The Top Forces Driving Digital Alignment
(This article is part 1 in a series covering "Digital Workplace" and "Digital Alignment" topics)
In addition to COVID, generational, environmental, and work-life balance demands drive changes in how we work. In this article, we'll look closely at some of these forces.
Bob Dylan released his famous song "The Times They Are A-Changing" in 1964 and the lyrics still hold true today.
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
His message is clear: changes are inevitable. Those who can adapt will flourish, and those who cannot will struggle in the long run.
What Does Digital Alignment Mean?
Let's briefly discuss the concept of digital alignment before analyzing its driving forces. This term literally means aligning technology to business needs. It is a match between the company's goals & values and its digital infrastructure. After the objectives have been clearly articulated, it's time to design and implement the digital infrastructure to support the chosen strategy.
Digitally aligned organizations outperform competitors by leveraging technology investment to their advantage. Digital alignment means that technology, talent, and processes are seamlessly blended to accomplish business objectives.
What drives organizations toward digital alignment? What natural changes make companies reconsider their digitalization strategy and adopt new organizational approaches? Here are the top five reasons behind this process.
Driver #1: The Generational Changes in How We Work
I am a member of the baby boomer club and started my engineering career in 1980. My early career could be defined as fairly autocratic. Work occurred in a well-defined 9-to-5 work-in-the-office type model. All my job was done during working hours.
There was no interaction with colleagues and clients outside of my work shift. Everyone in our department had an opportunity to give their opinion, but the boss clearly held the final vote. We discussed common issues amongst ourselves and soliciting input from others outside our department was a "taboo." There were no cell phones, laptops, email, or the internet.
The only computers in the building belonged to the IT department. They were all IBM mainframes processing COBOL jobs in batches. I used to get a performance evaluation once a year. The training and re-skilling were very formal and expensive processes.
Analyzing the workforce’s generations, you can clearly see the difference in how older and younger professionals make decisions, learn, use technologies, and approach switching to other positions:
As you see from the table above, the expectations have changed significantly over the last 40+ years. Cell phones, laptops, and tablets are expected. Social networks, lifelong learning, the internet, and problem-solving that involves a whole team are the new normal. Feedback is common and cross-organizational. Changing jobs frequently is no longer considered a stigma as it relates to career growth. We are connected 24/7 now. Instant information is a key requirement, and the opinions of others help us make our decisions both at work and beyond.
Companies constantly seek digital alignment to perform with the highest possible productivity in an ever-changing workforce environment. At the same time, productivity directly depends on how comfortable employees feel about their work conditions and how motivated they are to perform effectively. Matching the business goals with the workforce’s expectations and creating favorable conditions for effective collaboration is one of the vital drivers for adopting digital alignment in enterprises. The progress in achieving that match is directly visible in the generational changes to the work processes described above.
Driver #2: Prioritizing Health over Work
No one can deny that COVID-19 has significantly impacted the world. The chart below summarizes the current statistics according to the World Health Organization. With over 6.5 million lethal cases as of October 2022, it is not surprising that we are rethinking the value of "our time in the office." COVID-19 still hasn't been entirely eradicated and continues to be a global issue we have to take into account. The impact of monkeypox is yet unknown, but it remains at the forefront of the news.
According to the recent survey results published in Microsoft's 2022 Work Trend Index, people from all over the world are more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work:
The same survey showed that the two most popular reasons why employees quit were personal wellbeing or mental health (24%) and work-life balance (24%).
COVID made people rethink what is essential and prioritize health and well-being over pay. The digital alignment with the new normal comes two-way. The specialists got used to remote or hybrid work mode and found it optimal for supporting the desired lifestyle and personal well-being. On the other side, the companies also transformed their organizational and digital infrastructure by closing their office spaces and extending remote work and communication toolsets.
Driver #3: Work-Life Balance
The COVID crisis has undoubtedly shown us that being in the office "9 to 5 X 5 days a week" is no longer an essential ingredient to getting the job done. The transition to remote work brought the advantages that makes sense to preserve in the post-pandemic period. The time saved by not commuting gives us more opportunities to be with our families, pursue a hobby or reflect. Living close to the office is no longer required as we have become a truly mobile society. Workers can live in locations that fit their lifestyles best — city, urban, or rural. The choice is up to you now. The workforce has proven that the remote-only or hybrid employment models can work effectively given the proper amount of support. Convincing specialists that the full-time in-office model now required is futile. The recent survey by Microsoft revealed exciting figures:
- 47% of respondents admit they are more likely to put family and personal lives over work than before the pandemic.
- 53% — particularly parents (55%) and women (56%) — say they're more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work than before the pandemic.
- 47% of leaders are likely to consider applying for jobs not near their homes in the next year.
The priorities have shifted towards finding a comfortable work-life balance and employers should count on this when fighting for talent. Providing healthy and productive work conditions is one of the core digital alignment priorities.
Driver #4: Preserving the Environment
The world recognizes that the environment is in danger and that pollution cannot continue at the current rate. Although COVID is surely a tragic event for people, the reduction in traffic (land, sea, air) yielded a considerable decrease in air pollution. Below is a study conducted in Berlin, Germany, during the COVID lockdown. These charts clearly show the reduction in NO2 and O3 emissions from the pre-pandemic period (BAU = business as usual) and during the lockdown.
The positive effect on the ecology is one of the benefits people would like to preserve and develop further. People are not ready to blindly return to how they lived and worked before COVID-19. It all promotes finding a new balance between the company operation organization and the new values that acquire importance among professionals.
Driver #5: Flexibility in Office, Remote, and Hybrid Models
Being fully remote may not be a solution for everyone. Personal contact and interaction are still critical in doing business with internal and external customers. Microsoft reports that half of the remotely working respondents consider a hybrid model the best compromise.
- Over 70% of specialists want flexible remote work options to continue.
- Over 65% are craving more in-person time with their teams.
- 66% of business decision-makers consider redesigning physical spaces to accommodate hybrid work environments better.
Will the companies be capable of providing a flexible working mode to let specialists choose? A virtual workplace is one of the digital alignment tools for achieving such flexibility. With the tools to organize sustainable team communication and instant and secure access to all the corporate information, the organization can maintain different working modes simultaneously and let specialists choose.
Remote and hybrid work is no longer some sort of grand experiment in feasibility. The past two years have proven that the remote-hybrid scenario can not only work but promote professional growth, performance boost, and loyalty to an employer, given the right tools, work environment, and management support. The digital alignment between the changing environment and the company's organization is vital for achieving all those benefits.
Generational changes in how we work, the COVID pandemic, and a demand for a better work-life balance have forced us to reevaluate our next moves. Organizations that do not recognize these changes and react proactively will continue losing key talent in this ever-changing paradigm.
One last comment. The remote-hybrid business model is not necessarily a panacea. It still has its challenges that need to be resolved. We will examine some of these challenges in our next article. Stay tuned!