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Managing digital transformation during crisis

(Image credit: Shutterstock / vs148)

Since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, technology has been an essential way for organizations to stay informed and confident in the business and people-related strategy decisions they are making. Thanks to an early Covid-19 warning, at my company senior leaders were able to make the swift decision to close our offices and shift our teams to working entirely from home to ensure employee safety. This was executed ahead of a wave of self-quarantining measures in the states and the countries we operate in. As the head of HR, this additional time proved invaluable to our safety-first strategy. 

Although cases and fatalities have been declining and vaccination rates climbing, we know the pandemic is not yet over. While some companies have allowed and encouraged their employees to return to the office, several others have been extremely cautious about when and how employees can make that return. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but technology is increasingly becoming a significant enabler of executives’ decision-making process. 

I experienced this first hand when evaluating my company’s return to work timeline. In partnership with cross-functional leadership, my team and I have taken many factors into consideration: the spread of the Delta variant, employee sentiment, concerns about vaccine immunity and duration, and the lack of child vaccine availability across operating markets. 

As ensuring employee health and safety was and always is our utmost priority, we have also been spending a great deal of time determining how to effectively keep our people as safe as possible once they do return to our offices. How will we conduct health screenings? How will we plan for the correct capacity in our office spaces and conference rooms? 

We determined that we needed a technology solution to help us provide a safe workspace and manage safety protocols in ways we would not be able to do otherwise. It gives us the assurance we need that, when ready, we can safely bring our people back to the office. This is a prime example of why—especially as digital transformation continues to accelerate —organizations must take a cross-functional, collaborative approach, from the outset, in partnership with HR, to create alignment and set a clear direction of their digital strategies and initiatives.

Digital and the future of work 

Throughout my years working in people management, I’ve seen HR teams evolve to focus on larger, more expansive strategic goals and initiatives—those that drive business outcomes and move organizations forward. For example, building a leadership bench, creating a future of work strategy and developing the skills and competencies needed for both today and tomorrow. 

These happen to be three of the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2022, according to Gartner. Not surprisingly, all are unpinned by digital transformation, and each enables the adoption of new technologies and processes. organizations that focus on developing digital competencies that drive employee performance will be better positioned to overcome change fatigue and create change management experiences that employees find meaningful and can buy into. 

This has become more important than ever as, today, employees’ work is extremely digital and mobile. They can work from just about anywhere in the world and via various devices and collaboration tools. For some of my HR peers, this new future of work presents tremendous challenges. While that may be, it’s up to HR leaders to create a strategy that supports digital transformation, particularly given that Covid-19 has significantly increased the number of remote employees and contingent workers.

Pitfalls of not involving HR in the adoption of new tech 

With the continued globalization of businesses, offices and employees, HR is in a unique position. It touches all facets of an organization, so it’s crucial for HR leaders to be brought in early to the digital strategy and decision-making process to circumvent any issues that could affect the business and any current or future employees. 

When HR is left out of the conversations and decision-making process, it’s harder to spot organizational gaps and change management barriers. There is also an increased likelihood for error or poor decisions that create serious, long-lasting issues. And, many organizations are left with technical debt, that dreaded position no one wants to be in where what’s easiest and quickest has been chosen instead of the best solution. 

Lessons learned from the pandemic

Looking back on the pandemic’s beginnings, it’s fair to say Covid-19 has posed the greatest challenge for HR professionals in modern history. Even within the first few months of lockdowns, none of us could have predicted the devastating and enduring impact the pandemic would have on businesses, and most importantly, employees. 

Many had to adjust to working from home full-time, some for the first time, while learning new software that would help them do their job. This is where HR leaders and teams came in and used their expertise to help lead their organizations through the crisis. 

HR leaders were instrumental in keeping their companies updated and knowledgeable, not only during the transition to remote work for current employees, but also new, virtual-only hiring processes. At a time when there was a heavy reliance on video-conferencing to stay connected, HR provided advice and resources to help business leaders and managers make their employees feel supported, seen and heard. This included sharing insights into whether companies had the right people, skills and processes to embrace the digital changes—which has been key in retaining, promoting and recruiting talent across a larger number of locations amid a global pandemic. 

Digital transformation should be a collaborative process. It is just as much about the people as it is about the technology. And who understands an organization’s people better than HR? I believe businesses that learn to trust and lean on their HR functions for their digital decisions will be better prepared to serve their employees while advancing their long-term digital transformation strategy.

Whitney Benner is Chief People Officer, Dataminr

Whitney Benner is Chief People Officer at Dataminr.