Are you ready for the new digital workforce?
While the coronavirus pandemic has blighted so many areas of business, it’s hastened a revolution in the way we work that’s set to endure for years to come…
For Dana Minbaeva, Professor of Strategic and Global Human Resource Management at Copenhagen Business School, 2020 has been a watershed year. The academic has been charting the emerging digital workforce for many years and now, at a stroke, her predictions and observations have been realised in almost every business on the planet. “Coronavirus has triggered and accelerated a shift that is unprecedented,” she explains. “For so long, tech companies have tried to sell the dream of remote working and it was largely ignored. But now, everyone knows and understands Teams meetings – and more than that, businesses are realising that this is their chance to rethink everything.”
This opportunity to recalibrate and remodel is just one of what Dana believes are two major disruptions to the world of Human Resources. “Digitalisation, as far as managing people is concerned, has brought about better systems and many, many improvements to the way we run our businesses. We can already see the effect of this shift and today we can run better, more efficient, leaner companies thanks to the technology that surrounds us".
“But more than this, digitalisation has pushed us to reconsider what we are doing and to look at our contribution towards not just the business itself but to the wider society. Many businesses used to say that they were focussed on their employees, but the focus was actually always on the customer and the value that they could deliver to them. Digitalisation – and this has been accelerated by COVID – gives us a chance to look again at our structure, processes and strategy. And that’s an invaluable opportunity.”
CBS Full-time MBA alumna Maria Sole Giordano, Share Plan Manager at A.P. Moller - Maersk in Copenhagen, agrees. “I’ve worked within an HR role in several international companies and we’re definitely seeing new ways of working that have been enabled not just by technology, but how we, as people, accept that technology. Can a company have a team in several locations working across borders? We now know that the answer is definitely yes. But more than that, employees can reinvent their roles in terms of value and day by day activities.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges to address, says Maria Sole. “Maintaining engagement among teams can be difficult, but in HR we have to work out how to create that connection. So for example, when it comes to video meetings, we’ve found that turning on the video, giving clear direction, and providing strong follow up material makes a big difference. It’s about making the experience more personal and while this gives me satisfaction, the feedback that we receive is also positive.”
Ultimately, what digitalisation delivers is flexibility, which has emerged as a valuable proposition for the modern workforce. “That said, from a business perspective it’s a blessing and a curse,” cautions CBS’s Dana Minbaeva. “Flexible places of work, flexible hours and flexible interaction with supervisors are the dream for employees, but it does put the balance of power in their hands to an extent. For employers, there is likely to be little opportunity to revert to the ‘old ways of working’ and the younger generation, in particular, will demand this flexibility going forward.”
One of the payoffs for employers – the blessing mentioned earlier – is improved efficiency and better communication. “Our research on Virtual leadership under Corona-crisis suggests that people are extremely happy with online meetings; they work on many levels. They’re more effective, they’re better managed, they’re more democratic and your talented introverts have more of a voice and an opportunity to contribute.”
It seems that 2020 has indeed been a watershed year and, when it comes to the world of work, nothing will ever be quite the same again. And that’s something that businesses should embrace, rather than fear, says Dana: “Right now, the order of the day is to reflect and understand not necessarily what you do, but why. Go back to the core and look at how the business works, and revisit your processes and strategies. Use this year and embrace your digital workforce. Every crisis has a silver lining.”