Digital transformation in the remote work era: 11 do's and don'ts

Leading digital transformation during a pandemic has not been optional. Tap into some upsides, such as receptivity to new ideas, while avoiding traps, such as sticking to old schedules or trying to be a hero
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When it comes to digital transformation during this unexpected and extended remote era, it’s not necessarily more difficult than the pre-pandemic days. It’s a different kind of difficult.

It can certainly be more challenging to conduct process workshops or do requirements gathering when remote collaboration is the only option, says Cindy Hannafey, a managing director at UHY Consulting. Keeping individual or group attention during this period of time is also tough.

What are the benefits of managing and deploying digital transformation initiatives now? Think speed.

However, there are also some benefits to managing and deploying digital initiatives during this period. “The biggest hurdle has already been crossed, which is doing what previously took months in a couple of weeks. It proves it is possible,” says Iain Fisher, a director in the Northern European Digital Strategy and Solutions Practice at technology research and advisory firm ISG. “So re-engineering business and operating models through the use of digital – when digital is the only way to deliver it – should be much more easily achieved.”

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

Leading digital transformation while remote: 11 tips

In addition, given that everyone is relying on digital tools to connect creates some common understanding. “The shared experience of relying on digital tools to collaborate and work with our teams creates the conditions that promote empathy for our end users,” notes A.J. Meyer, innovation fellow at technology consultancy West Monroe Partners. “We’re forced to remember how critical each and every digital touchpoint is to our business and the lives of our patients, customers, and employees.”

Still, there are some clear do’s and don’ts emerging as IT leaders learn how best to approach digitalization during COVID-19.

DO have a clear vision

Just because digital transformation has taken on more urgency doesn’t mean strategy can go by the wayside. ISG’s Fisher notes that IT teams must know not only what they need to do but also why. “This comes from understanding the financial, customer, or delivery outcome that has to be achieved,” Fisher says.

DON'T micromanage

The need for self-regulating teams with good collaboration and communication skills is paramount right now. “Through agile methods embedded in remote working, high-performing teams will emerge,” Fisher says. “This requires management to empower the employees and the teams to align and take the difficult decisions at arm’s length with remote contact when needed.”

"Those that fill the new 'free' time with further meetings create stress and negativity."

As a bonus, these teams tend to be more creative and productive. IT leaders can protect these assets by allowing these high-performing teams to use those extra hours to take care of their health and mental well-being. “Those that fill the new ‘free’ time with further meetings create stress and negativity, which impacts the productivity of the team.”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

DO build new collaboration competencies

“As we continue to transform our organizations, we’ll want to consider everyone’s experience while working remotely. That includes our end users and customers when we’re doing interviews and validating our innovations,” says Meyer. He advocates developing competencies in remote collaboration tools that enable documentation of ideas and asynchronous collaboration.

DON'T waste a crisis

Use disruption to your advantage. Thanks to the upheaval that has been 2020, “our brains aren’t as susceptible to getting stuck on old ways of thinking and we can collaborate on a wider range of ideas,” says Meyer of West Monroe. When all you have are remote capabilities, ISG’s Fisher points out, the use cases and business cases should be easier to see.

[ How are you staffing your efforts? Read also: Digital transformation teams in 2021: 9 key roles. ]

DO allow more time for certain tasks

Hannafey suggests considering extending user acceptance testing and parallel testing to allow more time for team integration and fixes, for example. You could also be taking time with training programs to make sure they include the vetting of system access, security, and provisioning well before remote training begins.

DON'T get overwhelmed by new ideas

Make sure you don't get bogged down in "idea overload."

While the imperative to think differently can be a benefit, there may be more innovation possibilities than any one organization can tackle right now. “The caveat here is to make sure we don’t get bogged down in ‘idea overload,’” Meyer says. He recommends developing a system for prioritizing initiatives that consider the enterprise value and complexity of each.

DO overcommunicate

Robust communication plans with target audiences, dates, and messaging are key, says Hannafey of UHY Consulting. Video calls can be more engaging, but no matter the medium, daily or frequent communication points can keep an initiative front and center. Hannafey also advises using an instant messaging or communication platform to enable frequent communication.

DON'T mimic old meeting schedules

Working from home can often include wrangling kids or dealing with new stressors or emotions. Multiple meetings over several days will be preferable to long collaboration sessions. “Zoom fatigue is real,” Meyer says.

The ability to break up day-long or week-long workshops into more targeted virtual workshops can be much less disruptive, adds Hannafey.

DO take advantage of remote access to new talent

One upside of the remote workplace is the opportunity to access people who may be working on the other side of the world or in a different function. “Location and travel requirements evaporate, and we can bring fresh eyes to any initiative,” Meyer says. “Finally, we can branch out of our comfort zones and avoid many types of bias that can negatively impact our transformation. Inclusion and diversity will give us a competitive advantage, making the work better while retaining and attracting talent that is better suited for our transforming organizations.”

DON'T be a hero

Recruit cross-functional teams and partners to help with initiatives. At West Monroe, the organization takes a “horizons” approach to digital initiatives rather than tackling or trying to nail it all down at the start, with a clear understanding of what will happen in the next quarter, the next six months, and beyond.

DO be intentional with inclusivity

Consider that some individuals or constituencies may prefer different types of engagement in the remote environment. “Be flexible, open, and agreeable to other ways to approach engagement,” advises Hannafey.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.