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Put the left foot in, shake it all about

Defining workplace transformation within the frameworks of digital, people, and company.
Read time 10min 40sec

What does it mean, precisely, when human resources (HR) and the media talk about ‘workforce transformation’? Is it a nice coat of paint in the cafeteria that’s always an odd shade of brown, or is it digital tools and technologies that are designed to redefine the role of the employee? Or is it throwing technology at people and hoping that some of it will stick? According to Deloitte, workforce transformation is a strategy that ‘reimagines all aspects of workforce management’. It’s about skills development, work experiences, and understanding the impact of technological and social disruptors. For Dell, workforce transformation is one simple statement: to create a digital workplace that benefits everyone and everything.

However, no matter how you shape it, workforce transformation in the post-pandemic world is recalibrating digital, people, workplace and strategy. Over the past six months, workforce transformation, itself a disruptor of roles and job security, has been disrupted. The world has been forced into collaborative and remote working styles that have, for many organisations, proved best in class when it comes to productivity and employee satisfaction. Social media giants Twitter and Facebook have said that the new work from home normal will remain in place for some employees, Square and Shopify have both admitted that home is where the workplace is, and Dell has declared itself a remote-friendly organisation. A crowd-sourced list on Remote.Lifeshack has more than 890 companies listed as either permanently or temporarily remote, indicating that this enforced reality is rapidly becoming voluntary.

The virus triggered the largest work from home mobilisation in history, but it also highlighted that many organisations lacked resilience and agility when it came to its digital investment into its people. Many have tried even harder to enforce legacy workplace practices onto digitally transformed workforces. It’s been awkward, more than a little embarrassing, and has highlighted exactly how poorly people respond to micromanagement.

The pandemic has drawn a hard line under the need to significantly invest in a solid workforce transformation strategy that can withstand future uncertainty and embrace what the new normal has defined as, well, normal.

Explosive developments

Back in 2017, in those giddy, virus-free days, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million people would have to either change jobs or skillsets by 2030 in order to survive. In the 2020 survey, 87% of executives revealed that they were already starting to feel the pain of the skill gaps, but few really knew what steps had to be taken in order to resolve the problem. As the research company points out, both companies and employees are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world that’s not just being hit by a virus, but by explosive developments in automation and artificial intelligence that have been, let’s face it, prioritised over the past few months.

People need more than just a nice laptop and a helpful login to a project management tool. They need leaders. They need resilience and agility. They need skills development and opportunity. And they need the kind of workforce transformation that leverages the multi-faceted potential of technology to get the best possible results for them, and their company. This is the next, bold step that defines true workforce transformation in 2020 – the step that says: So, we’ve been forced to digitally transform, now what?

This is the ‘Now what?’

Brainstorm: What are the benefits of enabling workforce transformation?

Jenny Oliver, business manager: Digital Transformation at Decision Inc.: Digital technologies will increasingly be key to attracting and retaining employees, and in enabling a motivated and diverse workforce. Increased productivity, stronger collaboration and increased digital dexterity across departments will also result in a more competitive organisation.

Lorna Hardie, regional director, Sub-Saharan Africa at VMware: Agility is probably the most significant benefit. If your workforce can use the tools at its disposal to improve workflows, and increase productivity, your immediate benefit is a team or a unit that is working on pulling the same strings at the same time.

Maxine Paul, Group HR manager at Seidor Africa: Enabling a transformational workforce enables innovative, independent, skilled and motivated workers. It also attracts and retains a talented workforce and ensures diversity and inclusivity.

Lerato Matabola, talent manager at Basalt Technology: A transformational workforce is a happier workforce with more autonomy. This means a team that is more motivated and therefore more productive. Enabling a transformational workforce can stimulate innovation, increase workforce skillset and boost worker performance.

Aimeé McNamara, Human Resources manager at Synthesis Software Technologies: As organisations compete for talent in a limited skills pool (exacerbated by emigration in the South African context) in some industries more than others, organisations are having to look beyond benefits and remuneration as a means of retaining talent.

Brainstorm: Can companies leapfrog off the pandemic to achieve relevant workforce transformation?

Jenny Oliver, Decision Inc.: Wellbeing frameworks should become part and parcel of a workforce transformation strategy and encompass mental, social and physical wellbeing. Now is the time to re-write the recruitment strategy to include remote working and locations to provide you with the best talent and an optimal mix of permanent and non-permanent teams and implement automation to replace on-site tasks wherever possible.

Helene Liebenberg, chief operations officer at Tarsus Distribution: The pandemic has sped up some aspects of technology adoption, but it hasn’t transformed the culture at most organisations. People can work from home, but the legacy processes, hierarchies and cultures remain in place. In fact, we have seen many old-school management behaviours increase during this time, for example micromanagement of employees’ time.

Maxine Paul, Seidor Africa: Post the pandemic, organisations shouldn’t just be relying on legacy systems or looking to return to normal, but should be focusing on employee experience and enabling the workforce with the now new way of work.

Lerato Matabola, Basalt Technology: Traditional office hours could become a thing of the past as many organisations embrace working from home and flexible schedules.

Brainstorm: What technology do you believe is the most important for enabling workforce transformation?

Lorna Hardie, VMware: Collaboration tools that enable people to work from anywhere, Software-as-a-Service and cloud technologies that allow you to extend the borders of your business and separate you from the shackles of on-premise architecture. Also, the digital devices that enable this mobility, and, lastly, connectivity. Without connectivity, none of the above will work.

Jeandie Leone, commercial manager, Workforce Staffing: Data visualisation tools and centralised analytics platforms to track productivity, business leads, service delivery and financials. Also, standardised reporting technology to eliminate data inaccuracies and ensure efficient data collation and report generation.

Alex Mouton, eLearning Business Unit manager, Dax Data: Technology solutions that facilitate a more efficient and effective way of working, through delivery and management of training initiatives, or through other areas such as the digitisation of document processes, are the key to success. These include enterprise-level learning management systems, digital document workflow tools and e-signature services.

Jolene Castelyn, head of Marketing at Ricoh SA: The four most important technologies to create and sustain that transformation of the workforce are remote working, process automation, cloud and infrastructure solutions, and safe and smart workplace enablement.

Henda Edwards, executive head: Carrier and Communications at Vox: Consider the entire workplace ecosystem to ensure that you have stable connectivity, collaboration tools, cyber security capabilities, and managed IT services with remote support.

Change in practice

Brainstorm discovers what some of South Africa’s leading organisations have done to embed workforce transformation in the digital era.

When asked to define best practice in workforce transformation, every company has a different story. Some are ever so proud of how they allowed Susan to work from home once a week because she had a new baby. Others are delighted with their modernised views of allowing remote working on the weekends. But there are those that have actually undergone workforce transformation driven by strategy, people and digital and that have embedded best practice into the organisation’s foundation and approach, and this is what they had to say.

At Decision Inc., Jenny Oliver, business manager: Digital Transformation, believes that the company’s focus on using digital technologies to allow people to work effectively from anywhere is key. The company has a workforce that’s multi-skilled, digital and capable of working from anywhere at any time and it’s supported by automation solutions that take away the mundane and the repetitive.

For Lorna Hardie, regional director, Sub-Saharan Africa at VMware, the focus is not just on the talk, but on the action. “We don't just talk about digitally transforming our teams, we talk about ensuring cultural and inclusive transformation. The VMware culture is one where we aim to appeal not only to millennials, but to top talent across the generations. It starts with people and ends with technology.”

This is on a par with how many companies are approaching true workforce transformation, by embedding people-first values into all layers of digital and strategy. MIP Holdings, for example, has taken one step that many can learn from – self management.

“In the new normal, where a distributed workforce will become more common than teams based in offices, employees and the business need easy access to the information they require for each individual to manage themselves,” says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.

This sentiment is echoed by Maxine Paul, Group HR manager at Seidor Africa. For her, trust and responsibility cannot be an afterthought when it comes to driving workforce transformation. It’s also a view shared by Lerato Matabola, talent manager at Basalt Technology: “It’s about having clear business goals and trusting employees to innovate to achieve those goals. Essentially, employees select what they want to work on, which naturally leads to higher engagement and better results.”

Best practice can easily be defined within the constraints of a specific business model or industry. What works for one may not be even remotely relevant or possible for another.

This is what makes Vox’s strategy so important. The company believes that workforce transformation cannot be based on one thing alone, and it needs to constantly adapt and evolve.

Says Henda Edwards, executive head: Carrier and Communications at Vox: “We still learn as we continue on this path as it is unchartered territory. But wera are committed to embracing this transformation.”

So far, so transformative. But not many of those interviewed mentioned the role of the employee in making workplace transformation a reality. What about the people? Well, at CRS Technologies, employees are considered the driving force behind transformation. The company has an open-door policy that takes ideas advocated by its people and implements them, if they make sense. This is also the approach taken by About IT.

“The future never arrives so it’s always a shifting goalpost in terms of technologies, which is why it’s so important to create a solid human foundation. That sets the tone for a clear digital strategy that enables you to reimagine the business,” says Jillian Erasmus, marketing manager at About IT.

These views are shared by leading research houses such as Deloitte, McKinsey and Forrester. The best practice foundations are simple: people and digital. The layers that then define how you approach people and digital are wrapped around the industry you play in, the needs of your workforce, and the strategy that defines your organisation’s culture. To truly deliver on transformation for your workforce, these layers need to be constantly adaptive and relevant to both your people and your company.

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