Most Organizations Not Ready for Digital Workplace

Youngest and oldest employees more receptive to new ways of working

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer September 10, 2018
Most Organizations Not Ready for Digital Workplace

​Fewer than 20 percent of employers in seven high-skilled economies are prepared to adopt digital workplace technologies such as virtual collaboration and mobile tools, according to a new survey by research firm Gartner.

The survey, conducted among 3,120 respondents in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., found that only a small proportion of organizations (between 7 percent and 18 percent) possess the "digital dexterity" to "leverage and manipulate media, information and technology in unique and highly innovative ways," according to Gartner.

The goal of digital dexterity is to build a flexible, agile workplace by implementing tools such as content management systems, cloud file-sharing, employee portals, enterprise social networks and mobile apps.

"Today's consumers are digital—and that means customers and employees alike," said Marc Solow, director of HR shared services at professional services firm Deloitte. "Digitization has become essential for innovation and for keeping employees engaged in their organizational mission and careers."

Gartner's criteria for measuring an organization's digital dexterity include the ability to work remotely, the inclination toward using team-based collaboration platforms and the desire to adopt new technology as it emerges.

By country, organizations exhibiting the highest digital dexterity were in the United States (18.2 percent of respondents), followed by Germany (17.6 percent) and the U.K. (17.1 percent). 

Source: Gartner.

Workers between the ages of 18-24 are the most receptive of all age groups to adopt digital workplace products and services. Perhaps surprisingly, the oldest cohort of workers surveyed, those between the ages of 55-74, are the second most likely adopters of digital workplace tools and practices. Workers in this group "have the highest opinion of teamwork, have progressed to a position where there is little routine work and have the most favorable view of all age groups of internal social networking technology," said Craig Roth, vice president of research at Gartner.

Workers ages 35-44 expressed the most apathy toward new technology and ways of working. "They were most likely to report that their jobs are routine, have the dimmest view of how technology can help their work and are the least interested in mobile work," Roth said.

Source: Gartner.

On average, larger companies ranked higher than smaller ones. "Embracing dynamic work styles, devices, work locations and team structures can transform a business and its relationship to its staff, but digital dexterity doesn't come cheap," Roth said. "It takes investment in workplace design, mobile devices and software, and larger organizations find it easier to make this investment."

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

HR's Role

Research from Deloitte indicates that 56 percent of HR leaders are being pushed to take on a larger role in driving their organizations toward digital transformation. "This presents a unique opportunity for HR to lead the charge in turning their company into the digital organization of the future to improve engagement and productivity, while getting a seat at the leadership table," Solow said.

"Obviously, the digital revolution impacts the way people work," said Deborah Waddill, the president of Restek Consulting in Reston, Va., and the author of Digital HR: A Guide to Technology-Enabled Human Resources (SHRM, 2018). "Employees must be able to work anywhere in a 'nonoffice' environment, be team players, have consumerlike software skills using mobile, cloud, social media, apps, 'big data' analytics, and other tools and be OK with nonroutine ways of working. As HR professionals we must be prepared to hire people who can survive and thrive in the digital environment or train our employees to become digital workers."

Solow added that digital workplace technology can improve engagement and satisfaction by mirroring employees' home-life conveniences, and improve productivity and efficiency by offering flexibility, mobility and self-service options for administrative and HR-related tasks.

"When employees can update their benefits easily, whenever and wherever they want, they have more time to focus on value-additive work and personal development," he said. "A digital workplace allows for things like remote work and easy onboarding to become commonplace—connecting people when they may not be physically in the office and letting them perform tasks and activities on their own schedules."

Roth advised employers to encourage the continual growth of digital dexterity skills across the organization.

"HR can be an advocate for the importance of people as a priority in technology implementation," he said. "This means an emphasis on the user experience, the potential skills gap required by the new system to the skills of the workforce, and how it will impact employee satisfaction and engagement."

HR can help with input into rollout plans, communication, training and measuring results, he said. "HR is involved in hiring and performance evaluation processes, both of which should be changed—such as through job descriptions and performance objectives—to value digital dexterity."

Solow added that HR doesn't have to lead transformation on its own and can assemble interdisciplinary teams that include HR, IT, sales, finance, customer service "and others that are capable of leveraging the specialized expertise of their workforce to redefine the employee experience."

Overcoming Resistance to Change

The success of digital transformation often depends more on proper change management than on the technology itself, making it essential to involve stakeholders from across the organization who are willing to champion transformation initiatives, Solow said.

"Any change to an organization has repercussions for the people within that organization, and HR leaders should work to ensure that employees are comfortable, informed, trained and expecting the change," he said.

"To overcome resistance, the best approach is first to model the behavior required by the new digitally dexterous organization," Waddill said. "That means embracing the digital workplace, creatively using technology, thinking strategically, demonstrating a team spirit, and including both key stakeholders and innovative thinkers in the process."

She said other steps could be:

  • Increasing feedback from digital workers through mentoring, surveys and observation.
  • Arranging focus groups for senior executives to learn about technology challenges.
  • Documenting work styles internally to help support more styles in more roles.
  • Modeling workers' needs based on how they use technology inside and outside the office.
  • Highlighting mavericks to uncover insights into productivity and unshared technology.



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