People will drive digital workforce transformation
Why the new reliance on technology in the digital age is imperative for future survival
1 Mar 2023

We’ve had a tantalizing glimpse of the promise of digital technology. Now it’s time to deliver transformation by engaging and empowering people to reimagine the workplace.

In the past 2-3 years, the crucial work of the UN and international development agencies has been greatly enabled by remote working, virtual teaming and data sharing, enhancing the experience of employees and the communities we serve. But we’re only scratching the surface, and different organizations are at different stages of their digital transformation journey. With Umoja, and United to Reform, for example, the UN is making great strides to improve its ability to manage its resources and deliver on its mandate more efficiently, effectively and transparently. Like all major change programs, digital transformation has many potential barriers. By putting humans at the center, we can all accelerate the realization of the benefits of digitalization, through reimagining the workplace and reinventing operations.

A holistic solution

A comprehensive digital strategy asks the fundamental question: “How can we redesign how we think, what we do, and how we work so that we are fit for a digital world?” It means designing the future workplace with technology at the heart, harnessing cloud collaboration and automation, and retraining and upskilling employees for the new digital working world. The Secretary General’s “Data Strategy for Action by Everyone, Everywhere” sets an agenda for data-driven transformation, while the UNDP’s Digital Strategy aims to support countries in reaping the benefits of digital technology while mitigating the risks. Automation can improve efficiency, speeding up grant processing and enhancing customer service. Internally, chatbots can address many staff member needs faster, effectively automating most HR transactions. Increased digital connectivity eases access to data and improves communications and remote working. Digital platforms enable HR professionals to understand and support workers, by analyzing employee data. And online working and training opens new pathways for career development, helping staff everywhere acquire fresh skills, and widening the talent pool beyond traditional geographies.

Overcoming barriers

Transformation is all about humans and requires significant cultural and behavioral change – both top-down and bottom-up. This calls for a new breed of digitally aware leaders and digitally savvy workers, who together create and execute an inspiring vision for change. Indeed, the ability to drive change is as important as technical expertise, to challenge entrenched behaviors and mindsets, build consensus, and foster innovative, ‘fail-fast’ cultures. Leaders should also possess ‘soft’ skills like emotional intelligence and a willingness to listen, to foster buy-in for transformation, showing people how technology improves their working lives and boosts their careers. HR should set direction, working with leaders to communicate digital transformation goals and successes, allocating resources, and aligning performance to transformation targets and client experience. ‘Digital champions’ can push the agenda and help overcome resistance. Digital and data skills aren’t just for IT specialists. Technological skills give all workers the confidence and motivation to embrace digital transformation. Hiring large numbers of well-paid digital professionals is unfeasible, so upskilling is a high priority, with digital training spanning different languages and cultures. Long-term, an integrated talent management strategy considers the entire employee lifecycle and continually improves the employee experience, to create exciting, purposeful careers. With location becoming less of an issue, workers from around the world can pursue career goals within the organization, aiding retention. Managing new, hybrid workforces requires fresh thinking and more collaborative management, with an increased emphasis on values and wellbeing, and opportunities to gain professional digital qualifications.

Change won’t happen overnight

The digital experience has become crucial for employees and clients. Recent shifts are only one step in a journey toward a new kind of workplace and new ways of delivering services. International development agencies won’t become digital leaders overnight, and a digital strategy should reduce hierarchies, overcome internal silos, and forge a digital vision with new roles for leaders, managers and staff within a learning culture. Early education of all employees is critical, with regular communications and continual monitoring of sentiments. The new, customer-centric workforce will be characterized by new skills, fluid organizational structures, and flexible working hours. Humans and technology will combine to work in smarter ways, and remote workers will feel included and supported. The potential rewards are hugely exciting, with the chance to build innovative, adaptable organizations that use technology to great effect to change the world for the better. Are you ready for the digital transformation journey? 

* Ram Venkatraman is the Managing Director, People Advisory Services, EY LLP.
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