Recent years have shown that digital transformation is not just a luxury but also a necessity. What was once something cutting-edge companies did to keep up with modern trends has now become the truth of how most companies operate, due in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while many companies think a digital transformation is something they can buy, it is actually something they have to design and create an implementation strategy for.
Before embarking on their digital transformation, companies must ask themselves whether they are actually committed to a digital transformation or if they are simply making a technology transition. A transition involves only moving from one technology to another, giving your employees a new tool and hoping they will learn how to use it. On the other hand, a digital transformation involves changing the entire strategy with which the company operates.
One of the biggest mistakes many companies make regarding a digital transformation is to fully equate “digital” with “technology.” Although embracing technology is part of a digital transformation, it is only one aspect of what a company must do to be a part of this new paradigm. Digital is an entire way of working—not just the technology used to work—and there are four main pillars of transforming into a digital workstyle.
What Makes Up a Digital Transformation?
The first—and perhaps most important—aspect of a digital transformation is the transformative mindset. Business owners must ask themselves questions like what their measures of successes are or how they are going to drive change. A digital transformation is, first and foremost, about changing the workplace to ensure it is as efficient as possible and meets employees’ needs.
In order to best meet the needs of their employees, business owners must first understand those needs, which is also a pivotal step in a successful digital transformation. When embarking on a digital transformation, it is easiest for businesses to think of their employees as their “audience” and find solutions catered to them. After all, those employees are the ones who will have to work in the transformed workplace.
Employers must realize there is no one-size-fits-all method of having employees work. What allows one employee to thrive may be frustrating and prohibitive for another employee. Employers must embrace the differences in their employees’ strengths and design an environment conducive to producing their best work.
Finally, there is the technology aspect of a digital transformation. Although, it is not the technology itself that matters so much as how it is used.
Technology is a tool that can allow employees to expand their capabilities, but it means nothing if it is not being used or is not being used properly. The adage is, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” During a digital transformation, an employer’s goal is to lead their employees to water by giving them the technology and to have them drink by teaching them how to use it.
The Role of Technology in a Digital Transformation
Companies that focus too much on finding a single technology to solve all their problems will come back disappointed; it simply won’t happen. There is no technological panacea. As such, the objective of a digital transformation is not to find one tool that does the job but to create a strategy with multiple tools and skills that come together to solve the company’s problems.
When a company becomes too wrapped up in the novelty of new technology, it frequently leads to “shiny object syndrome.” Business owners think they have spent all of this money on a new gadget or software and that it will immediately be able to make their life easier. However, this is rarely the case.
Instead, leaders should focus on creating a “mindset for success.” Their approach to digital transformation should not be to simply change things but to create a vision for the company and execute on it. That vision is only effective when it prioritizes the role of the employees, who are a pivotal force in the company’s success.
Companies must find a way to integrate these new technologies into their operations for the transformation to be successful. As such, leadership must figure out how the technology best integrates into the model of how their employees are currently working and how they will be working after this transformation and determine whether this will be an effective solution.
Managing a Digital Work Environment
One of the biggest challenges for employers in this new digital work environment is the difference in monitoring employees working remotely rather than in person. Some managers are used to being a watchdog over their employees in the office, ensuring they stay on task and perform to company standards. When managers don’t have their employees sitting in front of them, it’s harder to be this enforcing entity—but that needn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
With workplaces shifting to more remote work styles, employers should embrace the change and the opportunities that come along with it rather than trying to cling to the old methods of keeping tabs on employees throughout each workday. Remote work allows employees to work on their own terms, which can boost morale significantly. Still, forcing all employees to work remotely isn’t the progressive solution some may think it is—other employees will better thrive in an in-office environment. The goal should be to allow the workplace to be flexible and meet the needs of employees.
The nature of remote work also makes it more difficult for employers to check in on their employees. In general, the system of evaluating employees is broken. Sitting down once a year with employees to discuss their performance doesn’t give them the feedback they need to thrive in their roles, nor does it key the employer into any concerns employees may have about their working situation.
Having more regular conversations with employees can provide an effective substitute for the in-office interactions an employee would usually have in a traditional workplace environment. It is easy for an employer to see when employees are troubled if they are outwardly acting differently in the office, but it’s much more difficult to see these signs if the only interactions an employer is having with employees are via e-mail, instant messaging, or Zoom meetings.
Interacting with employees in these ways can significantly drive engagement. One of the disadvantages of working remotely compared with an in-office setting is the lack of face-to-face interactions. However, taking advantage of the inherent connectivity of this digital environment allows employees to form connections that are essential to the organization’s success.
Businesses mustn’t lose track of the human element of working in a digital work environment. Everything about a digital transformation should be designed with workers in mind, from designing the work environment to looking for new solutions. By creating an environment accommodating to everyone’s needs, a company can boost morale and productivity, which substantially impacts its bottom line.
Jason Averbook is a leading analyst, thought leader, and consultant in the areas of HR, the future of work, and the impact technology has on that future. He is the cofounder and CEO of Leapgen, a digital transformation company shaping the NOW of work. Averbook helps organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindset to rethink how to design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business.