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Digital transformation: has COVID-19 changed the roadmap?

By Alexander Zeitelhack, Associate Dean at Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI)

May 3 2021 - Over the past year the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses and industries worldwide, forcing them to reinvent and adjust the way they work. In this scenario, it would be easy to think that COVID-19 changed the approach businesses had previously laid out with regards to digital transformation, combining innovation and entrepreneurship, however this might not entirely be the case.

I am afraid in reality we missed the boat 20 years ago when digitalisation was available. Major industries then just slept on it, didn't change accordingly, and now they're surprised by what is possible. Just now we are beginning to start building a digital roadmap, and for many companies this delay might be embarrassing.

Strategy and leadership should be the main goals digital businesses would need to work on. Digital leadership is the biggest challenge right now. Everyone is struggling between supervision of workers and employees and letting everyone choose the work style in the home office. Regular management is not prepared to change and put trust into employees’ behavior.

There is now a necessity to retrain and upscale management and leadership for the purposes of helping them fulfill their duties as digital leaders.

Working from home has often been described as the ‘new normal’, something that everybody is familiar with and is here to stay. However, I think that there is no such thing as a new normal. Employees started to work from home and didn't get enough advice on how to manage and handle the problems of day-to-day business. I think we have accumulated more problems than solutions, and some companies are yet to effectively factor these changes in their plans and processes.

Employees sitting at home are not designing their own work processes. This has to be synchronised with the processes of everybody else in the team. There is no risk that this process is not according to the management goals. A multitude of different individual solutions will be found, and many organisations risk losing control over this.

Companies and businesses might face the need to acquire and implement new technologies in order to support any digital transformation strategy. Additional changes would have to come from the overall approach, such as creating project groups like a test laboratory to exercise, train and develop concepts and formats for the remote office, the home office, and asynchronous work. With researched examples and best practices, we can then install the next technologies in the companies.

One of the issues today is that many platforms are not sufficient for the challenges we face. Therefore, you have to search and collect a multiple software suite that can cover all the issues we carry.

The full integration of different platforms into a one user interface is needed. We have seen efforts like Slack that tried to up the ante. But now we have to reinvent our workflow, work situations of employees, and the working times. From this analysis we can then derive new briefings for software. There will be new challenges on the software market in the next couple of months. I think there is a chance for startups to fill the niche and needs.

In the new landscape of remote working some businesses might find necessary to use data to check on employees, whether they are working properly from home or not, and this is a real challenge to corporate culture. But we know that there is also another way; trust.

With trust you can use data to increase productivity in an effort made by the whole team. Therefore, transparency and empowerment of everybody involved is necessary. This will pose some challenges to many companies but will bring widespread benefits in the long term.

In concluding, not all changes and adjustments need to be made by businesses and employers, the legal framework also has to change. Governments and unions will have to negotiate with employers over the new rules and regulations for the home office and remote work. Exploitation in a gig economy is very easy and feels very normal in the beginning, but it has the danger to produce another proletariat of remote workers. We can see this coming today and we should prevent it from happening.


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