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COVID-19 Demonstrates Just How Important the Digital Transformation of Our Economy Really Is

Written by Chris Lee

March 11, 2020

COVID-19 Demonstrates Just How Important the Digital Transformation of Our Economy Really Is

COVID-19 has, in just a few short weeks, fundamentally changed how the world does business. As both consumers and employees need to practice social distancing and self-isolation, the need for a digital transformation becomes increasingly pressing. 

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is broadly defined as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business in a way that fundamentally changes how that company operates and delivers value to customers. 

However, completely transforming how your company does business is a big task to undertake, especially as COVID-19 puts pressure on organizations to adapt quickly to safeguard their employees, their customers, and their bottom lines.

Why is Digital Transformation Vital in the Current Economy?

Social distancing and self-isolation mean that employees are becoming increasingly less likely to leave their homes, whether because they are worried about becoming infected or have already contracted the virus. To help contain the spread, many organizations are already moving to mandatory work from home policies.

That means that businesses need to adapt to the new “work from home” reality so they can minimize the impact COVID-19 has on employee productivity and, ultimately, the company’s revenue stream. 

In short, businesses that want to continue to thrive are going to have to adapt to the social changes COVID-19 has brought, and quickly. There are a few steps you can take to help your organization adapt both quickly and smoothly.

Digital Transformation as a Mindset

Digital transformation is about more than incorporating new technology into the workplace. Though technology obviously plays a critical role, a successful transformation requires a shift in mindset. 

As your company prepares itself to undergo a digital transformation, there are a few things you should be asking yourself:

  • What information do my employees need to access to remain productive?
  • What systems currently hold that information?
  • Can those systems be accessed remotely?

To help you smooth your transition, we suggest taking a detailed inventory of all your systems, and the information stored on them. This will help ensure no critical systems or documents are overlooked.

Preparing Your Company to Go Digital

One thing that has caused employers to balk at the idea of remote work in the past is the idea that employees are going to spend all day watching TV or doing other tasks instead of working. If that does happen, you don’t have a remote worker problem; you have a management problem.

Deadlines and due dates still exist for remote workers, and just because employees have swapped their work desks for their kitchen tables doesn’t mean they don’t have just as much work to get done each day. 

To help you smoothly transition to a digital workplace as soon as possible, here are a few strategies you should consider:

Consider Core Hours

Core hours help ensure that employees can get a hold of each other, and members of the management team, promptly if they need to. By mandating that all employees be available during set hours (such as 10 AM to 3 PM), it also becomes easier to set up remote meetings or conference calls and ensure that all employees are available in case a client emergency or other pressing task arises.

Communicate Expectations

There are a few more questions you should consider as you shift to a remote workplace:

  • How often do you want your employees to check-in when they work remote? 
  • Who is responsible for informing clients and customers about how your daily operations are changing? 
  • Who is being assigned new tasks to help with the transition, and what precisely do those tasks entail? 

All of these are vital questions to ask yourself and your team and help lay the foundation for a smooth transition. 

Make sure to clearly communicate to your employees what is changing and how, and who they can go to with questions or concerns while everyone is working remotely. You should also make sure your employees clearly understand that working from home is still work. While many employers choose to offer flexible hours to their remote workers, that doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t still need to get done.

Out of Sight Can’t Mean Out of Mind

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is that the line between work time and leisure time can become blurred. While an employer might hesitate to call an on-site employee at home after the workday has finished, or balk at expecting employees to spend their evenings responding to emails, this separation between time on the clock and time off the clock can become blurry when dealing with remote employees. 

Make sure employees know what work hours they are expected to keep and minimize both work and work-related contact outside those hours. You can also encourage your employees to respect these boundaries with each other by setting a good example.

On the other side of the equation, employees need to understand that working remote still means working and that they still need to complete all of their work in a timely manner.

Collaborate Efficiently 

With everyone working from home, “face time” can be limited. If an employee needs to collaborate with another worker or ask a question, they can no longer just stand up and walk over to their colleague’s desk. 

Depending on how collaboration currently works in your workplace, collaborative work may involve multiple email chains containing several versions of the same document, or even printing out documents so that each relevant worker can add their own edits and changes by hand. This is not only highly inefficient but also increases the chance that not everyone’s copy of the document is up to date, leading to confusion and more wasted time spent resolving the problem.

To help streamline collaboration in a digital workplace, you should explore replacing email chains and printed documents with collaboration tools.

  • For one-on-one communication, you may want to rely on instant messaging apps such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These apps typically allow both one-on-one communication, communication between larger groups (such as entire teams or departments) as well as company-wide communication. They also allow users to set statuses so that co-workers can know right away who is in a meeting or otherwise currently unavailable. 
  • For web conferencing, you may want to consider ditching traditional conference calls and going with a video conferencing tool such as Zoom, Webex, or GoToMeeting. Video conferencing programs also allow employees to share their screens and record calls (a useful tool for ensuring that a record of the call exists and that any employees who missed the call can view it later). Some even incorporate whiteboarding capabilities so that employees can communicate as effectively as possible.
  • For document focused collaboration, you may want to think about synchronous collaboration tools (such as Xait or SharePoint) or more traditional document management or version-control focused applications (such as DropBox). You may also want to consider exploring programs such as Google Drive, which can allow employees to create, edit, and share documents seamlessly with one another.

Don’t Forget About Cybersecurity

Remote work brings its own cybersecurity issues, and as companies scramble to ensure that employees have what they need to work remote cybersecurity can fall to the wayside. If employees are going to be accessing digital documents via their personal devices, you need to ensure that those digital devices are protected. 

This could involve mandating that all employees install antivirus software, setting up VPNs to help safeguard private or sensitive documents, and offering refresher cybersecurity training on avoiding phishing scams and other cyberattacks.

You should also encourage employees to share documents using links rather than attachments. Links require recipients to have permission to view the document, while attachments can be easily copied and forwarded to unauthorized readers.

The Digital Workplace Beyond COVID-19

Though COVID-19 has made the ability to support a remote workforce vital, this push towards rapid digital transformation could have lasting benefits. A recent study found that remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts, and going digital can reduce the amount of money a business needs to spend on paper, ink, and printer maintenance. Company morale can also be improved by allowing employees to work from home at least some of the time, allowing them to skip long commutes and adjust their schedules as needed to accommodate things like doctor’s appointments and childcare responsibilities.

Though a digital transformation requires significant planning to go smoothly, the payoff can be worth it for many companies. The key to a successful transformation is to make sure that employers trust their employees to get their work done and help employees set and maintain reasonable work-life boundaries. 

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