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Why digital transformation is key to weathering a recession

The worst is yet to come for many businesses, so is your digital capability up to the challenge?

You could say that 2020 is a year many of us might like to forget, but we can all agree that it is one that will live long in the memory and shape how businesses function forever.

To weather this storm, businesses will have to be flexible and savvy, taking advantage of support available and making sensible investments.

Needless to say, it has been a challenging time – not least for the HR sector. HR professionals have faced up to a barrage of new challenges:

  • Lockdown meant organisations had to quickly respond with solutions for new ways of working.
  • Employee health has never been more paramount – from physical wellbeing such as avoiding the virus and keeping physically active, through to an enhanced spotlight on mental wellbeing.
  • Maintaining morale has been challenging, particularly when HR teams have limited final say on some of the areas causing employees greatest frustration, such as inadequate technology.
  • Organisations have faced contrasting challenges when it comes to employee retention – either quickly implementing furlough, or finding a sudden huge demand (for instance in the supermarket retail sector) requiring mass onboarding.
  • All this before we address the latest challenge – the return to the workplace post-lockdown.

HR has always played a pivotal part in organisations, but in 2020 it has played this role like never before.

The eye of the storm

Although green shoots of what we knew as ‘normality’ are starting to appear in everyday life, for business this is the eye of the storm. The reality is, it could get worse before it gets better. If the confusion and chaos of Covid-19 wasn’t enough, we are now officially in a recession for the first time in 11 years. The economy shrank by just over 20% between April and June (compared with the first three months of the year) and calculations estimate that at least 171,248 jobs have already been lost or are at risk, since the start of the pandemic.

The government’s furlough scheme (which is currently supporting 1.2 million employees) is soon to end, and the newly introduced Job Support Scheme will come into play, meaning organisations have another new process to grapple with and further tough decisions about how they will continue to operate.

Considering the challenges

To move forward, we need to look back. We need to learn from our experiences. A recent survey of more than 1,000 Webexpenses customers revealed more than eight in ten (84%) people found themselves working from home during lockdown – mirroring the latest ONS data revealing 86% of those who worked from home recently did so due to the pandemic.

This has proved challenging. Our research revealed:

  • Four in ten (42%) of those who did not usually work from home before the pandemic are working extra hours each week.
  • Of those, more than one in five (22%) are working an additional ten hours or more.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) say their work has been taking longer.
  • More worryingly, 25% have struggled to do their job effectively.

The main reason for these issues? Accessibility – 60% of people have experienced tech-related challenges during this period of lockdown, with most citing problems with accessing software, networks and files, or supporting other colleagues with tech as the main hurdles.

Weathering the storm with digital transformation

To weather this storm, businesses will have to be flexible and savvy, taking advantage of support available and making sensible investments. Core to this is embracing digital transformation.

Many organisations are already beginning to realise the importance of digital transformation and the major part it will play in the future of business. Our survey found that 93% believe the pandemic will be a catalyst for digital transformation, with over a third (35%) stating they will be looking to review their own departmental processes as a result of the enforced lockdown.

The government has recently announced a new £20 million support programme to boost the recovery of SMEs in the UK. With grants of just £1,000 – £5,000 available, businesses will need to think carefully about how they use such funds to invest in new equipment or upgrade existing technology to best support staff. It is vital businesses seize this opportunity.  

What next?

If businesses want to weather the recession, they must prioritise digital transformation and form a plan of action around this. There are three key things to consider:

1) Listen

What’s working for your organisation now? What isn’t working? A major part of this will be listening to your employees. What have been the challenges they’ve faced over recent months? What tools or training do they need to overcome these barriers? While the ultimate decision may lie with your board, it’s those who are ‘on the ground’, using systems day in and day out, who will be able to provide insight or ideas you may never have even thought of.

2) Tailor to your needs

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to the best digital tools for businesses. There are, however, a huge range of options available, that can enable you to dial up what you need to, where you need to. This is particularly important for HR where existing systems are slow (if automated) or still rely on a manual process. This is time consuming and a drain on a resource that is currently in high demand.  

3) Futureproof

Finally, while we can’t – and hopefully shouldn’t have to – plan for another episode like this in our lifetimes, this pandemic has shown us we should always expect the unexpected. We can’t plan for every eventuality, but take this time now to consider what your business has learned from this experience, and consider how you can use this to consider what you may come up against in the future – and how you will need to react.

Interested in this topic? Read Culture transformation: changing behaviours in the post-pandemic workplace.

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