Digital Working – a Reality Check | Why Working Digitally is Challenging for Many Employees

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  26 Mar 2017   JohnEary


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Digital is in danger of becoming the most overused word of this decade. Digital Working is a less common, a term more accepted in France, but aptly sums up the new way of working. Most organisations are declaring they are going digital. But are these organisations taking employees with them on this digital journey?

There is no shortage of digital tools to support Digital Working: Microsoft Skype for Business, Google’s with Hangouts, Cisco with Jabber and others all compete to offer affordable conferencing, collaboration and communication tools, offering the ability to hold virtual meetings, to manage electronic documents, instant messaging and presence technology -to track the availability of colleagues. In short, these digital tools enable people to be readily connected to data and people and systems. So what’s the problem?

Paper Based Working

Only a small number of employees can currently be called digital natives and while these tools are relatively easy to use, much of the workforce remains committed to its non-digital ways of working. Custom and practice has a lot to do with this.

For instance, many people still prefer to print out paper copies to review documents, claiming reading paper is easier on their eyes – although the soaring sales of eReaders and tablets perhaps contradicts this argument.

Although an increasing number of people are working away from their office base many still prefer to take paper documents with them. However not only is carrying heavy paper documents, compared to a lightweight laptop or tablet, uncomfortable, their movement also introduces security risks. We still regularly hear of incidents where important documents have been left on trains or have been snapped by the press. Then there is the question of storage. Filing cabinets take up floor space, and space costs money especially if it is occupying offices in a prime office location.

No meetings of minds

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Digital Working has made a limited impact on meetings. Meetings are a necessary work activity in that they ensure decisions are informed and achieve consensus. While collaborative technologies have made inroads into project status and update meetings, many people feel more comfortable ‘pressing the flesh, reading facial expressions at a face-to-face meeting rather than through a conference call. There is potential for a much greater use for conferencing technologies which will be the subject of a later blog. Even with the wide deployment of tablets and lightweight laptops many will still attend meetings with paper notepad to take notes.

So why does this matter? It boils down to personal and corporate efficiency. If you take notes on paper they need to be transcribed into electronic documents before they accessible to other people. In the past they may have been photocopied for distribution but at least this has become an environmental no-no.

Encouraging Digital Working

For an organisation to achieve digitalisation it is as much to do with changing culture than it is about training employees to use new digital tools. Culture change will come from a combination of leadership, employees’ self-interest and practical measures.

While managers need to set the example by showing how their teams can work digitally they also need to promote Digital Working’s benefits. People need to recognise that working digitally improves their own efficiency as well as their organisation’s efficiency. E.g. transcribing notes from paper to a computer takes time which can be saved by typing them directly into a tablet or laptop.

There are practical carrot and stick approaches such as the tried and tested method of reducing the number of printers so employees have the inconvenience of finding an available printer to retrieve printouts while ensuring employees have access to a sufficiently large screen so they don’t have to squint to read documents.

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People need confidence and competence to work digitally and the opportunity to develop their digital skills. The UK Government Skills Strategy has recently been launched with the aim of “Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need”. Most people are not starting from ground zero. Many can draw on their experience of online shopping and banking and use Twitter and Skype for their personal and family activities.

However it should also be recognised that the proliferation of digital tools can be confusing and people will be reluctant to learn to use one tool if they feel it is likely to be replaced by another in a short period of time. Furthermore, companies frequently see digital tools as infallible and “user-ready.” Unlike the employees that use them the procurers of these tools do not experience the breakdowns, glitches and other compatibility problems caused by updates.

According to Citrix “Individuals will access corporate applications, data, and services from an average of six different computing devices a day “. In reality many employers would be happy for their employees to use one device effectively during their working day.


john-eary-100x100-01.jpgWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.



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