Workplaces have gone remote and there’s no turning back. The Covid pandemic sped up this shift to digital-first workplaces, but it’s been a long time in the making. Increasingly capable technology and an interconnected world have made the digital transformation inevitable, with modern teams now more likely to catch up on a video call from the four corners of the earth than over coffee in a break room.
A shift to a digital work environment brings numerous benefits, but can also lead to some new challenges for companies and the people that manage them. That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how to create a happy, productive, digital-first team.
“The last ten years of IT have been about changing the way people work. The next ten years of IT will be about transforming your business.”
— Aaron Levie, BOX
A shift to a digital-first team means a change in company culture – more specifically, the building of a digital-first culture. That means a company’s values have technology front and center. One that builds communication around channels, rather than holding onto old-fashioned structures and shoehorning them into a digital work environment. A digital-first culture involves a fundamental shift in the way a company, and its managers, think about work – which takes us to the first step in how to create a digital-first team: policy.
Stop Buying Technology – Change Policy
It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of online-office tech: chat apps, video calls, and a thousand different ways to organize your notes. The stream of technology you can buy is endless. However, even the most effective technology is useless if a team doesn’t want to use it.
Why would a team not want to use technology that could help their workflow? Simple: People don’t like change. The digitization of the workplace has been rapid, and for many companies, a change born of necessity. Because of this, team members can feel like they’ve lost control and are faced with uncertainty, especially if they’re making the shift to digital-first after a long time.
“You can’t delegate digital transformation for your company… You and your executives have to own it! Executives need to engage, embrace and adopt new ways of working with the latest and emerging technologies.” — Barry Ross, CEO and Co-Founder, Ross & Ross International
To counteract this, and build the best digital-first team possible, you must create the support policies needed to make the transition not only acceptable but exciting for employees. Policies that help address the inevitable confusion, distress, and sometimes even fear at the shift to digitization will go further to creating a digital-first team than technology ever could.
One policy that is easy to overlook when building a digital-first team is the one that insists on a digital detox. Part of moving into the digital world is knowing when to step away from it.
Make Digital Skills a Priority
Just as technology is useless if people don’t want it, it’s also pretty worthless if your team doesn’t know how to use it. Digital literacy is vitally important in the modern workplace, and it’s a company’s job to make sure that their digital-first teams are rolling with the times.
Start by assessing your team’s current digital skills to identify knowledge gaps and areas that could be improved. Based on this, offer role-specific as well as more general training using your company’s digital toolkit. Solicit ongoing feedback to improve your digital training and identify new areas that need to be addressed.
Finally, beware of the “curse of knowledge”! It might sound like something out of a bad movie, but the curse of knowledge is very real and very problematic. It is a cognitive bias where a person communicates and assumes that the recipient has the same knowledge as them, leading to misunderstandings. It’s easy to fall into this trap when skilling up a digital-first team – never assume anything is too “basic” or “simple” to check. Just because something may seem easy to you, such as scheduling an email or using templates, it doesn’t mean that everyone will know it.
Make Digital Transformation an Agenda Item for Every Meeting
The transformation to a digital-first team is a process, not a simple switch, and it’s important to keep people in the loop as this change occurs. Making your digital transformation an agenda item for every meeting stops team members from being blindsided, which as mentioned above, will reduce the instinctive resistance to change.
What’s more, having digital transformation as an agenda item for every meeting means more opportunities for team members to highlight successes, failures, and voice ideas for a better digital-first team. It certainly doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time, but having the space to discuss tech changes and challenges can make a huge difference to company team culture and morale.
Make it OK to Fail – and Learn From it
Learning new skills or using new tools is hard, and the transition to a digital-first work environment will likely mean your team coming into contact with complex and confusing tech. While this may lead to failure, it’s ok! In fact, it is highly valuable, offering learning opportunities for individual team members as well as frameworks for the digital reskilling that you already made a priority.
However, while it’s easy to say that it’s ok to fail, it’s much harder to create an environment in which a digital-first team feels it’s safe to fail. There are many aspects to creating this environment, but one that is vital is clearly communicated guidelines and processes. measured risks and feel comfortable in failing.
Google, for example, created a process for when a failure occurs whereby the team asks questions like “What went well?” to actively find lessons rather than faults. This led to team leads admitting to and learning from their mistakes as well as discouraging people from assigning blame.
Make Digital Transformation Part of Your Team’s Values
Having a digital transformation as part of the team’s values means ensuring your team knows the value of the transformation. That is to say, your team needs to know why it is important and what it actually means for them. If your team is invested in the transformation of the business, it’s far more likely to be a success.
One way to approach this is to take your team’s existing values and see how a digital transformation can help elevate them. For example, robust and clear communication is frequently listed as a core team value – how can this be digitized? Discuss new communication channels, digital collaboration tools, and a move to asynchronous channels for less invasive comms.
Once you start to integrate a digital-first attitude into each of your team’s values, it will soon become an integral part of the way in which they work.
Make Sure Everyone Has a Digital Role Model
Any change in company culture needs to start at the top, and the shift to a digital-first work environment is no different. The leaders at your company need to embrace and reflect the company values and methods that are necessary for a digital transformation.
Leading by example increases trust throughout an organization, while hesitance can spell failure. Having digital role models in the management teams will help to inspire people during the digital transformation, set the standards of your new digital-first team, and increase a sense of collaboration throughout the organization.
Let’s Build Your Digital First Team
Now more than ever, successful businesses are not just integrating technology into their teams, but creating workforces that are digital first. That means creating an environment where technology, values, and company culture combine to create a more productive, collaborative workplace.
Building a digital-first team has its challenges – it’s a fundamental shift in how a business works, after all. But, by following some of our suggestions and listening to your team, you’ll be able to create the best digital-first team possible.
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