This post is an opportunity to dispel a lot of preconceived notions about the trendy topic of digital transformation and the digital maturity of employees, preconceived notions that the pandemic has shattered.
A customer-driven digital transformation
Digital transformation programs have always been based on the following logic: the customer has become digital, has appropriated technology, has (and this is essential), developed new uses and new expectations to which the business must adapt.
Let’s add that for businesses, one of the main obstacles to this transformation was the employee, who, unlike the customer, had not undergone this transformation either in his practices or in his mindset. This is a questionable approach when we know that every employee is a customer and vice versa. Based on the principle that it was one and the same person, it was easy to deduce that the problem was not with the individual but with the business that was (consciously or not) holding back this transformation that had no problem occurring in the personal sphere.
The individual was therefore an expert in digital uses and tools, fulfilled in his personal life and frustrated not to be able to transpose all this into his professional life.
The great disillusionment of the pandemic
When the cut-off point of the confinement imposing a forced teleworking fell, many wanted to see an opportunity: brought to work out of the office bubble, the employees could get out of the frame and show that their mastery of new tools and uses could help businesses which were little prepared.
And, let’s face it, in some cases that’s what happened, the digital maturity of the employee coming to the rescue of an outdated organization. In some cases only.
In others, more numerous, too numerous, we have witnessed a real shipwreck.
When it was necessary, for example, to install professional tools on the personal computers of employees who did not have a professional laptop, we saw the limits of the digital maturity of many. Yes, they know how to use the tools, or at least some of them. But from there to managing their workstations was too high a step. In the end, what we will remember is that “Robert ended up installing zoom to make aperitifs with friends”. Some people are satisfied with this, I’m saddened.
The worst part is that even when employees just took their laptops home, it didn’t work any better. Why did this happen? We realized that even though the necessary tools were already installed on their workstations, some of them were barely known or only known by name. We are thinking in particular of many collaboration tools that suddenly had to be used on a large scale, whereas until now they were able to keep to a minimum using their good old email in the worst possible way.
Although many people have discovered Teams, which is already installed on their workstations, too many see it as a videoconferencing tool. It’s sad.
We can also talk about working conditions at home. Of course, not everyone has a large surface, a separate office, and even less room for everyone to be comfortable when the whole family has to work from home. But still… All too often, the computer is placed in a corner, with a screen at a height that is anything but ergonomic, without a chair adapted to a professional activity… It is clear that it was only there for occasional use, not for prolonged daily use. And no, working on the couch or in bed with your laptop on your lap is not an option in a professional context.
I keep hearing managers in every possible industry complain about how their teams use and master their employee communication tools, regardless of generation. The inability to effectively use an office suite, whether it comes from Microsoft or Google, is a problem that is not new and exists from generation Z to baby boomers.
From mobile consumer to seated worker
The digital maturity of individuals in their private lives and the digitalization of homes is in fact the source of a huge misunderstanding. It is based on presumptions drawn from the observation of technology consumers in a context of mobile uses that we try to extrapolate to knowledge workers sitting in front of their computers.
Yes, on a personal level, a very large majority of people have developed a mastery and uses that have led to an evolution if not a transformation of the business offer in terms of products and services. But we are talking about people in a situation of consumption of services and information, not in a production situation. We consume content, we buy online, we get information but we don’t produce anything or very little and we are not part of an individual or collective process of production of anything.
And these contents are not consumed in any way: they are consumed on mobile. A device that offers specific, simple, optimized experiences but infinitely more limited than on a computer.
Many people have been predicting the end of the computer since the advent of the smartphone, let alone the tablet, and even though hardware and software are progressing, we are still far from it, if it ever happens. The reason: the laptop is a tool optimized for consumption, or rather whose characteristics force app and content providers to focus on content consumption and simple actions (purchase) where the computer is a work tool, a production tool in the broadest sense of the term.
We read an article on a mobile phone but we write it on a computer. We buy a product on Amazon but the product sheet is made on a computer. You fill out a short form on a cell phone (because if the form is detailed, nobody fills it out on a cell phone…) and the request is processed by people in front of a computer.
The same mastery and intensity in the uses but diametrically opposed and radically different uses. Fortunately, there is nothing to prevent a person from excelling on both sides, but being good at one does not mean being good at the other. At least not without effort and training. If all people who like to eat well were good cooks, it would be known.
What is the purpose of the computer at home?
I think that a large part of my readers will not recognize themselves in what follows, used as they are to hybrid work and professional or para-professional activities carried out from home, but this should not push us to hide certain realities
There was a time not so long ago when having a computer at home was more than optional and was only really useful for enthusiasts. I think this period lasted until 2005/2007 and the democratization of the web 2.0. Until then the computer was only useful for those who…needed a computer, so for productive uses, for gaming and/or activities directly linked to it (development, geeks)
What about today? The Internet has become so central to our lives that not having a computer at home is no longer an option. But what for?
To have an “internet station” at home and do on a bigger screen what we do on mobile, especially for things where the mobile shows its limits: typing long texts/forms, working in multi-window/tab mode, activities requiring a big screen etc…
To work? No, except of course for self-employed people, some professions like consulting where it has been a long time since work is no longer a question of location (and that their business equips accordingly). For the others, work has remained in the office, either for reasons of pro-personal balance, the refusal to work at home if the business does not provide a laptop (even if you have one at home) and more simply the delay in remote working in many countries until the pandemic.
Moving from leisure to home production
Thus, if all households have a computer, it has been complicated to make it a workstation. Because the “good” software is not installed and we do not know how to install, because we do not know how to connect to a business VPN, because the computer is “put” in a place where it is free to use for short periods of time by all members of the family but not for prolonged use.
The computer has entered the home but for consumption and leisure purposes, not for “production”, more as an extension of the mobile than as a mirror of the office computer.
It is therefore urgent to stop using mobile usage statistics and the time spent on it buying on Amazon, watching videos on Youtube or liking posts on Facebook to deduce a digital maturity that could be translated in a professional context.
And, for the topic at hand today, it should not be assumed that if there is a computer at home people know and can use it as an alternative to the computer provided by their employer.
We are facing a highly digitized population when it comes to consumption, leisure and daily life acts, not when it comes to work. And businesses may have something to do with it.