Digital transformation of the workplace

Digital devices, iPad

Technical developments have not only transformed our everyday lives, but also our methods of working. Companies are constantly looking for ways to increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve quality. To this end, many industrial companies have turned to Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 is primarily aligned to smart factories – affecting industrial processes from manufacturing to logistics. However we can also take a wider view that includes the non-manufacturing sector. In these circumstances, the switch to Industry 4.0 is all about digital transformation.

Consider the COVID-19 crisis. How is it possible to keep organizations active and productive during the times of shutdown? Although more and more people are working from home, it is still alien to most of us. COVID-19 has essentially forced almost us all into this world, at least temporarily.

What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation involves integration of digital technology across all areas of a business, changing how you operate and deliver value to your customers. It is also a major cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and become comfortable with failure.

A business may undertake digital transformation for several reasons. But the most likely reason is that they must: It’s indeed a survival issue for many. Again, COVID-19 has forced the hand of many more businesses but we can also perhaps realize that those companies that have already initiated a digital transformation are currently in better shape than others.

Organizations are of course at different places in the digital transformation journey. However, speed has become a business imperative for all. IT leaders face pressure to show that digital initiatives continue to translate to increased agility and speed for the entire organization.

Digital transformation will vary widely based on an organization’s specific challenges and demands.

The Good: Benefits of Digital Technology
We are aware of what digital transformation of the workplace details but many questions remain on how it truly benefits us.

It provides users with more effective communication and collaboration
It helps to strengthen bonds and relationships between workers by providing room for productive work relationships.
It allows for the distribution of knowledge amongst the workers in an organization.

Taking every aspect of digital transformation into account, it’s clear there are numerous benefits and opportunities for employers and workers alike. One example of such benefit is the emergence of remote-based jobs, which wouldn’t have been possible without a significant digital transformation of the workplace. How else would freelancers be able to operate and carry out their jobs from anywhere in the world if digitalization of the workplace never existed?

The coronavirus has driven a surge in remote work access accelerating the digitalization of workplace. The concept of working from home may sound simple, but the preparation that goes into a 100% digital workplace is no small feat. Businesses would inevitably find it more challenging to continue with “business as usual” under the current circumstances, if they lack the technology infrastructure to work remotely. This global outbreak has essentially acted as an immediate call for action for digital transformation driven by necessity rather than a choice.

At the Fraunhofer Project Center, we have experienced this first hand. When team members of FPC were forced to work from home, many of them wanted to help alleviate problems faced by sufferers of the COVID-19 virus. In particular, we had the skills and knowledge to design fans that could help with the world shortfall through the #GiveABreath challenge. Working remotely in a collaborative mode, the multi-skilled, multinational team were able to come up with a workable #Right2Breathe design in the space of a few days. Without access to numerous digital resources, this could never have happened.

The Bad: Negative Effects of Digital Technology
Despite its many benefits, digitalization has had a negative impact on some companies which extending to both workers and businesses.

One person’s opportunity is another person’s threat. Digital transformation creates different challenges for people depending on their role within the company. While some employees will quickly embrace it, others could be skeptical. It is understandable why people may feel this way. Much has been written about the threat of automation on jobs.

Companies need to effectively manage change and take advantage of new opportunities in order to grow. It is vital that they take time to understand why employees have concerns and what those concerns are founded upon. It is also crucial that they establish strong two-way communications to allay fears.

Good communication starts with agreeing on a common view as to what the company is trying to achieve. Change should be communicated to employees in the context of what the company wishes to deliver to their customers and other key stakeholders, and how it is going to continue differentiation in the market.

Transformation and change must also be communicated in meaningful ways. Companies should keep staff focused on the tasks at hand and, at the same time, create an environment where everyone pulls together. If staff feel insecure, this aim can be severely hampered. To avoid change announcements causing major concern, everyone needs to be given a clear explanation of how the change affects them.

Although change is inevitable and necessary for success, companies must be sensitive to the fact that different parts of the organization will view it differently. Management needs a joined-up message that will engage individuals and teams with all their differing priorities, to channel excitement whilst easing concerns.

Digital transformation broadens the attack surface substantially. For example, IoT may increase business efficiency, but it can also add billions of unsecured devices to the network.

Organizations should start treating their digital footprint much the same way as banks do. Digital transformation helps drive efficiencies, but this can also leave data open to breaches. In the same way banks require vendors to meet specific security compliance measures, so too should companies adhere to, and audit, strong security standards.

The Judgment
The importance of digital transformation cannot be overemphasized as it is crucial for every business that wants to maintain a competitive advantage.

Digitalization gives rise to new challenges and opportunities and digital transformation is constant. It is no longer about the need to transform but how quickly and efficiently we can do it. If there is any benefit to come from the COVID-19 crisis, it is the knowledge that we cannot do this quickly enough.

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Chantal Boomkamp-Eppink


Chantal has several years’ experience in operational roles in high tech start-up companies in and around the region of Twente. In addition to facilitating internal organization and the effectiveness of FIP-AM@UT facilities and staff, she is responsible for the interaction, synchronization, and implementation of our partners’ strategic choices.