Getting workforce transformation right

Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2020
Read time 5min 20sec
Robyn Newel, Human Resources Director, Westcon-Comstor Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa
Robyn Newel, Human Resources Director, Westcon-Comstor Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa

Boosting productivity is a challenge for many business leaders. A 2019 PWC report reveals the sentiment is quite widespread, as 29 out of 30 OECD countries said productivity dropped significantly in the mid-2000s and has stayed low.

It appears to be stalling more often than not. Some speculate that this is as a result of the 2008-era global recession, while others think we may be mis-measuring productivity in an increasingly service-based world. Then there is the view that a mindset limited to productivity neglects the growing importance of work-life balance, often attributed to millennial and Gen-Z workforces.

Technology was once considered the solution to this impasse, and globally the world spends $3 trillion on large-scale technological investments. But productivity remains low. This trend might change during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet don’t read too much into that. Productivity also briefly spiked during 2008 and 2009, yet soon slowed again. So, if your employees are suddenly working much harder than before, that isn’t going to last.

How can we make it last? The answer still sits with technology, though at a much more nuanced level. Overall, technology can make us more productive, yet it also often fails to do so. This impasse has brought to life a new concept called workforce transformation.

“Workforce transformation relates to a company’s ability to embrace new methods and approaches that help employees further adapt their skills to align with new directions in an organisation’s business strategy,” said Robyn Newel, Human Resources Director at Westcon-Comstor Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

"It is in part driven by technology, but is a process predominantly led by people. Successful workforce transformation always places the human element at its core. This is particularly relevant in the current working climate, where employees are required to work from home, and a business needs to provide them not only with the tools to do so, but the adequate training and skills required to make the adjustment and remain productive."

For example, secure collaboration tools combined with social engagement opportunities congeal teams as a unit – that can be considered workforce transformation. You aren’t only giving them technology or purely focusing on their engagements. The two join forces as a strategy to deliver the best results. This concept is even more relevant owing to the COVID-19 pandemic: “The pandemic pressed the fast-forward button on digital transformation projects that were the current foundation of workforce transformation. It has literally catapulted us into a new era and fast-tracked automation, empowerment, digitalisation and innovation.”

Starting the transformation

A workforce transformation strategy can be executed across an organisation or started by focusing on specific areas in the business. But whatever the approach, there are several elements you need in place.

First, and perhaps foremost during the pandemic, is a reliable and skilled IT team, said Newel: “An incompetent IT team can pose a huge risk in transforming the workforce through technology. Knowledge mitigates that risk: a technically strong and capable IT infrastructure team is an important factor for transformation. Firstly, to provide the tools and equipment, and to transfer technical knowledge to all staff to access the systems and tools.”

Even a competent IT team will grapple with juggling the many demands thrown at it right now, and it may be proactive to bring in outside help to manage the transition. For it will be a transition – workforce transformation lives and dies on employee buy-in and guidance. After all, these are the people who stand to benefit the most.

To meet their needs, Newel points to several essential elements. They must have access to reliable connectivity as well as a mobility-centric device. These are pretty specific considerations: a salesperson doesn’t have the same device and connectivity needs as a designer. One crucial factor for workforce transformation is to avoid the traditional one-device-fits-all hand-me-downs culture prevalent at most organisations. Though it would be a significant cost challenge to replace all devices, at least keep in mind that in some cases, the choice of device and connectivity make real productivity differences. Pandering an executive is not the same as enabling an employee.

Security is another important factor, both at the company level and for employees on their devices: “Ensuring safe security solutions is possibly the most critical technology requirement to protect our systems and reduce risk to the continuation of the business. This is not just secure access between systems via VPNs as an example, but also security on devices to protect an employee and their data assets.”

Transformation starts with people

In the current work-from-home trend, which is likely to gain some permanence, secure online visual collaboration suites are critical. Yet don’t neglect to train employees to use these. And do interrogate their preferences before deciding on a collaborative solution. After all, they are the ones who have to use it.

Fortunately, cloud-based platforms are good at providing POCs and trial deployments. The right partner can also provide virtual classroom solutions to help train employees. But however you approach it, workforce transformation is crucial for ongoing success and increasing productivity. The pandemic has inadvertently shown that people can work remotely and can be trusted to deliver. It's now up to companies to raise their game for this new era and empower their employees.

“A transformed workforce is an agile one. A transformed channel allows for digitally enabled and transformed partner engagement, thereby allowing fluidity of transactional activities within the channel. It is a collective that can adapt to change, embrace innovation, and drive productivity and collaboration from anywhere in the world. When you empower your people to embrace and use new technologies and give them a view of how, when they leverage these technologies, they will be assisting the business in achieving its goals,” concluded Newel.

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