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How do you keep a workforce digitally up to date?

From the latest buzzwords in digital to the newest programmes and apps that make our working lives easier, what are the challenges in keeping employees engaged in the digital developments of the workplace?

Molly Haynes corporate photo

by Molly Haynes

Senior Content Manager, London

30 May 2019
Digital training illustration

Imagine trying to do your job without your computer, tablet or smartphone. No emails. No instant messenger. No video calls. No accepting meeting invites from your mail app. Or editing documents on the move.

In just 40 years, we’ve gone from needing very little technology to becoming completely reliant on it. Every month sees the development of a new app, a new way of tracking, planning, chatting, sharing… existing.

And in a world where 47 per cent of customers believe that ‘digitization is the future of project delivery’, how do you keep on top of the digital changes happening at speed? Particularly when you’re a global company with a large and varied workforce.

It’s not uncommon to see change resistance when it comes to introducing new technologies into companies. While most new technologies aren’t particularly difficult to use, without any guidance, encouragement or benefit-led training, there is very little motivation for anyone to make the leap from doing things the same way they’ve always done. Training in new technologies is central to ensuring they are adopted.

Training in new technologies is central to ensuring they are adopted

Staying technology ready

Thinking back to when YouTube first arrived on the scene, people didn’t see a need for it and many executives thought it would never take off. This was, in part because devices weren’t set up for it – you had to download a piece of software over dial-up internet, which often took three hours and would crash their computer. These days, we take for granted that YouTube just works – it’s embedded into our lives

The challenges for today’s workforce has moved beyond utilizing Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube for business. Today’s agile worker is now connected to colleagues via apps, clouds and video calls, allowing them to connect and work collaboratively wherever they are. But how do you encourage engagement and productivity in this way when many people are still happy with traditional calls and emails?

“It’s about demonstrating the benefits to people. If you are rolling out multiple tools – such as Office 365 and everything it comes with – it’s important to articulate clearly the purpose of each one and how it differentiates from the others to avoid any confusion,” explains Helen Deverell, an internal communications expert who works with global companies to solve their internal communications challenges.

It’s important to articulate clearly the purpose of each technology and how it differentiates from the others to avoid any confusion

Deverell is a keen believer in showing not telling employees. “That’s why pilot groups are useful. It’s an opportunity for the company to trial a tool and see how people respond to it, and at the same time, you’re also creating case studies to show other employees the benefits,” she adds.

For Deverell, creating ‘Champions of Change’ is something that needs to be done at every level within the business. “While leaders set the direction, and inspire people to get behind it, they can’t change company culture alone,” she says. “They need to involve employees from the very beginning so they can feel ownership of the change rather than it being something that’s done to them.”

Confidence is key

As Digital Transformation Director for Worley, John Pillay agrees, but adds it’s also about giving your entire workforce the confidence to embrace digital and make it an essential part of the way we handle ourselves in our daily jobs.

“Building a digital culture is all about trying to increase people’s interest levels around digital and boost their confidence in talking about, describing and participating in conversations about emerging technology, and how we might solve problems in different ways,” he explains.

“However, one of the problems is that the digital world has created this grandiose language around what digital is and this can be a big barrier for people actually wanting to get involved or feeling that they’ve got a role in it. What’s unfortunate about this is that the reality is, if you can get through an engineering degree, there is literally no digital concept that is beyond you,” he adds. “Our aim is to break down those barriers around language and simplify it, so that everyone feels able to get involved.”

The digital world has created this grandiose language around what digital is and this can be a big barrier for people

Having the right technology available makes it easier for people to adopt new ways of working but we also need to make it central to our day jobs.

“If the digital technologies and conversations are the garnish around the work that we do, then we are always going to be sidestepping and denying ourselves the opportunity to really grow digitally. Digital needs to be a company-wide participation sport.”

However, Pillay urges caution against becoming what he calls a ‘digital fashionista’ where you try every collaboration tool going. “We’ve got to be ruthless about the choices we make. Some of the most successful digital transformations I’ve come across in banking, media and logistics have involved a level of simplifying application footprints and investing strongly in digital leadership and soft skills.”

Digital leadership training

A recent study conducted by Worley and Advisian Digital revealed that academics believe the top three attributes of the most successful leaders in a world of disruptive technology are agility/adaptability, one who understands technology, and one who embraces diversity. Reflecting this in the global learning solutions offered to staff through the Worley Academy, one of the most successful programs is the 20-week Leadership Engagement and Performance (LEaP) program, which teaches front line and mid-level leaders about the digital subjects their customers are interested in.

Digital training is just as important for the next generation – particularly because what graduates look for in a company today is very different to say 10 years’ ago. That’s why the Academy has built close links into the digital side of the business, to understand the impact that digital advancements have on learning and development, and help it incorporate that into the learning programs to build capability and knowledge across the organization. The idea is that the Academy continues to attract graduates in the future, keeps them engaged and actively choosing to be part of the organization.

Digital training is just as important for the next generation – particularly because what graduates look for in a company today is very different to say 10 years’ ago

But it doesn’t stop there; job descriptions that have specifically definable digital competencies to help select people that can drive and advance digital transformation are increasingly popular. Increasingly, digital capability should form part of the entire people capital view, not just for how you bring people into the company, but also how you place them in the internal hierarchy. We’ve got to drive technology by starting with people and what they can offer, rather than hardware.

Digital continues to be a long-term game

Focusing on people is all part of John Pillay’s job description and ensuring everyone is confident at some level when it comes to digital is something he’s passionate, but realistic, about.

“The idea that you can crack digital in a year or two – both on a customer and internal level – is very seductive. But this really is a long-term game,” he explains.

“It’s not about looking trendy anymore, it’s about keeping up with the trends. Fostering innovation. Creating a digital culture without going after superficial gains – instead ensuring there is an aspiration for top performance, accountability and plain speaking.”

Written with thanks to Worley and Advisian Digital staff Meredith Collins, Laith Amin and Rick Hansen