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What can recent tech failures teach us about workplace digital transformation?

By Sandra Moran, Chief Marketing & Customer Experience Officer at WorkForce Software

April 12 2023 - Outdated, sluggish technology combined with a failure to understand employee needs continue to cause devastating business outcomes.

In the run-up to Christmas last year, for example, Southwest Airlines was forced to cancel more than 16,000 flights due to a failure in its outdated scheduling technology - and not for the first time. Alongside this, a lack of automated communication tools compounded the issue, leaving employees scrambling to respond. Problems with its systems had been identified long before the grounding of thousands of flights but it seems its much-needed digital transformation programme had stalled.

Meanwhile, employees at major UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Asda were not paid for their work after errors or security breaches were exploited in these companies’ antiquated payroll systems. While these specific issues have since been resolved, they provide a stark warning for other companies that are reliant on outdated, insecure systems.

Unfortunately, many companies still rely on systems designed 20+ years ago that are unfit for today's modern workplace. Despite massive investments in digital transformation, too often, these initiatives focus on customer-facing or production systems versus back-office systems.

What the Southwest, Sainsbury’s and Asda examples teach us is the importance of modernising back-office technology - not just to improve efficiency and reduce costs, but also to mitigate risk and ensure business continuity. So, what back-end workplace technologies should companies place focus on in 2023?

Place focus on connected communications

At Southwest, mass cancellations were partly caused by outdated scheduling software and a lack of automated communication tools. Some Southwest employees could not get through to their managers and they were left to do their best to manage customer relationships on-site. While this is an extreme case, it’s far from the only example of disruptions that left employees without the information and tools they needed to respond to change.

In regard to the Sainsbury’s and Asda examples, staff required real-time communications from their employers on the contingency measures being put in place to resolve payroll issues. Instead, many were left in the dark, worried about how missed bills and payments could impact their finances.

When effective communication solutions aren’t implemented by companies, employees often turn to their own strategies to fill the void using unofficial, insecure, and vulnerable third-party applications like WhatsApp and social media. What this shows is that employees require consumer-grade employee experience technologies, including tools to help them communicate with HQ, connect with each other, and solve problems quickly to work most efficiently.

Nowhere is this need felt more keenly than in addressing the needs of our growing workforce of deskless workers, which comprises around 80% of the global workforce. This includes frontline staff at the forefront of operational and customer service, such as those working in the field, behind the wheel, in clothing shops, classrooms and emergency rooms.

These are the employees called upon during business disruption and, at the same time, least served by company systems. In fact, data shows that less than 1% of corporate technology spend goes to systems for these workers. Fortunately, there are technology solutions that offer automated employee communications capabilities that can be implemented rapidly; however, companies should be planning for those now versus waiting for a crisis to act.

Enabling better employee experiences with modern solutions

Additionally, companies must invest in engaging, user-friendly and smart technologies that support workers’ unique needs.

Research shows that workers want more control and flexibility in their schedules, often listing it as more important than compensation. While flexible working is enjoyed by the majority of office workers, deskless employees too often miss out on this benefit due to the complexities of managing a dispersed, frontline workforce. For example, employee scheduling in many industries with deskless workers is a complex and intricate process that must consider employee skills, certifications, union rules, regulations and more.

However, with a modern workforce management system, flexibility for this group can be more easily achieved by balancing company requirements with essential employee data like personal leave, availability hours, and even skill level. Such technologies will automate and optimise scheduling to more easily adapt to an employee’s personal needs, while supporting business requirements and ensuring compliance.

Amid economic downturn, organisations are being asked to do more with less. To achieve this, many are seeking technology investments that align both talent retention with improved business outcomes. Modern workplace technologies can help companies to maximise ROI on such investments, fueling positive employee experiences that have a direct impact on productivity and the bottom line. In 2023, agile workplace technologies will be a critical enabler for success - but only if they serve the needs of all modern employees, including the deskless workforce.



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