A few weeks ago, one of my neighbors dug a ditch in his yard, hit a fiber internet line and knocked out my internet for eight hours. There I was, ready to start working, and I was cut off from my colleagues for an entire day.
That experience highlighted the importance of a good digital infrastructure—both at the office and at home—particularly as the pandemic has ushered in a hybrid work model. When the pandemic hit, organizations that were agile and had a strong digital infrastructure (including processes) were better able to quickly shift to remote work. Those that were not as digitally mature were forced to adapt.
Eighteen months later, it’s clear that the hybrid model is here to stay, making it even more vital that organizations ensure their workers have the right tech tools to work effectively—and it all begins with a strong digital infrastructure.
Just Because it’s On a Screen Doesn’t Make it Digital
Let’s begin with a definition of digital. I recently had a conversation with a business owner who proudly proclaimed, “We’re digital now.” In actuality, all he had done was put a PDF form on an iPad. Once his clients filled out the PDF, he still printed it and put it in a paper folder. That’s what I call an immature vision of digital, and it’s an extreme example of the ambiguity that often exists around the concept of digital transformation.
It’s not that paper is anathema to digital processes; in some industries (health care, for example) we want paper as a backup. For instance, if I’m a physician at your bedside and the power and/or Wi-Fi goes out and I can’t access your digital records, I need to be able to look at your chart and treat you. So there is a need for paper. But when considering the hybrid or remote work environment, the goal should be to move processes online.
Digital Infrastructure is the Key to Agility
As noted earlier, agile businesses are better able to adapt to changes like the move to a hybrid work model. Agile simply means the ability to move quickly and easily, the ability to move fast and make decisions in a fluid way. To do this, we must remove unnecessary steps so we’re able to focus on the end goal and the essential parts of the process.
This is where a strong (and reliable) digital infrastructure comes in. When you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for digital infrastructure, the foundation is electricity and the internet, and then you build on that. I need computers and hardware and a network, and then I need software platforms and then I need an end-user interface.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; let’s go back to the basics. Once we have reliable electricity and internet, we need to look at other technology that can benefit the remote worker, like upgraded microphones and cameras for all those Zoom meetings.
These upgrades shouldn’t be an afterthought on the part of organizations; they are at the center of their employees’ hybrid experience and can be another key to success. It’s not enough to send employees home with a laptop and a monitor anymore. Employers must focus on ergonomics (standing desks, good chairs) and the hardware their employees need to be effective at home. If the employer doesn’t provide them directly, they might consider offering a stipend for employees to make the upgrades themselves.
(Organizations might even consider providing generators to workers who live in rural areas. I have one at my house. And once satellite internet service comes to my town, I’ll have a much more reliable digital infrastructure.)
Now we can start building on that infrastructure. Start with audio and video communication (Zoom, Teams, Dialpad). Then add chat (Slack, Google Chat) and a good customer relationship management (CRM) system (Salesforce, HubSpot). Where does your data live? Having a great CRM system is critical.
Using Digital to Put People First
Organizations ignore the importance of digital infrastructure at their peril. Not only are the days long-gone when employees stayed with a company for 30 or 40 years, but we’re now in the midst of the Great Resignation, where workers are leaving their positions in droves. So it’s incumbent upon organizations to listen to their employees and give them what they need to be successful in a hybrid environment.
And we’re not just talking about tech. Organizations need to keep employees engaged to really understand the pulse that’s around the organization because, as we all know, the culture and tone of an organization can go ebb and flow. It’s critical for organizations to really listen to what employees are asking for and to be flexible so that they can react and adapt to changing times.
If they don’t, a ruptured internet cable may be the least of their worries.