Digitalization. It’s one of those buzzwords in the industry that seems intimidating at first, and if you’re a bit lost about what it means, you’re not alone. At its core, the term refers to the integration of digital technologies into everyday life—particularly the business world. The goal, ultimately, is to align technology with a company’s employees, processes, and workplace to improve efficiency, collaboration, and satisfaction across the board.
But what about the office? You’ll often hear the terms “digital transformation,” a “workplace transformation” or even “smart office” thrown around. The emphasis, however, shouldn’t be on technology alone. It’s not only about having the latest personalized lighting system, nor the newest 3D printer that employees can use on the regular. It’s what the company does with technology that creates digital transformation.
The onset of COVID-19 changed many norms in the office space, but one of the most important notes the virus hit is how we use technology to work. Even before the global health crisis hit, 92 percent of company leaders thought that their business model would not remain viable at the rates of digitization at that time. Now, COVID-19 is becoming a further catalyst for digitalization.
With more people working from home than ever before, digitalization has acquired a new front. A stark reminder that technology has a key role to play in the way both social life and work is organized, COVID-19 presents a perfect opportunity to rethink how technology can empower you, your team, and your office. And that means both in, and out, of the work space.
Technological flexibility for a safe workspace
Let’s start with thinking about digital transformation in the office space during the COVID-19 period. Germany is notoriously slow with digitalization, with more than 58% of all managing directors and board members categorizing their company as a latecomer to digital innovation. Never has there been a more perfect time to digitalize: both from the health and collaboration perspective, technology should be used to empower your office space.
Most employers want to deliver a best-in-class workplace, but how do you create a workplace that adapts to new demands and social-distancing restrictions? It starts at the level of contact with objects in the office. A handful of companies are exploring gesture detection technologies to help individuals command elevators without touching buttons; the same goes for solutions that enable touchless locks by using an employee’s smartphone. What about the common areas, such as the kitchen or the breakout rooms? Besides re-arranging tables and assigning lunchtimes in adherence with social distancing policies, voice technology could play a key role in the use of electronic appliances. Some of these technologies are nothing new—but their relevance has soared since the onset of COVID-19.
Meeting and event rooms, a core component of in-person collaboration, will also need to undergo a transformation. Meeting rooms in the office space will need to be retrofitted to fully incorporate video conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype; but offices should also be privy to new technologies which foment collaboration. Whether that means a voice-based chat tool that integrates Slack or online whiteboard platforms that makes collaboration in the meeting room more seamless, your office space will need to use the right form of digitalization to create a safe yet productive working environment for your employees.
Digitization on the homefront
Yes, WFH is here to stay—but just because more of your employees are working from home doesn’t mean the digital transformation stops at your office door. With more people working from home than ever before, your employees need to feel like the office space is fluid and flexible; they need to be able to connect with their company’s services however, and whenever, they want to.
The basics? Ensuring that your video conferencing, chat, calendaring, and email software are easy to access across all platforms. Besides telecommunication, project management software like Slack, Asana, and Trello, which simplify team collaboration across locations, are also a given. So too is cloud-based management that facilitates employees to stay on top of rolling projects, share documents, and make updates in real time.
But companies should consider how to provide the right technological support for the wellbeing of employees working from home. Communication, management, and work culture—these pillars of the office space have been severely compromised by COVID-19. Expanding workplace wellness and resources to the remote sector can be seen through new telehealth technology, which emphasizes mindfulness and stress-reduction. Similarly, in the absence of a traditional HR function, new platforms are aiming to improve internal company communication between remote and in-office employees.
In the absence of face-to-face contact, technology can have a big role to play in creating a work culture that is empathetic and amiable. It’s up to you how to use it, but remember: digital transformation is an ally, not a foe.