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Corporate boards are getting more involved in tech investment decisions | Fortune

With the expansion of remote and hybrid work, companies are doubling down on software that allows for collaboration and task management, and boosts employee engagement and retention across geographies. Boards are increasingly weighing in on this decision, too.

recent Gartner survey found that boards at 53% of companies are among the main decision-makers for emerging technology investments, alongside chief information officers and chief technology officers. Surveyed companies invested most heavily in 5G technology last year, with an average spend of $465,000.

The Modern Board spoke to senior leaders at Slack, Meta, Okta, and Gusto to discuss the evolution of workplace technology.

Use cases

Hybrid work is driving changes to tech offerings, says Christine Trodella, head of Workplace at Meta. Starbucks and Walmart are using the Meta Workplace platform to connect their immense frontline workforces with company leadership and staffers at their headquarters.

“We’re continuing to focus on what our customers and internal employees need the most because of hybrid work,” she tells Fortune. “That often ties back to flexibility. This can relate to location, working hours and the platforms we conduct meetings on.”

Other clients are using the platform for employee recognition and rewards. As another example, Trodella points to a veterinary services company that is using Workplace to improve its deliveries, allowing veterinarians, “who often work in lonely, siloed environments,” to access a suite of central resources and dial specialists into their video appointments. She adds that new capabilities that are growing in popularity include AR/VR for training, and auto-translate features in chat or video for globally distributed teams.

Collaboration tools on the rise

Of the ten fastest growing workplace apps in 2021, five were collaboration tools, according to an Okta report: Notion, Figma, Miro, Airtable, and monday.com.

Okta CEO Todd McKinnon says these collaboration tools are the second wave of workplace tech. The first wave, which includes email, messaging, and file storage apps, focused on message and information sharing between employees, rather than real-time collaboration on documents and deliverables.

“These tools are getting better,” McKinnon explains. “They’re more useful and connected to more things.” He notes that between one-third and one-half of Microsoft 365 companies still use Slack or Zoom, and even at the enterprise cloud level, companies are using multiple providers.

This is a symptom of the current environment, McKinnon says. Companies understand that they have to work in a different way, and are willing to try various platforms. “You see a lot of mixing and matching going on,” he says.

Technology to support culture 

Every element of the employee lifecycle, from recruiting and onboarding to performance management and training, has moved online over the last two years. At Gusto, a software provider for medium and small businesses, client adoption of HR tools went up 15x in the first year of the pandemic, says Eric Schuchman, GM and head of product.“Technology is an incredible equalizer.”

Small and medium-sized businesses can attract, hire, and retain employees using technological capabilities that are similar to those of their larger peers, a significant change from years past when most smaller companies used minimal software and manual processes.

Tech is also playing a role in strengthening company culture, with organizations increasingly using software such as Lattice and CultureAmp, the the fourth and fifth most popular HR tools overall last year, according to Okta. Lattice saw 76% year-over-year growth while CultureAmp grew 56%.

“A lot of things in a face-to-face world happened organically,” Schuchman says. “You have to be much more intentional in a remote environment.”

Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum, a research consortium funded by Slack, emphasizes the importance of psychological safety in driving innovation, especially for distributed teams.

In a recent Future Forum survey, he says, employees who reported that their companies had invested in new collaborative technologies since the onset of the pandemic “were twice as likely to say their teams were just as, or even more, creative working remotely versus in an office.”

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