Our world has become digital. It has been a gradual transformation, both in terms of time and the areas it has covered: first certain services, then certain information, utility fields, entertainment spaces, shopping tools.
In recent years, we have learned to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital tools to make our daily lives more accessible and more prosperous. Once there was a tendency to consider as belonging to separate spheres the activities that a person carried out in physical life and those that, instead, referred to as “virtual places” or connected tools. We used to talk about real life and virtual life or, to be precise, digital life. Today this distinction no longer exists: life is one and there is no perceived difference between physical experiences and those belonging to what we do through apps or websites. In our daily lives, we converse “live” and “remotely” with family, friends and colleagues. We perform real actions and digital actions. We choose a product by looking at it on the shelf of a supermarket or through the images of a shopping app.
We have become physical and digital beings at the same time. Able to inhabit both these contexts without too many difficulties, moving at ease and knowing the mechanics and advantages.
In an increasingly digital world, organizations are no exception.
In such a reality, it is not surprising that digital transformation also affects organizations and the way we conceive of operating in the field of work. We have personally known the positive impact of digitization in our everyday lives, and the same (and other) benefits can be applied to the professionalism of people and the productivity of companies. And indeed, this is much talked about. And not just recently.
There are many ideas revolving around the digital transformation of work. Adjectives like “smart” or “hybrid” and nouns like “digitalization” or “digital workspace” dominate any reasoning related to this critical topic. Of course, when concepts are concentrated in keywords, there is also often a risk of ambiguity. Or, at least, reducing complex thoughts to overly simplistic identifications.
This is the case, for example, of the concept of “smart working”, which has improperly acquired a meaning restricted to remote work, but which contains much more: that adjective – smart – does not speak of a place but rather indicates a mode of interaction between the company and its collaborators that has its strength in flexibility and liberation from an idea of operativeness linked to rigid criteria of space and time. That means not only being present at the company’s headquarters or not but also being able to use the advanced tools necessary to be efficient in one’s work, anytime and anywhere. More: use them when you need them. That means greater effectiveness of their actions and a more fertile field of application for their skills. It’s enough to imagine a technician who had to be on-site to notice a production problem linked, perhaps, to the incorrect functioning of a machine and, therefore, had to have direct contact with his team (also on-site) to evaluate the feasible solutions and avoid further production delays or major problems: the response time would be long, and the situation would be even more harmful in the event of a malfunction outside working hours. Let’s imagine the same technician receiving a report through the production monitoring module on the digital workspace adopted by the company and immediately activating communication with the team, always through chat or messaging applications, to intervene almost in real-time: all without the need to be physically present, without the constraint of a precise time, without loss of time and, consequently, of productivity.
Digital culture makes organizations competitive.
In today’s context, the digital transformation of companies is not simply an opportunity but a necessity. Staying competitive today means adopting evolved tools and operational and strategic patterns that are different from previous decades. Organizations’ culture and management approach cannot ignore the new digitized course. Adapting a traditional mindset to the use of digital tools is not enough. And, it rarely brings a real productive advantage. In practice, it is a condition that is likely to derail the digitalization process. Prithwiraj Choudhury, Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management at Harvard Business School, talking about hybrid work says that “we can’t take the old set of processes, apply them to hybrid work and expect them to work.” It’s no different if we broaden the discourse on an organization’s digital transformation: there remains a need to redesign the patterns of the operations, starting with the new ways in which people in the company share information, collaborate, socialize, and draw on their skills and act. Consider also the importance of adopting the right tools in the proper contexts. Laura Mae Martin, Productivity Advisor at Google, points to some of the problems of choosing or using modern tools, emphasizing the impact that devices have on productivity: for example, the constant switching from one instrument to another, often out of sync with each other, is a source of stress, fatigue, decreased concentration and, as a result, slower productivity. Tools need to “work together” smoothly, quickly, and efficiently.
Criticalities and advantages.
So, here are some critical points for the development of new competitiveness, based on the integration of digital technology in all areas:
- targeted tools.
- strategic choices.
- digital culture.
- openness to rethinking company dynamics.
The result is improved operations, process automation, time savings, and productivity growth. Of course, these points are not always easy to apply. Several critical issues need to be considered and addressed with due care. First of all, it is fair to say that this transformation requires a medium to long-term time horizon, commitment to a dedicated budget, and support from many business figures. Support aimed at initiating the change and supporting it in its phases. Still, in reality, the transformation touches all the people in the company, making them not only participants but protagonists of the evolution. It is appropriate to define it as a cultural change in the entire organization.
The criticalities that this process may involve are of various kinds. But some are more clearly identifiable. Among these are the consequences of the change in human contact: interactions pass more often through digital tools, and those indirect or casual interactions not aimed at operations disappear. The “coffee machine”, for example, as a place for a short break, but also for “light” confrontation between people. All this entails the risk of making employees feel more isolated, reducing satisfaction in terms of social interaction and relationships with colleagues. That is why versatile, quality communication tools are essential to allow natural collaboration and “human” interaction between people belonging to the same team or different divisions or sectors.
Another critical issue is related to people’s ability or preparedness (or, again, the predisposition to learn) to use advanced tools. Therefore, it is essential to set up a plan to transmit the necessary skills and motivate people to acquire that knowledge and put it into practice in their work. Not only that, you need to account for generational differences in applying new patterns to your work. For example, strange as it may seem, the move to remote or hybrid working has been met with few problems by older, more experienced employees (although less tech-savvy and often requiring digital training). In contrast, younger employees have met with difficulty, complained of more significant stress, and were less motivated and productive. They also suffered from the lack of precisely those moments of “light” confrontation or “casual” learning linked to interaction in the field with the more competent. Another critical issue to consider is the need for a corporate culture that conveys clear and consistent information and messages, and that can manage the risk of disparity between employees who, for their tasks, will be more involved in the use of advanced tools and digital environments and those who, instead, will maintain a purely traditional operation.
The best allies: the citizens of the digital world.
And here we return to what we said in the first few lines. In the everyday world that has become increasingly digitized, regular users of connected tools have become citizens of a digital place. Our habit of daily and differentiated use of apps and connected tools makes us the best allies of digital transformation in the company.
All citizens of a digital world are potential digital workers. It doesn’t mean that training won’t be necessary or that the adoption of tools, such as digital workspaces will be immediate and devoid of gradualism. However, it does mean that by leveraging knowledge and familiarity with the use of such tools, the transition will be smoother. It will contain less fear and less restraint, and more intimacy. We are, perhaps, more ready than it may seem. Receptive to a transformation we have already encountered in our personal lives.