The last year changed the business landscape on almost every front. Health and safety necessities shifted many professionals into remote work and entire industries had to pivot just to stay in business. Others found ways to build business in times of change.
In response, the role of technology immediately catapulted in importance, said Ayman Sayed, CEO of Houston-based BMC Software. While the digital workplace existed before COVID, the pandemic brought several issues around people, process and technology to the forefront – from the challenge in keeping remote networks secure to inundated systems due to the rapid increase in remote workers.
There was also the challenge of workers transitioning to new technologies and ways of working. That forced many enterprise leaders to look at how to upskill – or offer different skills — to workers not familiar with the tools that make digital workplaces tick. Learning and development became a key element of employee experience programs, which in themselves became increasingly important as entire workplaces moved to remote work. While this move was difficult for many, it was not impossible and success was ensured by sticking to principles that existed before the pandemic.
“Companies can set themselves up for success, whether its workforce is in an office five days a week, operating remotely, or somewhere in between, so long as the proper processes and tools are in place to support productivity and communication,” Sayed said. He pointed to regular “face-to-face” meetings via video and chat for ideation and collaboration and use of VPNs for network stability as ways to remain agile and adaptable.
The heart of the solution is training leaders and workers how to manage and work remotely. COVID-19 caused a rapid transition to remote work that resulted in radically new ways of digital work and learning, said Todd Moran, chief learning strategist at San Francisco-based NovoEd, a collaborative learning platform.
Pre-pandemic, the population of remote workers working primarily in the digital workplace was a relatively small percentage of the overall workforce in large enterprises, even for the most advanced technology companies. That population ballooned to upwards of 80% as the pandemic forced many into remote work. Organizations simply had not seen this level of reliance on digital tools to recreate the social, in-person aspects of the office, foster culture and enable collaboration and creativity. Innovative strategies have emerged to ensure employees get the skills and tools they need to do their jobs in this new environment.
“Companies across all industries have needed to rapidly adapt to new ways of working,” Moran said. “This shift has put a greater emphasis on the need to reskill and upskill their capabilities to adapt to this digitally transformed workplace and remain flexible for whatever a post-pandemic workplace will look like.”
This skill enhancement spans across a variety of enterprise and employee training needs, including leadership development, onboarding, sales enablement and diversity and inclusion. Last year also brought a cascade of external economic, social and environmental crises that put greater emphasis on the company’s role in creating inclusive, diverse and meaningful cultures. Business leaders have been faced with the challenging task of rebuilding their cultures in a digital environment while creating connections and furthering engagement virtually.
Although there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of returning to the physical office, much of the current digital workplace will not only remain but will need to evolve to support the strong likelihood that a far greater percentage of the enterprise workforce will persist in a dedicated remote fashion, Moran added. Business leaders must think about how to engage employees in the office and at home to ensure all have the right skills and tools to thrive in this hybrid environment.
Organizations have never had to execute virtual training, learning and development at the scale and rate we do now, said Derek Belch, co-founder and CEO of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Strivr, a VR immersive learning solution.
Learning and development has been a bit behind the times. Before the pandemic, even highly digital workplaces still relied on physical methods like in-person group presentations, classes and learning to train new and current employees. Unfortunately, the immediate response was to shift already existing L&D programs online by conducting them through video calls instead of in person.
However, this is not a sustainable or effective solution. Since remote work is a major and likely permanent addition to a company’s employment offering, employers will have to figure out how to update learning programs to effectively serve fully dispersed teams.
With the arrival of COVID-19, many corporations went to 100% digital operations seemingly overnight. As entire workplaces moved to digital with no ability to plan, companies uncovered many things that need to be altered or improved to champion a better digital workplace post-pandemic.
While the digital workplace is successfully operating now, it is not reaching its full potential, said Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of UK-based Adaptavist, a digital transformation consultancy that works with companies like Oracle, SAP, Marriott, Comcast and Fannie Mae.
The biggest issues, he said, are that workers found themselves using inadequate digital tools, not receiving the proper guidance and training, and now have too many social channels to jump between for communicating.
So while 82% of workers in Adaptavist’s recent Digital Etiquette Study say they are equally (47%) if not more productive (35%) working from home, there are workflow stressors and motivational challenges that need to be addressed to create a better digital workplace.
Furthermore, even with the availability of all sorts of new communication tools, the vast majority of workers are still using email (71%) and spreadsheets (62%) to track work that is in progress.
“Not only do workers need access to better digital tools, but they also need to have the training that illustrates how these tools can save them time, rather than making things more complex for them,” Haighton-Williams said.
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