new value they can create

2021 is the year we must accelerate and broaden design thinking capabilities—making them something everyone can use. The tools, techniques, and customer insight must be at everyone’s digital fingertips, scaling how fast and how accurately new customer needs are met.

We expect that the pandemic-powered drive to virtual teams will result in a growing marketplace for the technologies that enable and support its scaled adoption in SaaS (software as a service) models in the cloud (see Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2: Design thinking emerges as a key capability in our emerging tech platform

WTF is design thinking?

Design thinking has become popular in business when the ambition is to understand and fulfill customers’ and end-users’ needs. It works through defined steps across the product and project lifecycle—from ideation through proof of concept, prototyping, piloting, and launch. Its tools and processes enable smart ways of understanding human needs in context, generating a range of open options for response and validating which should proceed through solid insight. Done well—and combined with elements of the Lean Startup playbook (advocating you follow the insight and always pivot toward the direction suggested by it)—the innovation fail-rate can fall through the floor.

Yes. The cost of responding to customers’ needs falls—and the fit with market snaps on like a well-worn glove.

2021 priority: Design thinking meets the brief of “creating the future we intend”

Design thinking serves a particular need HFS Research identified for 2021: It’s time to get on with creating the future we intend for organizations. The forced transformation of 2020 cleared a backlog of digital things we knew we needed to accomplish. This year, the enterprise faces its “What next?” question. Design thinking meets that brief.

Design thinking also allows the C-suite to make real the advantages offered by the trend toward an automated digital workforce and increasingly capable human workforce, augmented by automation—envisioned by the HFS OneOffice Vision 2025 (see Exhibit 3). As we redesign work to make the best use of our partners in the digital workforce, we expand our people’s capacities to be the creative drivers of new value. Design thinking processes and techniques inspire imagination and provoke innovative ideas, provide problem-solving frameworks, and place end-user and customer value at heart.

Exhibit 3: Design thinking supports the capabilities of the newly enabled augmented workforce

Source: HFS Research, 2021

Emerging tech is taking design thinking virtual to solve the problem of skills at scale

A marketplace of design thinking-supporting tech and platforms aimed at solving some live problems has emerged. Good design thinking practitioners are rare and often spread thin. Demand for their skills is only growing; the methodologies aren’t rocket science, and the mindset to apply them can be guided. The rich customer experience data to validate what is decided at each step can be complex, slow, and expensive to acquire; the process has traditionally been intense, in team, and in room.

In response, we see solutions emerging to meet the virtual workshop needs of design thinking in distributed teams, such as collaborative whiteboards (Miro, Mural, Stormboard, Conceptboard, and a free alternative from Google, JamBoard).

Others are stepping up with design thinking-specific platforms supporting workshop activities, process, and innovation guidance. Examples include Sprintbase, Shape (from IDEO), and Axis Workshops.

As Shape recognizes (with a premium offering of targeted audiences for evaluation), access to rapid validation from consumers plays an essential part in iterating to value, and insight vendors such as Suzy, UserTribe, and UserTesting offer their takes on the right balance between speed, quality, and cost.

Expect consolidation as cloud-based vendors reach for the sweet spot

We think the greatest value will come from combining the capabilities of virtual workshops, design thinking process, and rapidly available qualitative consumer data.

Those players who use APIs and cloud-first services will offer the most to the OneOffice trajectory. It remains to be seen if combined capabilities will be delivered through easy integrations and increased specialization, or through consolidations. Both routes target the collaboration-process-data sweet spot that will power design thinking into every enterprise. What is clear is that making design thinking a play-anywhere option is now a commercial reality.

The Bottom Line: Design thinking is the plug-and-play ideology you must switch on this year.

Let’s make no bones about it: Design thinking is a must-have capability. The rise of tech platforms, automated solutions, and SaaS solutions to serve the augmented workforce makes design thinking a scalable capability that will enable a new lower-cost explosion in value-focused creativity that forward-thinking C-suites can’t ignore. Systems integrators must be ready to build it into every digital transformation and change management program.

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