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Digital Transformation in the Workplace during COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the business world and companies have no choice but to review their strategies to overcome the crisis. This chaotic situation is forcing companies across the globe to rethink their business strategies. Digital transformation, for companies across the world, has become a matter of survival. Implementation of new technologies in organizations is not an option anymore; it is a must!

In Sierra Leone, most business leaders have decided to launch digital transformation initiatives to keep businesses running as smoothly as possible during the COVID-19 outbreak and to better prepare for the recovery phase. However, driving change during these chaotic and unprecedented times is challenging for both business leaders and employees. 

This current situation is significantly influencing the way companies need to run their business and manage their people. Business continuity today seems impossible without the right technology in place. Before this pandemic, many companies were hypothetically talking about digital transformation in the workplace, but COVID-19 is now forcing companies to speed up and implement new digital transformation initiatives.

In such a rapidly evolving situation, it’s almost impossible to balance what’s best for your company, protect your employees, and still deliver a great experience to customers without the right strategy and tools. Additionally, employers need to understand that it is unlikely that things will get back to normal after the pandemic. Instead, we see the forced acceleration of previously slow-moving digital transformation trends that are likely to shape the future. Businesses all over the world have adapted their workforces during the current pandemic by embracing technology to provide connectivity to data and networks, videoconferencing, collaboration tools and cloud services.

The benefits of having the right digital tools in place during a crisis, such as COVID-19 are apparent and significant. As the way we do business has drastically changed in the last few months, only the companies that adapt to these changes can succeed. Indeed, by embracing digital transformation, businesses can maintain their ability to ensure essential functions during and after the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the percentage of successfully implemented digital transformation and change management efforts in the workplace is pretty low. 

But why? 

The thing is, digital transformation is a complex process. Digital transformation includes several steps — from planning to preparation, implementation, training, and evaluation of the success of the strategy — and it involves several teams that need to align and coordinate their efforts. In some companies, change is driven by the IT leadership team while in other businesses, it is the IT, HR, finance, operations, and change management teams that are in charge. No matter how many teams and functions are involved in the process, driving change, whether it is the implementation of new software or new ways of working, is going to take your time.

The main reasons why digital transformation projects fail include: 

  • Poor project management skills 
  • Poor communication in the workplace 
  • A lack of clear objectives
  • Unfamiliar scope
  • Inability to cope with new technology, mainly due to a lack of preparation and training. 

Employers need to understand better how to communicate with their employees during the processes, how to close the skill gaps and how to manage change in the workplace better. Even though there is no secret recipe that fits all, there are some best practices without which digital transformation projects are unlikely to be successfully implemented. In most changes happening within organizations, the human element is the key for successful digital transformation. New employee skills, healthy organizational culture, employee communication and employee empowerment are some of the crucial prerequisites for successful digital transformation. Every digital transformation journey needs a staged approach with a clear set of goals and a road-map, involving a variety of stakeholders.

Transforming a business in this way is not simple and takes a tremendous amount of courage and visionary leadership. The core elements include: migrating from on-premises systems to hybrid clouds, modernizing financial and operational software, improving the customer experience using technology, and creating a more dynamic and flexible working environment. In response to ‘work from home’ and other lockdown measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have adopted some of these elements, using technology out of necessity; this departure from the regular business may be the first significant step on the path to digital transformation.

When done right, a digital transformation strategy usually includes several steps that go from assessing the current state of digital across your organization to empowering, educating and training your staff. The thing is, companies have to shorten or even skip some steps that are usually required when it comes to digital transformation. This is why implementing change during COVID-19 is hugely challenging. Steps are skipped, and employees have to adapt to new ways of working and new technologies in no time. Alignment across the organization plays a critical role here. Making sure that everyone is on board and understands the changes you’re implementing, why these changes are implemented very fast, why they are needed, how they’re going to impact employees’ work and how they’re going to help the business overcome the crisis is extremely important.

Digital transformation brings about additional considerations for cybersecurity. There are, of course, many more concerns to ensure that systems remain secure regardless of the location of the user. The rushed adaptation to relocate the workforce means that companies have expanded or implemented new systems to enable remote working and the ability to service customers remotely, without necessarily applying their usual considerations for security. The easy option, when all this is over, is to revert to the original scenario and talk fondly of the memories of the time we all needed to work from home. In reality, the decisions taken due to the pandemic have progressed the digital transformation of businesses all over the world, so rather than reverting to the previous status quo, perhaps they should embrace the changes of delivering services to customers and flexibility to the workforce.

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