How organizations can help employees better handle workplace digitization

A report from the digital workflow company ServiceNow offers advice on how to help workers better deal with digital transformation.

Digital transformation: Business modernization requires a new mindset Digital transformation is more important now than ever, but some organizations are more difficult to change than others.

Digital transformation is a key strategy for many companies as they grapple with a fast-paced and ever-changing business environment.

The increased adoption of technology is a crucial element for staying competitive, winning and retaining customers, trimming costs, and streamlining operations. 

But employees caught in the middle of workplace digitization often see the process differently. Forced to learn new and unfamiliar tools and technologies, many workers may feel challenged, fearful, and stressed.

In its Culture Issue released on Tuesday, ServiceNow explored the impact of digital workflows on people. In one article entitled, "Key lessons for successful digitization," the digital workflow company offers several recommendations for companies designed to make digital transformation easier on employees.

SEE: Digital transformation: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

To analyze the topic of workplace digitization, ServiceNow's Culture Issue tapped into two ethnographic studies conducted by the research firm Habitus Insight. By using ethnography, a method through which researchers live with and participate in the lives of the research participants, Habitus Insight looked at the question of whether process automation improves work experiences for knowledge and service workers.

For its research, the Habitus Insight team interviewed and followed about 20 employees at a major health system in Australasia and a state government agency in the US. In total, the team gathered more than 80 hours of video footage and 60 hours of audio recordings to see how both organizations are digitizing workflows and integrating automation into their operations.

Across both organizations, the researchers found that certain employees resisted change and that some were scared to learn new technology or feared failing. Other employees felt stressed out by the disruption technology made to their work routines. Some employees placed obstacles in the way of change makers. A small number of workers even left their jobs.

Based on the research and results, ServiceNow developed six key recommendations or lessons that organizations and executives should heed to help employees deal with digital transformation.

Develop a culture of change. Organizational change should be implemented in a way that helps employees adapt to new ways of working. The goal is to create a culture in which employees come to work expecting to learn these new ways and not just master repetitive tasks. For example, implementing a new customer service management system across a large workforce must be done gradually so that employees can get used to it and grow to understand the impact it has on their job roles.

Collaborate across all levels of your organization. In both of the organizations included in the study, service delivery staff appreciated the way they were listened to by leaders and technology professionals during times of change.

As one example, an administrator in charge of the team that schedules patient appointments in the Australasian health system said that the experience of working together to adopt a new scheduling system strengthened her team and improved collaboration with other departments.

As another example, the chief digital officer for the same organization said that this process is essential for ensuring that any new technology is easy to use. She emphasized the need for dialogue among all the users of new systems and the IT department so that problems can be anticipated and resolved. She called this process the "co-design of the user experience."

Clarify expectations. At the US state agency included in the study, leaders said that the new customer service management system tracked the time that workers took to complete a task for customers. As such, employees were afraid that they were being tracked for speed. The leaders at the agency explained that the system wasn't there to spy on employees but rather to examine customer service processes to measure and manage the agency's overall performance.

Still, employees now realize that their time with customers is being measured. But according to management, that step has improved their focus and prompted them to ask questions and offer suggestions to improve workflows.

Show benefits. Digital workflows such as customer service management, patient scheduling, task scheduling, and recruitment tracking can all benefit workers. Employees can work more efficiently and effectively. Workloads become more manageable. Stress is often reduced. Remote online access to email, video-conferencing, and other services allow employees to work from any location. These advantages can more than compensate for the challenge of learning new ways to work.

Focus on mission. Automating the digital workflow strengthened the organization's core mission, according to an employee at the Australasian healthcare system. Responsible for hospital- and community-based services for older people, this worker said that the personalized approach to patient care hadn't changed. "It's just that we should use technology to make it as easy as possible for our staff to be able to do it," she said.

Train employees. Organizations should never make assumptions about existing levels of digital literacy, particularly when introducing systems that require skills not found in legacy job descriptions. Both the Australasian healthcare company and the US government agency are rolling out digital literacy training for employees, programs which so far have been well received. In the best cases, training should assuage fears among workers that they're being left behind or made obsolete. Managers also said that employees get engaged when asked to submit ideas for feedback and can see change as it happens.

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