The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly derailed many businesses’ carefully laid plans. Amid a scramble to maintain business continuity and shift to remote work, long-term digital strategy took on immediate urgency as the pace of change accelerated across all industries. While technology can provide tools to enable success, businesses rely on experienced, qualified employees to wield those tools. That’s why creating the digital workplace of tomorrow requires a workforce with the skills necessary to support ongoing digital transformation.
Although the specific changes in the workplace vary according to industry, location, company size, and other factors, the best practices have much in common. Companies will need to adapt their cultures, and it’s a given that they’ll need a high level of digital literacy across the workforce. It’ll also be important to foster a company-wide mindset of cyber resilience and ensure effective change leadership. Organizations that take a proactive approach and make deliberate plans for these shifts can significantly increase the likelihood of continued success for their business.
Adjusting culture and embracing change
The nature of how and where we work is evolving rapidly, meaning that CIOs and CFOs need to plan accordingly. According to the 2021 BDO Middle Market CFO Outlook Survey, nearly a quarter of companies plan to expand remote work options (22%), and more than a third plan to automate manual labor (38%).
As these changes gain greater momentum, corporate culture must adjust the previous norms to increase employee engagement amid a more fragmented workplace experience. This could include efforts such as holding virtual offsite events for team building or offering previously in-office amenities to remote workers—gift cards for food and coffee, discounted fitness memberships, stipends for home office equipment, and more.
Companies should clarify any new expectations for their digital workforce and provide enhanced tools for collaborative activities. It’s also important to communicate how automation can benefit employees and highlight the opportunities for growth that the changes can provide. The benefits include reducing repetitive manual processes and expanding bandwidth for workers to focus on more impactful, complex tasks. Enabling employees helps improve their engagement and job satisfaction as well.
Digital literacy and a security mindset
Changing company culture is just one step on the path to successful digital transformation. It requires the resources, knowledge, and skills to support and sustain the initiative. Providing sufficient training and targeted reskilling or upskilling for current employees is a necessary part of building the workforce of tomorrow. Digital literacy dovetails with key soft skills, including adaptability, problem-solving, effective communication, and emotional intelligence, which all correlate with effective teamwork and leadership.
At the same time, investing in the workforce’s digital literacy helps nurture employee engagement and can improve retention. The costs of recruiting and training new staff can be substantial, so assessing and augmenting the current workforce’s digital literacy should be a central feature of any strategy. Building those foundational skills helps support adoption.
Cybersecurity is another crucial focus area, and building a culture of security is central to organizational resilience. That’s why it’s no surprise to see that 59% of CFOs plan to increase budgets for IT in 2021. The number and sophistication of cyber threats have risen substantially, and a company is only as secure as its weakest link. This is especially true for the digital workplace. Targeted phishing scams or social engineering tactics that fool just one employee could have devastating impacts on the entire organization. Deploying security analytics, data encryption and continuous threat monitoring are a few of the methods to bolster cybersecurity. But it’s vital to foster a security mindset among all employees.
Change leadership and digital adoption
Organizational alignment is needed for an effective digital strategy, and change leadership from the top helps earn companywide buy-in for new initiatives. BDO’s survey found that 39% of middle market CFOs say the pandemic accelerated digital transformation, and 50% plan to pursue digital transformation in 2021.
As transformation proceeds more quickly, it’s even more critical to manage that change diligently and avoid common pitfalls. Business leaders should make sure to allocate ample resources for strategy and scoping, plus enablement and adoption among the workforce, or the initiative could falter quickly. Each initiative should have a key stakeholder to champion the effort and help gain buy-in across the board. Change leadership comes from the top down, but change adoption comes from the bottom up.
The path forward
Building the digital workplace helps increase agility and resilience, but there are distinct steps to implementing it effectively, especially on an accelerated timeline. Shifting company culture and boosting digital literacy, along with deliberate change leadership, directly enables workforce adoption and support key initiatives. As companies adapt to unforeseen volatility, these actions all enable success for the digital workforce of tomorrow.
Malcolm (“Chip”) Cohron is the national Digital Transformation Services leader of BDO Digital. With over 25 years of experience in digital and business strategy, Malcolm is a recognized digital transformation/re-invention field executive, helping clients compete in today’s evolving markets by guiding them through their digital transformational journey. Malcolm works with his clients to drive business and technological innovation by identifying go-to-market growth strategies, rethinking business & operational models, helping to solve complex business problems, and applying transformational digital solutions, all while delivering tangible results in compressed time frames.
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