Digital transformation in the world of work

A Q&A with David Clubb, MD for Tate, and Adam Taub, Business Presentation Skills Leader from the Institute of Directors

Every business on the planet is currently undergoing digital transformation. But in an ever-changing business climate, one of the most difficult aspects of leadership is building talent strategies that can create and retain a workforce that is adaptive to an increasingly digital world.

With skills shortages across almost every sector, workforce planning won’t be easy. The war for talent is more tumultuous than ever. Work has become much more than a paycheck, especially for younger workers entering the marketplace. Communication from business leaders will be increasingly vital.

To better understand how digital transformation is affecting the workplace, we spoke to two leading experts. Whether you’re a full-time employee, a CEO or a student finishing your studies, within these conversations are insights that will make you revaluate the impact of digital transformation on the world of work. 

Read on to discover more...

Tania Hartman, Marketing Manager, Tate: 

How do you both feel about the impact that digital transformation is having on the world of work?

Adam Taub:

I’m happy to kick off with this and then David you can pick up. The question of the impact of digital transformation on the world of work is huge. 

I see two primary changes happening as a result of digital transformation. The first is how we work and the second is the nature of work. They are two quite distinct things. 

How we work is related to things like how we communicate, how we speak to each other, how we network, and how we work remotely. We’ve moved in a period of 20 years from emails and SMS, which are amazing tools by which you can communicate with multiple people simultaneously, to mass communication tools where you communicate with individuals that you don’t necessarily know.

Now we’ve gone full-circle where we can actually mass communicate as if they are to individuals and it takes on the Facebook issues that have been raised. Digital transformation is profound in the way that we go to market and the way that we operate as teams.

I don’t think there has been a more exciting time to be a marketer at the moment, for example, not since the invention of television have you had a channel as exciting as social media by which to reach individuals. 

The Attention Merchants, a book that rethinks advertising in today’s context came out a couple of years ago, and it suggests that what we are buying and selling today is not products but the attention of the individual. 

The transformation that digital work has done for marketing and communication is utterly huge and they’re touching very briefly on the nature of work — the nature of work is also changing dramatically.

We’ll come later onto AI which is a huge topic in and of itself, but the workplace itself is changing. And what you’re seeing now is you’re seeing people who are much more flexible and therefore can come in as consultants and freelancers and so on, and therefore what they’re looking to do is different, so instead of looking to become a growth organisation, people are being hired on a project basis. 

There was an amazing story in the paper recently I don’t know if you saw it, about how Google is treating its non-employed individuals – utterly fascinating story. Google employs 170,000 people around the world, 50% of them are on a freelance basis as consultants. 

Google has also just revealed that there was a management edit saying you must not give gifts to people who are consultants. Because if you give gifts like sweatshirts and mugs and so on, there may be a tax implication and there may be an assumption that they are employees.

Digital transformation is affecting every aspect of our life.

David Clubb:

It’s interesting you picked up on those factors about work. I was thinking from a leadership perspective of how scary it can be to the workforce and employees, and how you need to treat digital transformation as a major change programme within your business.

At first, you’re going to go through the initial stages which often leave people feeling alienated, in denial, worried, frustrated, until they get to the acceptance stage that technology is going to be a change for the good. 

But you’ve got to take them on that journey. I think that many companies need to really think about the pace of change and how that is going to be handled within the business from an internal comms perspective. It’s something that you could easily miss in the excitement of the opportunity that technology can bring to a business. Having spoken, like yourself Adam, to companies about the risks and opportunities, you can see the fear immediately starting to arise in some eyes, and the massive opportunity in the eyes of others. 

I think I would definitely advocate for a long hard look at what your digital transformation strategy is and then how you’re going to handle that and get influencers into working parties and start to make sure that they influence other people for the good.

It’s interesting because it flips into what you said about communication. I think from a leadership perspective communication is probably the key driver for a leader to get right in a company; if you don’t get communication right as a leader you’re finished. 

I think digital transformation is going to be an enhancer, giving leaders different channels to communicate with staff.

Adam Taub:

I couldn’t agree with you more on the issue of internal communications. And what I find so fascinating is that there’s a lot of debate about whether technology is helpful or whether it’s not helpful, and what you’re extracting is useful. 

What you find is the same technology can have very different impacts in different companies, so it’s not just simply the technology itself, it is how the technology is used.

I have seen it used well but I have also seen it used terribly – I have seen intranets on Yammer that are utterly useless, nobody uses them, they’re not effective. I have seen leaders communicate via mass email, thinking they’re having some form of communication with their staff, and when the staff open the email they think it’s risible. 

So the ability to be authentic in one’s communication, the ability to come across as a real caring person rather than just simply saying, “Okay, today is Tuesday, it’s the official email,” is really important.

People are really smart; we are creatures who are highly sensitive. We get it — yes we can take offence and so on but in the main we get when somebody is trying to be authentic. So if you are authentic, digital tools will allow you to spread that authenticity, but it will also accentuate your lack of authenticity if you’re not.

This Q&A is the first in a series of interviews based around the future of leadership. In next month’s blog, we’ll be discussing the role of artificial intelligence. With almost everyone discussing its potential impact, but few people really understanding its real-world implications, our discussion will open the debate up to two of the business world’s best brains.

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