Is Your Workplace Ready For The New ‘Normal’?

Digital Transformation / February 2016

James Moffat

James Moffat

As founder of Organic James leads a digital agency that brings innovative thinking, creativity and agility to a range of leading global brands.

When we are kids we do dynamic things like dance, play football, go out on our bikes and climb. We are encouraged to find things out, ask questions, to discover and investigate the world around us and to ask yet more questions about this world. Alongside their early exploration into natural world, children are encouraged to direct their own activities and to investigate technology through play. They are championed in exploring their imaginations and developing skills by working with others, as well as independently. At nurseries and pre-schools everywhere, the emphasis is on opening up horizons, and educators work tirelessly to ensure that every possible opportunity for enriching the learning of children and young people is at the forefront of everything they do.

In short, the early years are about experimentation and explorative thinking. If you were lucky and you went to a well-resourced school in a ‘good’ area where the staff were well-supported and given adequate time to plan and prepare sessions, then your education would have been less about jumping through arbitrary assessment hoops and more about continuing that journey of exploration. Perhaps you were even lucky enough to enjoy these privileges all the way up to your higher education experience – even beyond. And then what happens? There you are with your young mind alive with possibilities, ideas and questions, eagerly anticipating the first opportunity to bring the fruits of your learning to the much-lauded ‘real world’, but is that real world ready for you?

Joining the party

Today, kids know how to operate a handheld electronic device like a phone or tablet even before they learn how to hold a pen. The mobile technology today’s kids are intimate with makes one wonder how parents had previously managed occupy their kids in cafes prior to the advent of the Cbeebies app or YouTube. Parents of young children today will have smirked at their four year old’s frustration when an antique TV screen or monitor cannot be operated by touch, or when their agile pincer movements expand a part of the screen on a tablet as though it were the most obvious and instinctive thing to do in the world. In the same way that phones with dials were replaced by phones with pushable buttons over several decades, smart digital technology has meant the effort of engaging one’s digits in the act of pushing has become redundant overnight. Today’s kids expect to have instant control over and make an immediate impact on their digital worlds, and anything that does not comply with this expectation is bewildering.

Millennials who grew up exploring the digital landscape more than their own back yard, who organised their lives via social media, or conducted their lives on social media, who typed more than they held pens, who engaged with information efficiently, expecting and getting instant results from their searches, for whom ‘the post’ is a quaint concept akin to the telegram and useful only for taking receipt of items ordered online, will more often than not find themselves entering a workplace anticipating the same fleetness of foot in communication, action and activity.

But the reality of stepping into the world of work is often very different to what they have become accustomed to. Businesses are slower to migrate to the digital landscape than individuals and while digital permits work activity to take place any time of day or night, working practices often adhere to the daylight hours defined during the time when we needed to exploit the natural light so we could plough fields. Digital merges home with work, but maintaining a good work/life balance means being able to switch off at least some of the time. Digital means everything is instant, but can real people keep up with the demands of an increasingly interconnected and speedy world? Most businesses are built on structures that have been reinforced over a period of years; people have their place, their role and their responsibilities, and changing the way we communicate can be a struggle – not least for those who have arrived late to digital party (or not at all), but also to those emerging into the workplace who are already digital natives.

Integrating the worlds

Let’s take the example of a graduate who left university to work for a well-known brand. Accustomed to the nature of existing in an integrated physical/digital world, they are astonished to enter a workplace that is struggling to manage their Twitter account. Should this be the terrain of customer services or marketing? What happens when a customer makes a very public complaint about them on Twitter? Should the customer services team swoop in to smooth it over, or should marketing handle the complaint and use it as an opportunity to reinforce the brand’s values and improve its perception? It depends, of course, on the nature of the issue, however, companies who have managed to integrate marketing skills and customer services knowledge have often yielded the benefits of mingling worlds that previously may never have crossed paths. It’s worth noting how brands that do successfully integrate teams have yielded not only happy customers, but immeasurably valuable positive publicity.

Accepting new realities

When throughout the majority of your education you’ve been encouraged to work independently, to draw on your own initiative and engage with original thought, moving to a work context in which you are obliged to make every decision by committee can be a source of immense frustration for newcomers. Something as apparently simple as setting up or reinvigorating a newsletter or blog often requires multiple stakeholder input – that’s assuming standards and guidelines already exist in relatively new social media contexts. Often by the time corporate guidelines have been agreed, any energy and originality has been expunged from the initiative to produce something that fails to elicit the desired effect in the audience.

Companies cannot expect their staff to benefit from a 30-minute training session concerned with integrating new communication approaches, because digital transformation must be part of the climate rather than perceived as an adjunct to a pre-existing system.

Furthermore, internal communication is often dependent on antiquated processes – even forms of communication like email feel ponderous to someone who uses WhatsApp or Messenger and expects instant replies. Accepting the reality of the efficacy of digital communications as the norm is the only way for organisations to compete and progress meaningfully

Painless evolution

Companies that are interested in accepting and privileging advancements in how their sales, customer services and internal communication take place will be the ones who adapt painlessly to their ever-evolving, increasingly competitive terrain. But it is important to listen to the newbies, not just because they are still in touch with the learning, freedom of thought, energy and positivity their learning and youth has afforded them, but because they are already converts to a cause you will be championing later down the line – they are the new ‘normal’.

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