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As chief information officer at Johnson Financial Group, it’s my job to make sure our team members have the technology they need to serve our customers. Like many of you, we’ve given a great deal of attention to how to do that best throughout the pandemic. The other big need is to take stock and plan for return-to-office scenarios. In this article, I’ll share three basic principles we are embracing at Johnson Financial Group. You may find them helpful for your business as well.

The first principle is design for a hybrid work model, from both technology and business standpoints. Even if you expect to bring all your employees back 100% this or next year — or if you already have — you must anticipate the possibility of a future disruption that will, once again, force you to embrace a hybrid model.

That unavoidable fact actually takes some pressure off you as a decision-maker. You don’t have to wonder if you’re overthinking whether to embrace a hybrid model in your technology planning. You simply have to do it!

Business runs on the rail of trust, and trust is built through shared experiences. There’s no substitute for getting to know someone in person, whether in a conference room or out to lunch. So, a hybrid model has to embrace in-person experiences while also making remote experiences less remote.

For example, consider conference-room meetings. An effective hybrid model makes it possible for people to engage with each other, in person, around a table while also including remote participants in the same meeting. That’s not easy to achieve, because typically the conversational priority goes to people who are in the room together. In our work to accommodate a hybrid model, we are working to give remote viewers a full view of the room — from a wall-mounted camera with a macro lens — and also clear views of each individual at the table. The technology doesn’t fully level the playing field, but it’s significant progress.

The second principle is don’t slip back into old, bad habits you already dropped. Here’s an example from our experience. Johnson Financial Group’s printing expense (paper and equipment costs) dropped by nearly a half-million dollars yearly during the pandemic. Now, back at my desk at the office, I’m quick to ask myself, “Do I really need to print that report?” And usually, the answer is “no.” We anticipate far lower paper-related costs now than two years ago. The dollars saved become dollars that can be channeled to other technology needs, such as improving Wi-Fi.

Digital signatures are another area for transitioning away from paper. In banking, there are still a few document types that require wet signatures for regulatory reasons. But a great majority of documents in financial and other industries can be digitalized.

Another example is travel expense. Do you really need to travel to that conference or to visit that client? If the occasion is largely transactional, then perhaps not. If it’s to build a relationship, then absolutely.

The third principle is to build digital approaches into your business plan going forward. Following the first two principles leads naturally to this broader topic, because as you embrace digital workplace tools and reimagine business patterns and processes, you end up opening your mind to even more transformative digital change.

My sense in talking with industry colleagues is companies’ digital transformations has accelerated by three to five years. Everyone, from employees to customers, has seen what’s possible with alternative ways to shop for groceries, let alone meet by video to discuss a proposal.

As you consider how your business can and should change, be sure to stay focused on your infrastructure (whether on-premises or in the cloud). You need solutions that are adaptable (avoiding bottlenecks), reliable (including at larger scale), and secure.

As a closing thought, I’ll mention … cats. Pre-pandemic — before getting used to video meetings from home — what would you have thought about the idea of a cat walking across your background? You probably would have been mortified. Sure, you might be a little wary, even now, about what pets or kids might do in the background or around the edges of meetings you hold remotely. But I’ll bet you wouldn’t be mortified now. I’m convinced that’s all for the good. As I said above, business runs on the rails of trust. A little humor goes a long way toward shared experiences.

So, when it comes to technology, let’s stay lighthearted while also determined to embrace a hybrid environment and keep moving forward.

Tim Brown, chief information officer at Johnson Financial Group, leads the development and implementation of the technology strategy to drive customer experience. Tim focuses on providing secure, reliable, and integrated technology solutions in alignment with corporate strategies.

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