Successful digital transformation requires a thriving digital culture

Last updated on 
March 18, 2021

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The 2020 global remote work experiment forced quick digital transformation with almost no space or time for cultural transformation. Companies and their employees simply had to adopt new ways of working and learn new virtual tools overnight. But developing a digital culture is a prerequisite for successful digital transformation – it cannot easily be tacked on after the fact, or put off indefinitely.

In 2021, bold new remote tech investments will fall flat if companies do not also work to develop thriving digital cultures. Here’s how building a digital culture can make it easier for companies, and their employees, to embrace and maximize the benefits of digital transformation.

The importance of digital culture

“Digital culture” is not about being a tech savvy company; nor is it about using all the latest tech and apps. Essentially, a digital culture is one that embraces digital strategies and encourages collaboration. It’s a culture that helps people get the most from new technology, establishes sustainable ways of working with such technology, and secures everyone’s buy-in for wider digital transformation.

A recent McKinsey survey found that two of the biggest barriers to successful digital transformation were culture-based: a fear of taking risks, and functional and departmental silos. Fear of taking risks is one of the most common reasons why people resist change – and to achieve successful digital transformation, change must be embraced. For this to happen, you need to have psychological safety at work and nurture courage over caution. A digital culture is one where “people are encouraged to take risks, fail fast, and learn” – one where people don’t preserve the status quo out of habit or concern. So, psychological safety isn’t only an essential ingredient of a digital culture – it’s also an outright necessity for digital transformation.

The second reason why digital transformation fails – functional and departmental silos – is also a cultural problem. Silos can quickly damage relations between teams, erode trust in management and destroy employee motivation, and if silos exist within a company, successful digital transformation will be pretty much impossible. This is why open communication is one of the pillars of a thriving digital culture. All company developments must be transparent, and there must be a robust remote communication structure in place, where teams stay aligned, employees know how and when to communicate, and news is shared in a collaborative way.

Building the right culture for digital transformation

Psychologically safety and robust remote communication structures aside, there are several things companies need to prioritize in order to build digital cultures that enable digital transformation.

Digital transformation can only succeed when people have the necessary skills to embrace new tech and new ways of working, so companies must go the extra mile to ensure everyone feels enabled and comfortable with tools, values and processes. It’s crucial that companies regularly revisit onboarding and training to account for this. Setting up new employees remotely can be difficult, but as an employee’s first interaction with your company culture, it’s vital to get it right. Beyond new hires, you must provide adequate training opportunities to anybody who wants to learn, ideally tailored to how they learn best.

🧠 How to train remote employees effectively

Another essential aspect for digital transformation – and another pillar of a thriving digital culture – is having the right policies in place to help people navigate the virtual workplace, participate in its success, and give feedback to improve it. Even if your company adapted well to enforced remote work in 2020, long-term digital transformation requires considered processes, protocol and frameworks in order to work long-term. Some of the most important company policy issues to address include:

Employee wellbeing and support

“Wellbeing” has become somewhat of a a buzzword in business, but with the increased loneliness and stress that remote work often entails, companies are now expected to go the extra mile to look after their staff. For digital transformation to succeed, employee wellbeing must be embedded in all aspects of company policy, whether that’s offering employees more schedule flexibility, advertising a clearer policy on overtime, or actively encouraging people to disconnect.


Virtual employee management

A digital culture can’t thrive when employees don’t feel that senior management are invested in their happiness or development. Establishing a solid framework for managing a remote team is a crucial part of any company policy, and it needs to cover how you’ll monitor employee engagement and experience, how you’ll keep remote work visible, and how you can offer tailored support from afar.

Feedback and communication

We’ve already touched on the importance of having a strong remote communication structure, but aside from preventing silos from forming, effective communication is one of the most essential ingredients for digital transformation. All employees should know how to use different communication tools, understand what’s expected of them, and know who to turn to if they need help. Equally, they should know that their own feedback is always welcome, and feel encouraged to share their ideas or suggestions.

🎤 How to gather remote employee feedback

Ultimately, a digital transformation strategy needs to be routed in the actual people that will determine its long-term success – and that’s employees, not just senior management. It’s important to remember that you can have all the latest apps at your disposal, and an intelligent and creative remote team dispersed around the world – but if you don’t have a digital culture where people embrace change, speak openly, and share experiences, successful transformation will remain elusive.

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