With the arrival of the pandemic, a new way of working also arrived: working remotely. Companies were forced to keep their employees at home and create new working arrangements that would enable them to keep doing their job. Now, with the number of vaccinated people having gone up significantly, companies are “open” for business again. But something has changed! Indeed, employees do not want to work full-time at the company any more. Together with the advantages of working at home, including more flexibility and time and space to devote to the family (at least if your boss does not keep emailing you until midnight), many employees showed that they were just as effective in their job while working remotely. So companies cannot avoid the reality that they need to create hybrid workplaces. In fact, a recent survey showed that 66 per cent of business leaders said they were planning to restructure their workplace to accommodate hybrid work (Bladen, 2022; Microsoft, 2021).
With the adoption of hybrid workplaces, companies are undergoing a transformation from a situation where the physical world dominated (that is, everyone was physically present in the office) to where employees work both inside and outside the office. This means that in today’s business world, the expectation is that employees will spend half of their time working at home and the other half in the office. A consequence of this new way of working is that companies need to ensure that employees have access to technology and digital tools all the time. It is also clear, then, that companies need to step up their investment in data-driven technologies and management to facilitate the emergence of a broader, networked work reality. Employees working from home will have to communicate with colleagues in the central office, and all of them will have to communicate with clients and other stakeholders elsewhere in the world. Communication will thus no longer run face to face, but will require instant messaging and videoconferencing solutions.
As human beings are, to some extent, creatures of habit and do not readily like to change the status quo (Ersche, Lim, Ward, Robbins, & Stochl, 2017), it is important to see what is happening in the business world that will allow employees to make the step to incorporating advanced technologies in their daily way of working. So, how will companies need to approach this transition process? As access to new digital services and products to support a hybrid workforce is needed, companies, in their efforts to redefine the workspace, will have to engage in deeper collaboration than ever before with external vendors and service providers. These external providers will, in a way, become a kind of new stakeholder with whom companies will have to communicate and create together. Today, as a result, technology companies are refocusing their R&D investment, sales, and service teams to shape these emerging business relationships. In this entire process, one technological solution has gained much traction and has become the focus of any company that intends to use disruptive technology for the hybrid workplace: cloud computing and services.
Cloud solutions and the hybrid workplace
Cloud services facilitate the flow of data of end users of tech products via the internet to the provider’s system. The service includes delivery of infrastructure and platforms, which are hosted by a provider. Organisations now have to make use of these services, as they need to be agile and upscale their data-driven strategies. In fact, these cloud services are particularly useful to meet hybrid company needs, as they help to build platforms that enable collaboration and communication to be improved when people are working remotely. As noted earlier, in order to integrate cloud services into the development of the hybrid work environment, organisations need to work together with vendors and service providers. One such tech provider that has uplifted this area of business service to become one of their primary current and future goals is the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
Huawei is a private company founded in Shenzhen in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei (De Cremer, 2018). The company started as a solution provider for the carrier business and, in 2021, the company is still a global leader in this industry, as more than 50 per cent of Huawei’s revenue in carrier business comes from markets outside China. Over the years, however, Huawei became better known in the smartphone industry and, in 2012, they overtook the (then) telecommunications leader Ericsson in terms of sales revenue and net profit (Tao, De Cremer, & Chunbo, 2017), so moving from being a follower in the industry to being a leader (De Cremer & Zhang, 2014). However, today, Huawei has entered a new stage in its business management, as, due to US export bans and being cut off from key software and semiconductors, the company has lost its leading position in the smartphone industry (also leading to the sale of their budget brand Honor; Ting-Fang & Li, 2020) and has been forced to diversify its efforts by re-anchoring to different industries. One of their most important efforts in this diversifying strategy concerns their rapid growth in the new business domain of cloud services. In fact, building on their current 2.6 million developer base, they are investing considerably to expand the developer ecosystem, helping them to distribute enterprise cloud applications.
In fact, as the company announced during the launch of its 2021 Annual Report, it wants to increase investment in innovation so it can further reinforce activities around Huawei Cloud. This department will help to provide customers with stable, reliable, secure, and innovative cloud services. All of these efforts led to Huawei identifying the opening of scenario-based cloud services and providing solutions to customers as one of the main focuses of the company. Indeed, the numbers show that revenue from Huawei Cloud and Digital Power increased by over 30 per cent in 2021. All of this should not be so surprising, however, because this focus on cloud services is very much in line with Huawei’s overall strategy to bring technology into people’s lives. It fits with their mission to build a connected and intelligent world where three key aspects are central: (1) all things sensing (sensing the physical world, mapping it to digital signals); (2) all things connected (data goes online to power machine intelligence); and (3) all things intelligent (big data and AI new applications).
Cloud service promoting virtual team effectiveness
Via their Huawei Cloud department, the company has identified service provision (see their service-driven purpose; De Cremer, 2017) as a business strategy to help create smart offices specifically and contribute to the hybrid work development generally. In this endeavour, they have identified team work as an especially important challenge for the hybrid office. Indeed, in the future of work, we know that the structure of teams is changing, and that, particularly in international companies, teams consist of people sitting in different locations across the globe. A particularly important responsibility for team leaders in this global team setting is to create communication channels and relationships that make all members feel part of the team. Recent research shows that, when people work remotely, teams spend less time together, and team members have fewer conversations and start working in silos (Yang et al., 2021). In fact, teams will split up into different subgroups, as those who know each other better (strong ties) group together and do not tend to interact with those they do not know well (weak ties).
To address these challenges, technology has to be both developed and employed in such a way that it provides a complete team experience where both verbal and non-verbal communication can be identified and whiteboarding capabilities can be easily used, as these experiences can facilitate how teams save and share information. Achieving this requires the delivery of stable, reliable, secure, and innovative cloud services. With their service-oriented mindset, Huawei has decided to bet big on delivering this kind of service. They do so by relying on their investment in basic science and innovation in the AI area and combining this with their cloud service department. Because of this integration, the company is now focusing on products that promote a platform to make intelligent collaboration experiences possible (e.g., IdeaHub). For example, to arrange and manage team meetings, AI technology helps to provide virtual assistants that can create more efficient and coordinated conferences. These products also facilitate interactions by highlighting all the participants involved. That is, this type of technology can help to track the member who is speaking, display speaker close-ups in which the physical movements of the speaker can be seen, and display the name of the speaker. These are services that can promote interaction and increase the attention level of all the participants, so making it suitable for any kind of work environment that involves remote working.
As organisations are becoming more open to the idea of hybrid workplaces, it is clear that the traditional set-up of physical offices in a company building will no longer work. In order to ensure that remote workers have access to the ideas of others, feel part of their teams, and interact in efficient and flexible ways with the company, cloud-based tools are needed. In the last few years, since the implementation of US sanctions, Huawei has embraced this transformation of the workplace from a physical to a virtual setting as a business opportunity. They do so as it fits with their new strategy of diversifying their services. Furthermore, this strategy also allows them, as a knowledge-driven company, to see their more basic R&D efforts in the area of AI applied to different industries and, at the same time, upgrade their efforts in cybersecurity by providing an integrative cloud-based solution to the workplace of tomorrow. It seems clear that the diversification strategy – initially viewed as harming the company’s future growth – may actually help Huawei to come up with more creative applications to serve their goal of “all things intelligent”, which may have the potential to contribute – more than they expected – to their mission to build a connected and intelligent world
About the Author
David De Cremer is a Provost’s chair and professor in management and organizations at NUS Business School, National University of Singapore. He is the founder and director of the corporate-sponsored Centre on AI Technology for Humankind at NUS Business school. He was named one of the World’s top 30 management gurus and speakers in 2020 by the organisation GlobalGurus, one of the “2021 Thinkers50 Radar list of 30 next generation business thinkers”, nominated for the Thinkers50 Distinguished 2021 award for Digital Thinking (a bi-annual gala event that the Financial Times deemed the “Oscars of Management Thinking”) and included in the World Top 2% of scientists (published by Stanford). His recent book Leadership by Algorithm: Who leads and who follows in the AI era? (2020) received critical acclaim worldwide, was named one of the 15 leadership books to read in summer 2020 by Wharton, and the Kindle version of the book reached number 1 at amazon.com. His latest book is On the emergence and understanding of Asian Global Leadership, which was named management book of the month July (2021) by De Gruyter.
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- Microsoft (2021). Retrieved from: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work
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- Tao, T., De Cremer, D., & Chunbo, W. (2017). Huawei: Leadership, culture, and connectivity. Sage Publishing.
- Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S., Suri, S., Sinha, S., Weston, J., Joyce, C., Shah, N., Sherman, K., Hecht, B., & Teevan, J. (2021). “The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers”. Nature Human Behaviour, 6, 43-54.