Why a digital-first approach is essential for business success

Purpose, transparency and increased flexibility are three ways to empower and retain your people

by John Stern
Last Updated: 11 Nov 2021

The pandemic forced organisations to pivot to a digital-first approach without the time to think or adapt to the new ways of working.

And while some sectors, such as banking, and some businesses are hungry for a return to in-person office life, for most organisations, a hybrid approach is the future. But, in order to stem the tide of the Great Resignation, the digital tools available to employees need to be more sophisticated and more integrated than ever before. 

Essentially, there needs to be a coming together of people, data and applications.

The digital journey

“To be successful, businesses need to connect people in a meaningful way, wherever they are,” believes Stuart Templeton, head of UK at Slack, a messaging app for business. “The vision of our digital HQ is to break down silos. The average enterprise has more than 1,000 business applications in its estate already and that number is growing. Each application does a great job, but it is fundamentally a silo of data. Bringing that data into a channel alongside the project collaboration really takes friction out of work.”

Vodafone recently announced the plan to recruit 7,000 more software engineers by 2025 which, Templeton believes, is recognition that “this digital journey is fundamental to organisational success for all of us”.

“A firm North Star”

The eighth question in the Gallup 12 employee engagement survey asks if “the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.” Templeton believes that the relationship between employer and employees has to shift from “a command and control kind of framework to one of agile organisms, where people and teams feel empowered and can work cross-functionally to get work done. In order to deliver on that you need a firm North Star.”

This sense of purpose, driven by confident, collaborative leaders, meshes with principles of transparency and alignment where “communication is no longer locked away in silos, but rather there in public searchable channels so that people can get up to speed and can get a sense as to exactly what's going on.”

Templeton cites the example of Octopus Energy, and their CEO Greg Jackson, who “have done a really good job of creating an open culture and getting all of their employees to engage directly with their leadership”. 

Applications, such as Slack Huddles, seek to bring people together for virtual ‘water cooler moments’. Another of the Gallup 12 questions asks if you have a best friend at work. Templeton continues: “We have hired a huge proportion of our employee base since lockdown so how do we create an environment where people really feel connected to each other as humans and friends? Channels do a huge amount to help people feel connected, not just to the company mission but to each other.”

Work where you want, when you want

Working remotely has become second nature to many people and organisations but there is still a presumption that your hours of work align with those of your colleagues or managers. 

Slack’s Future Forum research revealed that while 76% of employees want greater flexibility about where they work and 93% want greater flexibility about when they work. “There is a great opportunity to deliver on this possibility of asynchronous working,” says Templeton, citing Slack Clips as a “multimedia asynchronous meeting” that can empower teams to work effectively even when they’re not all online at the same time. 

The possibility of asynchronous working also helps alleviate the concerns about remote working leading to longer hours and the sense of living at work rather than working from home. “I do think that leaders have a cultural obligation to set out their stall to ensure that people can exercise a reasonable work/life balance,” says Templeton. “We should remind ourselves that the ability to respond [to every message] in real time does not equate to productivity.”

The hybrid workplace is clearly not a passing fad so organisations need to fully embrace a digital-first approach and empower their employees.

Learn more about reinventing work and the new imperatives for the future of working with Slack.

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