Digital transformation and the ‘happiness quotient’

[The #Rebound series focuses on various aspects of business that need to be reimagined for a post-Covid world.]

Of the various transformations that companies would need to undergo in the post-Covid era, a digital overhaul of business would rank at the top. Digital transformation strategies would need to cater to the drastically changed expectations of employees, customers and other stakeholders. To understand what that would entail, we reached out to Prasad Ramakrishnan, the Chief Information Officer at Freshworks. We were in for a surprise. While DT in the post-pandemic world would no doubt require massive leaps in technology use, Prasad is convinced ‘employee happiness’ needs to be among its primary goals. Not something you hear every day from a CIO. Read on:

Why digital transformation is a big deal

Digital transformation became the buzz phrase about two decades ago when traditional brick and mortar companies began moving to a digital mode of engaging with their customers. It involved changes to business processes, organizational models, and the various competencies required for increased use of technology. By 2010 or so, most companies were already digital or born digital. So now digital transformation refers to companies constantly enhancing the way they operate in a digital world.

But digital transformation is a process, not a project. You do not do seven or eight activities and say ‘I’m done with this’. It involves continuous evaluation of a company from a digital continuum perspective. In the modern era, digital transformation is the fuel helping companies reach their goals.

Digital transformation amid lockdowns

Most companies allow their people to work from home every once in a while. You opt for it when you need to visit your child’s school, attend a family function or run an errand. Now, companies have switched to mandatory work-from-home to keep their employees safe.

Think about what this has done from a mode of work perspective. Companies spend a lot on real estate, facilities, and security controls within the office. Now, many are working from their homes on public network infrastructure using cloud-based software.

Previously, there was a lot of anxiety about whether employees would be productive while working from home, about security checks and balances. In recent months, companies have figured how they can still keep their employees productive in a non-business-as-usual mode. We are going to see more and more people wanting to work from home.

This means, from a digital journey perspective, the associated technologies, processes and people issues that a company has to deal with will also be different. Demands from a public network infrastructure perspective will also increase.

Reprioritizing for a new normal

Companies everywhere had to hastily adapt to a forced event. But can we not make this part of our standard operating procedure? Businesses should begin reprioritizing their resources. Place more onus on securing the borders so your employees are able to work remotely. Incorporate extra checks and balances to ensure you do not have any IP loss or productivity loss.

Companies would also need to focus more on collaboration technologies such as Zoom and Slack. These will change the way we think about business. Previously, we thought collaboration could only happen when people are in the office. But now, we actually have people from all over the world collaborating and working together online.

So for the new normal, companies need to focus on these areas:

  • Enabling productivity so employees can work remotely. What do I mean by that? In many cases, employees are stuck with what the public network infrastructure provides. If you are in an office environment, internet bandwidth can be bumped up as required. In the new normal era, the public internet needs to change to be able to handle the required capacity.
  • Security controls need to be flexible and more robust. The controls that you can enable in an office environment and a work-from-home mode are very different. Companies need to invest in innovative technology to secure connections coming from remote locations. Today, we have adopted whatever little security tools that we have. But have we covered all the bases? Possibly not. Look at the increase in the number of phishing and ransomware attacks. There are bad actors out there targeting people in the most vulnerable of times.
  • Increase the use of things like robotic process automation. Lots of repetitive tasks can actually be automated using AI-powered bots. Salespeople spend a lot of time researching prospective customers. You could actually have robots doing that using screen scraping technology and obtaining additional information on the prospects. The ultimate goal for an intelligent business should be to achieve an evolved capability for self-healing and a self-driven business modeling that makes optimum use of robotic process automation.

  • Level the playing field in terms of collaborative tools. In work-from-home mode, you lose the human touch. A lot of work gets done in the cafeteria, by coffee stations, via person-to-person collaborations. Companies should find ways to enable that for distributed teams.
  • That takes us to the happiness factor. Human beings are social animals. Can digital transformation be applied not just to the work aspect but also the happiness aspect of employees? There needs to be innovation for people to collaborate not just in a work setting but also in a social setting. To establish technology as a means to improve social connections between employees.
  • Let’s not forget employee health. If employees are not healthy, that will cause productivity loss. So companies need to have some form of digital health, employee health built into the work-from-home mode. Maybe offer online gym memberships. We do have digital platforms that have gym trainers offering online sessions.

Assessing digital transformation in the future

In terms of measuring the effectiveness of digital transformation, first, there are the hard metrics. ‘Am I impacting the topline, the bottomline?’ These are easy metrics to track. We need to think beyond those and start looking at soft metrics in the new world. The happiness quotient of employees, the engagement quotient of how your employees are interacting with each other, with the company.

Here’s why that’s important. At Google’s Mountain View campus, you will see extremely vibrant walls painted in a particular way. You will see that in the Freshworks office in Chennai (India), too. That makes for an extremely vibrant environment. The barista making hot coffee as you walk by the snack counter gives you an aura of ‘hey, I’m home’. People are gonna miss that. People are going to miss that social element.

So apart from measuring the hard metrics, companies should start looking at ways to measure the soft metrics. Companies need to try and figure how to measure employee engagement, how to measure the happiness quotient. The human element, human interaction, the social aspect—this is one area where you are going to see a tremendous amount of investment in technology.

We will see a lot of transformation from the perspective of employee engagement, employee happiness, employee productivity. That is going to be the next level of digital transformation.