Organisations need to go through a fundamental culture change in order to drive digital transformation at all levels and especially for Firstline Workers, according to workplace and digital transformation expert, Ian Heard.
Employees in an organisation’s head office are usually top of mind when it comes to digital transformation and other change initiatives, with firstline workers – those who are “first in line” when dealing with customers – often left out of the loop due to geographic isolation and other factors, said Heard, Modern Workplace Lead for Microsoft.
“There is this scenario which is akin to a ‘queen bee’ and ‘worker bee’ in many organisations, where the insight and intelligence resides at the centre while this flows out to firstline workers to execute,” he said.
“In the world of digital transformation, the culture that supports this model fundamentally needs to change, and building a connected culture is the first important step.
“I’m not saying structure needs to change, I mean culture needs to change, whereby there is a two-way feedback loop between head office/management and firstline workers – because valuable insights can come from anywhere in your organisation, especially at the firstline where workers are at the coal face with customers.”
The second step in this process is to adopt and deploy a suite of connected tools or applications that help firstline workers effectively stay connected to the business.
“It’s essential there that those connected tools are available to everybody,” said Heard.
“If two-thirds of your workers are on the firstline, then it doesn’t work if only one-third of your workforce which sits in the back office has access to tools which enable them to communicate, collaborate and share insights.
“So these connected applications need to be on every smartphone and every desktop and in the hands of every worker to help connect them.”
“Valuable insights can come from anywhere in your organisation, especially at the firstline where workers are at the coal face with customers”
The third step is to establish a connected platform for the applications, so they feed into a common and secure data platform that leverages big data to take the trends and insights from your workers, customers and third parties and turns them into intellectual property whilst protecting the integrity and identity of the data.
It is also important that this platform be flexible to scale up or down depending on the needs of an organisation.
“In a digital world there is more change ahead for businesses, so a data platform needs to be responsive to this,” said Heard.
The importance of staying connected
There are a number of important benefits for both organisations and HR in adopting the above three steps, and Heard said research conducted by research firm YouGov and commissioned by Microsoft Australia highlighted the importance of adopting a more connected culture.
For example, 74 per cent of employers recognise the firstline of the workforce is where their customer journey starts “so it is crucial that this is where your corporate culture should also reside – and leaders should stay connected with this culture especially in a world of digital transformation where the speed of change is greater.
“It is essential that you’re able to connect insights and changes from the central head office out to firstline workers.
“So if you’re planning product changes which will impact customers, for example, or need to conduct important governance training, then you need to make sure that you’re connected with the firstline,” said Heard.
“In a digital world there is more change ahead for businesses, so a data platform needs to be responsive to this”
The flipside of this is that firstline workers understand what is happening at the “customer coalface” and it is important that they be able to provide real-time insights back to the head office.
However, the research found there is a significant communication gap in organisations, with only 21 per cent of firstline workers actively involved in digital transformation initiatives while 33 per cent are not involved (but would like to be).
The face of the firstline worker is also changing significantly, and Heard observed that the firstline workforce has among the highest concentration of millennials for many organisations.
“These are people who are used to being connected, yet in many sectors such as retail and healthcare, companies are still using noticeboards, newsletters and snail mail.
“We’re not staying connected with them, yet every single one of those employees has a mobile phone and are used to next generation digital applications. That’s how they are used to staying connected,” he said.
“If you are going to attract the right firstline workers to your organisation, you need to ensure you’re using technology which is native to them in order to enable them to be more engaged and productive.”
Witnessing the green shoots of digital transformation
The YouGov research, which took in almost 1400 employees, also found that 77 per cent of all employees believe digital transformation and the technology which enables it is important for every organisation.
“This is a widespread recognition that digital transformation is a crucial determiner for business, and many are seeing the green shoots of the digital revolution coming through,” said Heard.
“We’re witnessing disruption on a scale which has never been seen before, with the likes of Uber – which is now disrupting not just transport, but distribution models as well with Uber Eats.
“You need to ensure you’re using technology which is native to them in order to enable them to be more engaged and productive“
This is the next evolution of digital businesses and traditional organisations are really struggling with this.
“While this does vary from industry to industry, in general we’re seeing organisations looking to take large steps on the digital transformation journey now.
“In reality, many of them have a platform that just needs to be digitised, rather than them taking a big step across a chasm for their organisation.”
As a first step in this process, Heard said organisations should focus on how they can transform their own internal operations and the way they can operate their businesses with a view to realising real productivity gains.
“They need to ensure their workplace is more in sync with the modern digital world, so they can leverage back office and artificial intelligence platforms in order to speed up the way they work,” he said.
“If we take digital transformation in its simplest term as shortening the time from input to output by leveraging technology, then what we are seeing a lot of organisations do now is to leverage the cloud in order to transform the way that their operations perform internally.”
“This improves the speed at which they can operate, grow and scale down, if necessary, to de-risk their organisation.”
Inside HR, partnering with Microsoft, invite you to join the conversation around empowering firstline workers at its upcoming event, Power to the People. You will be in the presence of some of Australia’s trailblazing HR professionals, offering up their knowledge on critical topics to assist your organisation and your firstline workers. With opportunities to discuss with and learn from industry leading speakers, Power to the People will ensure you return to your organisation with a forward-thinking view on HR processes. Register now.
Edit: We’re out of space! Registrations have now closed due to the incredibly enthusiastic response we’ve received for this event. You can find out more about Microsoft 365 Enterprise for Firstline workers here, and sign up here to be the first to hear about Inside HR events in the future!