Digital changes the worker experience for better or for worse. You choose.
As the post-digital era begins, new technologies are defining workplace experiences across industries. Companies around the world are focusing on digital transformation to the sum of US$1.2 trillion globally, but many are overlooking the culture change necessary for success.
While leaders acknowledge these technologies benefit their bottom line, more importantly, they recognize these gains are only sustainable if their organization’s culture adapts and embraces new ways of working.
Organizations are moving beyond the transactional 20th-century model of employment to a post-digital one where their workers move from the traditional definition of “employees” to a team of co-creators who are partners in purpose.
Leading companies are finding the enlightened sweet spot where what’s good for the post-digital business is deliberately designed to be good for their workforce. In the process, they are deliberately addressing the new worker needs digital brings, as well as the traditional needs it changes.
Crafting a culture that fits the era, C-suites realize supporting workers’ needs is not just the right thing to do, it’s essential for real competitive advantage—as well as for attracting and retaining high-value workers. Companies optimize their chances of successful outcomes when they consider the interplay between technology and culture as they create a strategy for growth and innovation.
Leading companies are finding the enlightened sweet spot where what’s good for the post-digital business is deliberately designed to be good for their workforce.
Digital creates new worker needs and challenges. The good news: Digital also can solve some of them.
In a world where mobile devices allow always-on connections, the boundaries between work time and personal time have eroded. Workers’ personal domains—family, social time, time alone—are being impinged upon by constant work.
As physical boundaries disappear, companies risk work culture becoming 24/7. Workers are having to put up psychological boundaries to protect their well-being, to keep company demands from becoming all-consuming. Those boundaries are not consistently being respected. Studies abound showing people regularly check work e-mails at the dinner table, as well as in bed.
The pervasive adoption of digital technologies and broadband internet allows for more workers, in more types of roles, to switch employers with the same ease that they switch service providers as consumers. More and more workers are in alternative work arrangements, versus traditional employee relationships. Cultures need to accommodate for this, moving from a design that favors only traditional full-time employees.
Recognizing the fluid nature of work and careers in the post-digital economy, companies and governments are considering a benefits safety net. Several U.S. states—California, New Jersey, New York and Washington among them—have also introduced portable benefits legislation. In the European Parliament, legislation introduces more predictable hours and compensation for cancelled work, applying to vulnerable workers on non-traditional contracts and in non-standard jobs.
Safety that spans worlds
Traditionally, workers have required a safe physical environment. But, in the post-digital world, they also need a safe cyber environment. As the physical and digital worlds merge, employees will exist more often in an extended reality (XR) where the two worlds converge at work.
Industries are heading into XR at varying speeds, but all show a quickening pace. It’s important that companies begin to put well-being and safety at the center of their design for any technology service or product, as well as at the heart of their operations and culture.
Companies around the world are focusing on digital transformation to the sum of US$1.2 trillion globally, but many are overlooking the culture change necessary for success.
Traditional worker needs with a digital twist
Digital doesn’t just create new worker needs. It also spurs an urgency around some traditional worker needs, like transparency, relevance and inclusivity.
Transparency and trust
With digital analytics, companies can not only better gauge how on board their people are, they can also see more clearly how work is being done. From which teams to assemble for top-notch innovation to how to better support workers for better outcomes, leaders are afforded a window into what makes their company tick.
In the most advanced companies, culture supports workers helping to shape a strategy, rather than just being participants in making it a reality. This radical level of transparency ensures they are not passive recipients of something handed down from “on high” and instead, feel ownership of where the company is headed and their part in helping it get there.
From workers to executives, companies will need to create a culture that embraces “new skilling,” helping workers learn the competencies that will take them into a post-digital future.
Beyond any one competency, companies will need to partner with governments, educational institutions and workers themselves to better enable lifelong learning—a must in a new world where business changes quickly. Middle-skill workers—those who have more than a high school diploma but less than a university degree—are at a particularly high risk for displacement. Globally, we’re seeing a hollowing out of middle-skill jobs already.
From accessibility to working styles, cultural preferences to avoidance of stereotypical norms, workers who feel respected are able to commit more fully to delivering value. As companies serve an increasingly diverse consumer base, their employees need to reflect that consumer base. Studies show that companies with policies that encourage the retention and promotion of diverse workers across race, sexual orientation, and gender, are more innovative and release more products.
Digital technologies allow formerly disenfranchised groups of workers to do things and contribute in a way not previously possible. More than one billion people need assistive products to be independent and productive, but only one in 10 have access. Adults with disabilities have twice the unemployment rate of those without, but technology—and enlightened leaders—can change this situation.
Only one out of 10 disabled people have access to assistive products.
Transforming your organizational culture for the times
Post-digital culture change is so fundamental that it’s not just doing. It’s becoming. Leaders will need to throw away the old scorecards and performance metrics, redefining the way they lead and what they hold their teams accountable for daily.
As you think about how to align culture to the times, a few first steps will point you in the right direction:
Throw out your understanding of workplace experiences. Businesses looking ahead to the post-digital age see technologies ranging from AI to XR that will fundamentally change the way work is performed. In response to these changes, leading businesses are rethinking everything that goes into the creation of a digitally equipped workforce and what it will take to help that workforce thrive.
Embrace changing perspectives on the nature of work. Technology will only become more integrated in the workplace, giving rise to new needs that could impact a workforce’s ability to succeed. Businesses that embrace changing workforce needs today can use this transformation effort to prepare themselves for change tomorrow.
Empower passionate leaders who want to address new worker needs. Cultural transformations are impactful if they emerge from within an existing workforce. Individuals who can balance an understanding of emerging workforce needs with ongoing business challenges are well-positioned to chart successful transformation strategies. Bring these voices to the table when you evaluate emerging stakeholder and workforce needs.
As digital technologies become more prevalent in the workplace, keep your desired end state in mind. What is your company becoming? How are digital technologies shaping that? And is the impact on your workforce for better or for worse? In the more enlightened era of work we are all moving into, leaders are designing for the better.