Digital Workplaces and Workflows: Overcoming Resistance to Change

Cost savings, productivity and efficiency improvements are top priority for any business. Embracing digitalisation of operational processes can offer plenty of opportunities for process optimisation and bring about positive change across your organisation.

Recent statistics show that by digitising processes and workplaces, an organisation can gain cumulative cost savings of up to 4.2 percent a year, varying depending on industry.

Benefits of Digitalisation across Different IndustriesSource: Statista

Resistance to change, however, is an intrinsic property of any organisation, whether in a startup or an established business. The only differences are in the specific processes such resistance to change is affecting across your operations.

Let us take a look at some important contributors to resistance and how you can pave the way to harness business technology for your organisation.

Age Is Key Factor in Digitisation Adoption

Widespread adoption of digital tools is inevitable as the workforce grows in fragmentation and an increasing number of roles can actually be carried out on the go or entirely remote. Digital workplaces now include teams on the field and remote workers that are located all over the globe. Even small and medium enterprises are digitising their business operations and workplaces to retain their competitiveness.

Introduction of digital technologies at the workplace is facing resistance, however. Contrary to popular beliefs, the oldest employees are not those who are the most resistant to digital change. A recent survey by Gartner shows that employees between 18 and 24 years of age are most willing to accept change. Older workers, at the age of 55 and over, rank second in openness to new technologies that eliminate routine tasks. The employees aged between 35 and 44 are those you should expect to resist tech adoption most.

So, how you deal with the opposition toward digitisation by your staff in their most productive age?

How to Overcome Resistance to Change

We need to turn to management theory for a moment to understand where the roots of resistance to change lie, and employ working methods for overcoming that very resistance. In 1969, Paul R. Lawrence, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Harvard Business School, published an article in Harvard Business Review titled “How to Deal With Resistance to Change”. It addresses the very phenomenon without delving into specific technical details, and offers ideas that are still very relevant in today’s corporations.

A summary of Lawrence’s findings:

  • You need not gamify digitisation by encouraging “participation”, as it may lead to trouble instead of solving digital transformation issues.
  • You must understand the true nature of resistance, since most employees do not resist the technical side of the changes but rather the social change, namely the changing aspects of human relationships.
  • You must assess the resistance as a function of the employees’ fixation with certain technical aspects of those new concepts you want to introduce.

Only after you have good understanding of why and how workers will or are reacting the change, can you move to overcoming opposition against digitalisation. At this point it is encouraged for you to hold plenty of meetings and discussions, to provide a forum where your teams feel heard, and for your leadership teams to promote the positiveness of such changes to the organisation and how they benefit everyone involved.

A working method is to introduce digital workflows and procedures within a larger transformative change that may include adoption of new machinery, network upgrade and expansion, or another business innovation. You should also make every effort to demonstrate the change is an opportunity and not a threat.

It helps if you have a CIO or a long term IT Services Provider on board, but it is not mandatory when you as a business leader understand the goals the organisation wants to achieve by introducing digital methods of work. Your CIO, IT Services Provider, or your leadership teams should be driving the transformation by:

  • Beginning digital transformation from the top.
  • Redefining business processes by placing technology as top priority.
  • Collaborating with all stakeholders and business counterparts to drive the change.
  • Being ambitious with these efforts.
  • Offering help for effortless transition.

It may sound simple, but it is far from it. Moving a complex system to the cloud, for instance, may involve certain technical challenges, however a complete shift to digital workplaces and procedures will involve organisational transformation. Challenging current models and looking beyond current practices is not an easy task for any founder, business owner, or C-level executive.

Your organisation must also overcome obstacles where business units or individuals across your organisation are implementing Shadow IT, when employees are addressing certain problems by implementing their own solutions rather than going through official IT, which then introduces security risks to the business. Being well aware of the entire workflow will enable you to improve on it and adopt applications and data solutions that will work for all of your business units and employees. A half-finished digital solution will face natural resistance from within, and may eventually be phased out altogether.

How to Plan for Digital Workplaces

In light of the above, careful planning is required for the adoption of digital workplaces. For a lasting transformation, first priority should be placed on business strategy to achieve long term goals rather than focusing on sporadic technology. A successful implementation of digital workplaces within an organisation involves a number of critical components.

Essentials of Implementing Digital WorkplacesSource: Gartner

As can been seen from the chart above, one cannot build a successful digitisation solution without a strategy. Digitalisation should be part of a broader business strategy, which takes into account essential factors such as employee skills, business goals, opportunities for consumerisation, as well as your core business specifics.

Planning for digital change will also require rethinking core roles and processes within your organisation. This could result in hostile reactions by internal stakeholders who oppose digital disruptions which may otherwise seem good to an unbiased external observer. You should also plan for initial loss of efficiency if your digital transformation involves a deeper learning curve, which is a common scenario across many industries.

Making informed decisions is a crucial part of the process of digitisation, and it applies to both managers and workers who need to comprehend why the change is necessary and how the entire process will look like. Do not fall victim to the prejudice that all your workers will resist the change for the sake of opposing the adoption of new methods and means of work. Once they understand the need for change and how digital transformation of core processes will benefit all parties involved, natural adaption should follow.

Finally, resistance must be dissected in detail. It oftentimes is result of small technical details not working as planned or omissions in your digitisation plan that in turn produce ineffective workflows. Any change is a dynamic process and transition to digital workplaces will require some time to produce best results. Correcting details on the fly is welcome once you have a broader digitalisation strategy in place.

Is your organisation due for a digital transformation? Speak to our experienced Solutions Architects at Interlinked and we can guide your business through all of the processes discussed above.