· 3 min read · Features

The role of tech in cultural transformation


New tools can provide a framework for knowledge sharing and a more collaborative approach, but technology alone does not create culture

Transformation has been a business buzzword for years now. There has been much talk of digital transformation, agile transformation, organisational transformation... But while the intricacies of each are discussions in their own right, one thing is clear: the way we work is changing and businesses need to adapt.

Culture is an essential part of this change, and HR departments and managers are the vanguard in building company culture. To do this effectively they must understand both why cultural transformation is essential and how new tools, technologies and techniques can build it.

Global, flexible, agile: The new world of work

A number of factors have contributed to the changing world of work. Millennials have become the most populous generation, accounting for around 1.8 billion people worldwide. In many territories Millennials make up the majority of the workforce. This demographic shift has taken place alongside and influenced a move to more remote working and dispersed teams. Employees collaborating across time zones and continents has become the new norm. Likewise, juggling parenting or caring needs with work and the flexibility that requires is now essential for a large number of workers.

People are bringing these new priorities and others to their careers – and they are also feeling the effects of increasing globalisation and digitisation. According to the Slack Future of Work Survey by Kelton Global (which surveyed 1,459 knowledge workers), 91% are looking to feel closer to colleagues, while nearly 85% want to feel more connected with remote colleagues. However, businesses are also facing new realities; in today’s global economy agile working and the ability to react at speed to market changes are essential tenets of competitive business.

The thread that must unite on the one hand the workforce’s shifting needs and on the other business priorities, is culture. Culture, however, is not simply about trust and team building – it can define a business and is critical to success or failure; it underpins an organisation’s approach to its employees and its employees’ approach to work.

How technology can underpin the HR department

Teamwork, the alignment of an organisation in working toward a common purpose, and shared understanding are all fundamental in business culture today. HR departments play a central role in ensuring this alignment takes place throughout an employee journey, and tech can support this.

One way new technology can do this is through the use of channel-based communication. A channel – an individual conversation on a specific topic to which team members can be added or removed – can be set up based around recruitment needs. Team leaders can drop their requirements in which HR managers can monitor, reducing the fragmentation that takes place with each department emailing on an ad-hoc basis, and ensuring a holistic view of business priorities.

When it comes to new joiners, they can be added to provide a log of knowledge, processes and files on a topic. They can build a personal connection rapidly with peers; the ability to transparently see who is on what team, owning each project, helps foster a better understanding of the business in a way that an empty inbox on day one cannot. And those working remotely don’t risk being ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

For a role that is fundamentally built around people and culture, HR departments can spend a huge amount of time on admin. By using automated tools – such as ones which request a form or contract be filled out – time can be freed up to deal with more pressing issues that require a human touch.

Bots can offer useful ways to receive regular, detailed feedback from teams that will help HR improve the workplace. Trivago, for example, uses a customisable bot called Leo that checks the pulse of its 1,500 employees. It asks a series of five questions on a weekly basis which the HR department can review. This gives everyone a voice and allows HR, management and senior leadership to proactively respond.

Culture requires a look at the bigger picture

But technology alone does not create culture. While new tools can provide a framework for institutional knowledge sharing and encourage a more collaborative approach to work, they are not a silver bullet. There are many other factors that should be considered. Perhaps the most often overlooked is the importance of ensuring teams know when to stop working.

Maintaining productivity goes hand in hand with avoiding burnout. New technologies provide ever greater ways to connect people, but nobody wants their work phone buzzing while they’re reading a bedtime story. New communication tools can allow much more granular control over things like notifications, which can be set to only alert you during the working day or snoozed when jumping on an important call.

Overall, culture isn’t built in a day. However, HR teams which lay the foundations of a cultural transformation today will bring continued rewards for organisations in the days, weeks and years to come. The new world of work brings with it new challenges, yet it also opens up opportunities.

Stuart Templeton is head of UK at Slack