Wednesday 18 November 2020

HR Voice - Christian Neu & Pierre-Antoine Person -
Digital workplace: Learning lessons from the crisis

HR Voice - Christian Neu & Pierre-Antoine Person - Digital workplace: Learning lessons from the crisis

In addition to radically changing our daily lives and health system, Covid-19 has greatly disrupted the organisation of companies, which have been forced to make remote working the new norm without necessarily being equipped with the right tools. While the crisis has undeniably been a catalyst for digital transformation, it has also revealed flaws and weaknesses in digital workplaces, particularly when they have had to be hastily deployed.

Change management: a critical challenge and an ongoing process

The lockdown caught many French companies unprepared and it rapidly became clear that they would have to urgently deploy a digital workplace. However, in these organisations, rapid deployment was often limited to the installation of video-conferencing and document-sharing tools, without the establishment of an effective change management policy and adequate training programmes. At the same time, while companies that had already deployed a digital workplace seemed to be in a less urgent situation, widespread remote working for weeks at a time also revealed latent flaws in their digital work systems. 

The health crisis was an emergency that demanded an immediate response. We now need to draw lessons from it and the first, while it may not be the most important, is that change management, which suffered during the lockdown in companies where the priority was to keep their business alive, is an ongoing process. Used as a means of bringing employees on board, it is often seen as a one-off step that introduces teams to new tools. Change management is much more than this: it should enable companies to shape the digital workplace to fit their organisation and corporate culture, as well as to achieve their expected performance goals. However, in order to do that, it needs to be based on a set of tools that are themselves constantly evolving. Each new functionality opens up new possibilities, according to the role of each individual in the organisation. 

If the aim of digital working is above all to improve productivity and make employees' jobs easier, it is essential for teams to invest in ongoing change management, in order to avoid falling behind in the use of the range of tools available within a digital workplace. In order to achieve this, a governance body formed of business team and transformation representatives is generally set up and tasked with identifying the most relevant tools to provide and the pace of their deployment, according to various technical, financial and human criteria.

This challenge is even bigger for companies where urgent deployment was required. They must now establish a stable system, which is accepted by their teams and used correctly, in order to rapidly improve productivity.  

A digital workplace set to be revolutionised

If there is another lesson to be drawn from the current crisis, it is that tools in the digital workplace do not stand still. They are constantly evolving and, with remote working now becoming a lasting reality, they will continue to evolve in order to bring ever more value to teams. 

With employees now working remotely and in the office on a daily basis, one of the challenges emerging today, for example, is to bring them closer together and remove the friction from their collaboration. Traditional brainstorming sessions around a whiteboard can rapidly descend into cacophony, with participants physically present communicating between themselves, while those working remotely find it hard to hear what is being said and make themselves heard. It is, therefore, essential for the digital workplace to keep moving forward and rapidly provide new collaborative tools that reduce this distance. Interactive whiteboards, for example, are rarely deployed and, when they are, they are often not fully exploited due to a lack of training on their use.

Shared document editing has also shown how important it is in recent months, facilitated by the level of maturity now reached by Google and MS Office tools, for example.

Digital workplaces on the market continue to evolve and improve the user experience, while offering new functionalities. Microsoft Teams, for example, has developed into a valuable collaborative work tool (with functionalities including video-conferencing, instant messaging, scheduling, document sharing, survey forms and more).

However, users are not always aware of all the new functionalities offered by a constantly evolving digital workplace. What's more, they often use unofficial "non-professional" tools in their companies, meaning they fail to benefit from integration with other tools and run the risk of compromising data confidentiality. It is important to identify and understand such cases, as they are a reflection of user needs that are not provided for. These needs can be met by either providing the right tools or the right training. Setting up a network of ambassadors, tasked with coordinating the digital workplace and providing training, can be an effective way to identify these needs.

Lastly, workplaces are often based on a mainly mono-task approach, while work habits now generally involve multi-tasking. This is even true since the lockdown, where people have had to learn how to juggle their various responsibilities while working remotely (for example, editing a document during a video-conference, while answering a quick question via IM). 

There are still many areas where progress can be made:

  • Digital workplaces on the market must continue to make the user experience smoother between their increasing number of components.
  • Each company should look to integrate its digital workplace and business applications in order to maximise capacity for collaboration.
  • Change management and sharing of best practices within companies must be an ongoing process.

 

While digital workplaces look set to keep on amazing us with future developments, companies must start equipping themselves to get the best out of them without delay.  

Christian Neu, Project Director & Pierre-Antoine Person, Digital Governance Practice Leader

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