In March 2020 most of us – individuals and businesses – experienced a dramatic and unprecedented change in our lives.
The global spread of Covid-19 meant that many of things we’d normally take for granted – working in the office, huddling around a whiteboard to brainstorm or travelling to catch up with clients – were no longer possible. Companies have had to adapt rapidly and the pandemic has forced them to ask themselves:
How far have we really come on our digital transformation journey?
As companies and individuals get to grips with ‘the new normal’, Marcin Dąbrowski, CIO at ITMAGINATION, has been talking to ITMAGINATION clients and observing the world’s leading technology companies to identify some of the key topics that businesses need to consider in order to survive and thrive in the ‘contactless economy’.
For companies in the technology sector, adapting to a new way of working has been relatively straightforward. Programmers, consultants, architects and analysts have all been used to working remotely for many years. In most cases, all they need is a decent internet connection and they’re ‘good to go’ from wherever they are in the world. In other sectors, though, the situation is less clear. Businesses that have heavily relied on face-to-face contact (e.g. vendor contact, sales, product demonstrations) have needed to quickly and dramatically evaluate their options. Everything from supply chain management, through to sales processes and post-sales support might require adjustment or even overhaul.
Which processes remain important but need to be digitalized? Which processes need to be adjusted for the ‘new normal’? And which processes need to be re-thought altogether? And that’s just operations and processes. What about your product? Is it still relevant in a ‘contactless’ economy? Has it become dramatically more relevant? Are there adjustments you need to make to stay relevant? If so, what is the impact on your operations (supply chain, marketing, sales)? Some of these are daunting questions, but businesses need to confront them if they are to survive in the long term.
Businesses that had already implemented ‘distributed teams’ or ‘remote work’ policies have been able to adapt to the pandemic more quickly and naturally than those that were still heavily reliant on everybody being in the same location to carry out work. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having the right tools, workflows, processes and values in place. A laptop instead of a desktop, a Microsoft Teams meeting instead of a physical meeting, collaborative work on a presentation in Google Slides online instead of a meeting room, flipcharts and ‘breakout’ sessions. All of these are relatively simple measures that digitally mature companies will have experimented with and implemented in recent years. But it’s not just technology. ‘Work from home’ and work in ‘virtual teams’ requires the company to have tested and implemented policies, and it requires a culture that promotes values such as independence, self-initiative and trust. Companies that were operating this way even before lockdown measures came into place will naturally experience less turbulence and will be better positioned to succeed in the post-Covid-19 economy. Twitter, as a tech company, was naturally well positioned to adapt, but the company’s openness about working from home and how and when it will resume office operations can serve as a useful example for many other companies on how to put employees at ease and demonstrate integrity and transparency with their communications.
For all the benefits of remote work (less time spent commuting, lower infrastructure costs, etc.), there are some downsides. Videoconferencing and messaging are great, but they can’t replace the impact of face-to-face contact. Replacing a physical format with a digital one is a start, but it’s not always enough – sometimes you need to introduce new practices and rituals. Originating from the programming world, the daily ‘standup’ meeting or simply a ‘daily’ catchup is a great way to bring people together as part of a short, structured gathering. Team members get to share information about what they’re doing, raise any issues that they might be experiencing, request support from others. In addition to bringing people together, it’s a great way for people to continue to feel like they’re part of a team, for them to benefit from personal contact with others, and for leadership to maintain visibility on how people are performing. Even in non-tech companies, these rituals are growing in popularity as replacements for everything from scheduled meetings, to impromptu in-office catchups and even coffee breaks. Microsoft Teams is great for most types of virtual meeting. For larger events (especially those that span multiple organizations) a well-configured Zoom meeting can be just the ticket.
In addition to making the right tools available, the way a company – especially its leaders – communicates with its people has become more important. The coronavirus situation, and the associated lockdowns, has caused increased anxiety among employees at almost all companies. How is the company really doing? Are jobs secure? In conventional tough times (say a market dip), leaders could put people at ease during meetings or simply with a genuine and reassuring smile. In the times of corona, businesses and their leaders need to adjust the frequency, format and style of their communication in order to keep people informed, engaged and productive. Introducing (or increasing the frequency of) team- or organization-wide video calls can help people feel more supported and can help to ensure leadership presence is felt in the right way. But not everything needs to be so formal … consider also the creation of Teams or Slack channels that are devoted to social or non-work topics, or the use of Kahoot quizzes or a Kudoboard to celebrate birthdays, achievements and to maintain positive energy during difficult times.
“The documents are awaiting your signature at HR”. Perhaps not anymore. For years, decades even, we’ve hailed digitalization as an enabler to the idea of a paperless office. Of course, the amount of printing has decreased dramatically in recent years, but most workplaces still rely on the distribution and signing of physical documents for at least some processes. That won’t disappear altogether (at least not yet), but the closure of offices and mass adoption of remote work has meant that most businesses have had to adopt new documentation workflows and improve their document management practices. Tools like Zoho Sign, DocuSign and Autenti can be ideal solutions for HR and Recruitment documents, while Microsoft Teams and SharePoint enable key documents to be stored in the cloud and made available to many people, making them great for knowledge management. Administration of these tools is relatively easy to achieve and – in the case of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint – the tools are underpinned by the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, which means there’s no reliance on your IT team to keep the infrastructure up and running, so less threat to operations if your IT staff are abruptly affected.
As economies come out of lockdown and seek to adjust to a new reality, document management capabilities should be scrutinized. SharePoint can be configured to serve many purposes, but it might also be worth evaluating whether a dedicated Document Management System could be worthwhile investment for the future. A robust, digital-first, cloud-based system can help keep your operations and document management flowing smoothly even if (when?) future spikes or waves cause disruption elsewhere in your business.
For years, companies have been hearing that digital transformation is not an option – it’s an imperative. The spread of Covid-19 around the world and the impact it has had on business, is both a test of credentials for those that have started down the path, and an alarming wakeup call to those that have lagged behind. Nobody knows just how deeply our economies will be impacted nor how long the effects might last and what the future of business will look like. If your company isn’t on the way to becoming digitalized, you might not be around to find out.
Transformation is a scary word. But, as we’ve outlined in this post, there are many ways in which companies can digitalize their processes operations – big and small – with relatively little effort. If you want to accelerate your digital transformation journey, talk to ITMAGINATION.
Learn it. Know it. Done.