Marc Dowd
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

Digital Transformation is far from being only a technology issue. Some might argue that technology is the easy part – change in working practices and cultures are often a harder nut to crack. As advisors to CIOs, speaking daily to leaders of technology in organisations across Europe we see an increasing focus on changing organisational structures, work patterns and of course workspaces.

Hot on the heels of the worldwide experiment in remote working forced on us by the Covid pandemic, come the management and monitoring tools as organisations come to terms with a workforce that is now at arms-length. In a blog from early 2020, IDC’s Holly Muscolino showed that there was already a tension between flexibility of workplace and security, and over 60% of respondents to our poll indicated that their workers’ expectations were higher than they could deliver in terms of user experience for remote working.

As the year went on, a growing awareness that this was a long-term situation caused many organisations to consider the productivity and people management issues, with one poll suggesting that one in five employers either used, or planned to use software to monitor employees working from home.

The potential impact on employee privacy was quickly identified, and the cause célèbre toward the end of 2020 was the Microsoft Productivity Score in Microsoft 365. Many legal and moral questions were debated, not to mention the worth of such numbers collected at an individual level. An article in The Register from that time called out many problems and eventually the company back-tracked on individual data.

We can be sure that this is not the end of this debate. Employers will push at boundaries of acceptability in terms of employee monitoring as they always have, and the line between responsible management and intrusion into employee’s personal space whilst working from home still needs to be drawn.

Having spoken to many people with different views on this subject, in diverse industries, there are several questions that come around regularly. These are

·        How do we manage the boundary between home and work life? Many people have chosen a remote work career and are comfortable with this, but when it is forced upon the majority we should not assume everyone can make that shift.

·        How do we maintain productivity when the natural patterns of people’s days are often out of sync with each other? When we work in an office, much of this happens by default, the working culture of that office is something we buy into, consciously or unconsciously. Remote working, especially in this most challenging of times, is a different matter.

·        What do we measure, and how does this work when it comes to annual review? Many of the things that we used to value are less important for remote workers. Should we be less concerned about inputs and more aligned to outputs?

·        Are people now falling for a kind of “digital presenteeism”? This phenomenon was unhelpful in the office environment, it may be even more toxic remotely.

Every business will have different answers to these questions, and they will be more or less important depending on the existing culture of work. Indeed, there may be ways that we can improve our work culture – let us not fool ourselves that the office was the perfect way of arranging ourselves, especially in the 21st century. We have succeeded in replicating our existing structures in this enforced, temporary experiment, but this is surely not the end goal?

Technology, as always, will be a fundamental part of how we manage this – it is fundamental to how we now communicate and collaborate, and the Digital leader has a big responsibility for helping to guide their organisation on this journey, but they cannot do it alone. Every leader in any business plays a part in setting the tone. Our working culture cannot be formed by technology, but the tech we choose to implement and the data we choose to use will undoubtedly provide the scaffolding for ways of working that can become custom and practice very quickly.

Let us build processes that support, encourage and connect people. That feel as natural to use whether we have returned to offices, stay remote or work in a hybrid way, and that help us to achieve our objectives, rather than simply measuring inputs to the process.

If we do not consciously do that, we risk a monitoring culture that is damaging to mental health, promotes bad decisions and is ultimately unsustainable, which is bad news for both companies and their employees. Through collaboration with our peers, partners and wider communities there can be a better future of work than the one we left behind.

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