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Digital Transformation Came for HR. Where Do We Go Now?

August 25, 2020 Digital Workplace
Lance Haun
By Lance Haun

Back in 2015, MIT Sloan Management Review wrote an article that every technology provider hated. Instead of the promised sunshine and rainbows of merely buying one’s way out of a digital transformation mess, research showed the transition to a digital workplace would require actual strategy.

Of course, that was in 2015. That feels like a lifetime ago in an age where COVID-19 has stretched six months into a seemingly years-long trudge toward a light at the end of a tunnel that we can barely see. In 2015, the whole idea of digital transformation felt like a process that could be managed. Get your strategy right, grab an army of consultants, buy more tech solutions than could fit in a carton of eggs and in three to five years, you’ll have a digital workplace.

It’s almost cute to think about that again, isn’t it?

Technology Comes First This Time

Digital transformation wasn’t going to come to organizations through the earnest planning of corporate committees. Instead, it came on the heels of a global pandemic. What was projected to take years instead took weeks.

That meant for many HR and IT leaders, technology had to come first. The strategy would have to come second.

As the dust settles and your employees cope with the massive influx of change both at work and home, it’s time to put everything on the table and reconsider what work and HR look like in a new world.

Related Article: Reimagining the Digital Workplace of Tomorrow

Throw Out the Old Playbooks

Maybe your organization had already shaped a path to digital transformation greatness. Maybe you already had exceptional remote work policies. Maybe your technology protocols were unmatched.

Here’s hoping you have a lot of doors to prop open with those plans. COVID-19 is shifting our fundamental assumptions about work, technology and productivity. 

When organizations were thinking about remote or hybrid workforces, they probably weren’t thinking that some of their employees would be propping computers on kitchen counters and cookbooks.

They definitely weren’t thinking that they would be competing against everyone for essential technology items like laptops and mice or scrambling to figure out internet access and shared server or cloud resources for employees.

When companies were thinking about productivity gains, they certainly weren’t thinking that many employees would also be trying to guide their children through school in between Zoom meetings. Nobody thought this moment would be one where women in the prime of their careers would be three times as likely as men not to be working due to childcare issues.

Finally, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research is also giving us a realistic view of other practical ways that the workday is changing from pre-pandemic norms, including:

  • 12.9% increase in the number of meetings per person
  • 13.5% increase in the number of attendees per meeting
  • 20.1% decrease in the average length of meetings
  • 8.2% increase in the length of the average workday

In short, there’s better information to work with than at the beginning of the pandemic. Now is the time to rethink how we make work, work.

It’s Time for Strategy Again

So, your digital transformation vision didn’t go as planned? Welcome to the club.

Instead of just accepting the remote work mess that you needed to prop up in a couple of weeks as a given, HR and IT leaders will need to work together to put together a pragmatic strategy that accounts for:

  • Long-term work technology direction
  • The future of in-person office work
  • Safety of employees and their families
  • Physical, mental and financial well-being
  • Flexible work policies
  • Learning and development initiatives
  • Child care and schooling challenges
  • Elder care options and concerns
  • Productivity and collaboration

The pandemic has laid bare that these aren’t a bulleted list of siloed initiatives. Instead, they are interconnected, messy and require multiple stakeholders to account for a multitude of unique situations.

Digital workplace transformation has moved out of the boardroom and into the kitchens, bedrooms and temporary conference call spaces across the world. Workforce leaders have the ability to rewrite a strategy that is stronger, more realistic and more equitable than anyone could’ve ever imagined.

The pandemic is a crisis of enormous proportions and it will continue to challenge everyone in the months and years to come. But it’s also an opportunity organizations and employees simply can’t ignore.


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