A popular meme currently flourishing on LinkedIn presents a simple multiple-choice question. “Who is driving the digital transformation in your business? A) CEOs B) CTOs C) COVID-19?”.
Corona has forced us to experiment, fail and learn to stay afloat, especially when it comes to distributed work. In particular, two things will be decisive for whether one gets weakened or strengthened out of time with forced distributed work; how to rethink its external touchpoints for a new kind of digital headquarters and how to create a strong virtual culture.
Zoom in to your new headquarters
Digital meetings, workshops, presentations and events will be a key point of contact for corporate clients and business partners. We already see how organizations and their employees quickly become super users on new digital platforms, collaborating to create presentations, hold successful meetings and facilitate productive workshops - all at a distance.
But the problem with many of these platforms such as Zoom, Teams and Mural is that the overall framework is always the same. There is almost no opportunity to differentiate themselves through the design of the user experience, as is otherwise known from the branded setting of the company's physical office. Our meetings are not significantly different from those of our competitors.
In yesterday's reality, many of us were very much into how our meetings, workshops, seminars, courses and conferences stimulated all senses. All to capture and hold our audience's attention and engage them actively in a branded framework. That's why we spend so much energy (and money) building eye-catching exhibits, designing office environments, and serving good coffee and chocolate at our meetings. But if we all interact through the same third-party interfaces, we take away an important component of branding and in the digital future, online meetings should radiate the same surplus and storytelling as it will be one of our most important touchpoints with customers and partners.
Achieving this requires an investment in skills, equipment and perhaps even small TV studies for admission. We are going to see new job titles as an 'audiovisual producer' where people are given the responsibility to drive the brand's expression in these new types of digital touchpoints. Exactly as we have for years been specialists to ensure that our website not only provides a good user experience, but also the right experience of the brand.
Employees with direct customer contact (salespeople, consultants, service workers, etc.) need a digital scene that they can take good care of. The scare scenario is sitting with a bad internet connection in a messy, ugly home office. The digital meetings are our new headquarters. And not to mention a headquarters that is never closed, which opens our markets to the whole world and expands our employee recruitment base far beyond commuter distance.
Culture is not (only) in the bricks
Another important parameter in the digitization of our working relationships is culture. Any cultural analyst will tell that a large part of a company's culture is tied to the physical environment and artefacts that set the framework for how we interact with each other.
One of our customers, Nike, is a good example of this. Nike's headquarters around the world are a fantastic physical manifestation of their brand identity, giving employees a sense of belonging and inspiring collaboration and creativity. The beauty of this scenario is that they control the physical environment and artefacts 100% as they own them.
Just like we lose control by using online third-party meeting tools, there is also a loss of control over culture. We do not own the physical framework within which culture takes place. Therefore, creating and maintaining the culture and sense of cohesion for a distributed workforce in a virtual community requires a reconfiguration of processes, tools and routines. Culture cannot just be transmitted solely through the use of plans and KPIs; culture is something that is constantly exercised, negotiated and formed among the employees. Here you can find inspiration in other digital communities, such as Facebook groups or online gaming platforms, where people collaborate, communicate and enjoy each other's company - at a distance.
Remote working skills are your new intangible assets
A McKinsey & Company report assesses S&P 500 companies' assets in tangible (intangible) vs. intangible (intangible) assets. In 1975, 83% of corporate assets were tangible, but in 2015 the picture was turned upside down, so 87% of corporate assets were intangible. They further conclude that companies with the greatest value creation share the common characteristics of having higher levels of digitization, access to a larger recruitment base, more globalization, and greater intangible assets than other companies. All things that successful distributed work will boost. Our corona experiments will therefore potentially affect the valuation of the company and emphasize how seriously we need to take the distributed reality.
How we lead a distributed team and their success will not only show how attentive our organization is to see and recognizing this shift to the digital, but also our future ability to adapt further. An important part of our competitive advantage is the ability of our employees to deliver from home, where management control is limited. This requires new management skills, which MIT Professor Thomas W. Malone already formulated in 2004 in the book "The Future of Work", "we need to shift our thinking from command-and-control to coordinate-and-cultivate".
When we are on the other side of all this, the question then becomes how your organization reacted to this sudden opportunity for digital transformation of the way we work and whether we as leaders managed to let go of the control and cultivate the opportunity.
The article was featured on Finans. You can read it in Danish here.