This is the third “digital casualties” post. You can read the first two here and here. As we transition to a workplace increasingly reliant on the so-called digital technologies, where much of what is said and done happens in bits and bytes, “in the cloud,” in our mobile and wearable devices, and in virtual timelines, there is a large contingent of employees that feel disconnected and left behind.
Often, when this issue is raised, many tend to quickly dismiss it as being the norm for every technology change, from the 19th century textile workers we call Luddites to taxi drivers protesting against Uber. There is a fundamental difference from those two examples and what is happening at the workplace with the multiple digital transformation initiatives. More than just a single technology change affecting one specialized class of workers, a digital workplace is about new ways of working, no matter if you work in a grocery store, a public library, or as a financial advisor. The digital workplace transformation is not about a single industry disruption, it’s about a cultural shift heavily influenced by technology.
This is not to make light of the old or new protests: as disruption happens in any industry, there will be gains, losses, and the need for adjustments. Friction is required to settle the path of progress, with legitimate concerns from all sides. But lumping together those cases with what is happening with jobs in all industries does not help us to devise solutions that will help us make this transition to better ways of working.
In any reasonably large organization, there will be employees with all kinds of backgrounds. That diversity goes beyond the traditional age, skin color, gender, and sexual orientation dimensions. They differ in the way they learn, communicate, think, behave, and interact with others. Not everybody there will be immersed in the so-called social-mobile-cloud world. A significant portion of them never went for an Uber ride or had an Airbnb stay. They may only rarely use Facebook; and Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat sound as foreign to them as names of distant countries in other continents. Despite the fact that they are not considered “digital” employees, they constitute a sizeable part of the workforce and contribute significantly for your business to get things done. Making them a digital casualty during your transformation initiatives would be a major mistake.
In genetics, genes located in close proximity with each other tend to have their alleles (multiple alternative forms) inherited together, a phenomenon called genetic linkage. Even though, in theory, they are unrelated to each other, the close proximity makes some unique combination of variations to be passed as a combo from generation to generation. Something similar seems to happen with digital skills. It’s not uncommon to find people who are very proficient with their mobile devices to also be more comfortable with using cloud-based solutions and be very active in several online social networks. But that combo box does not necessarily come with other important attributes that are very desirable to compose a healthy workforce. By relentlessly pursuing a workforce that’s 100% comfortable in navigating an increasingly digital workplace right now, you may be giving up on enormous talent in other areas.
In the process of transforming your organization, many of your valuable employees will take longer to achieve digital fluency. Even years from now, some of them will still have some sort of “accent” when they speak digital – old habits inherited from a very analog world where some grew up, or simply a desire to not be all digital, all the time. Guess what: that is just microcosm of the world we all live in. Having a workforce population that reflects the digital diversity of the world you serve goes a long way in developing and delivering products and services they actually need.