Getting Culture Right is Key to Modern Success

Optimizing Your Company Culture for Today's Modern Workers

10 minute read
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Today, it’s imperative for leadership to foster a work environment that embraces digital tech and also encourages employees to cultivate the digital culture.

In the digital culture of today, it’s imperative for the leadership of an organization to foster a work environment that not only embraces digital technology, but also encourages employees to cultivate the digital culture both at work and ideally, within their daily routine.

Just what is meant by “digital culture”? There are many definitions of the term, but in a business sense it means a culture that has embraced technological innovation and advances that facilitate the use of digital tools for improving business, enhancing efficiency and evolving a company.

On a personal level, a digital culture describes how we live. We awake to a digital alarm, usually on our mobile phone, and start the day by checking our text messages, email, and social media accounts. We want to see if we have missed anything while we were sleeping, and if we need to respond immediately to any messages. We verbally tell our virtual assistants, be they Alexa, Seri, or Cortana, to add something to our schedule, or remind us what the day will entail. We use voice to search for information online through our mobile devices. We rarely use desktop computers any more, relying instead upon our mobile phones, tablets and laptops to connect us to the information we need. When we encounter others while we are on our way to work, if we don’t work remotely that is, they are often looking down at their own mobile devices. We often use an app like Uber or Lyft to get to work, or if we are driving, we use Google Maps on our smartphone to get from point A to point B.

We connect via social networks with our friends, family and coworkers. We watch television via internet TV software such as Netflix, YouTubeTV, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney and others. We use our virtual assistants to help us with recipes for cooking, for setting alarms while cooking, and for reminders of what we need to buy at the grocery store, which we often have delivered via Amazon or another online retailer. We do much of our shopping and gift buying online, and a good majority of our time is spent connected to our mobile devices. Our life is digitally enhanced from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.

Sociologist Dr. Julie Albright, TED Talk speaker and author of Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives Are Reshaping the American Dream, cut to the chase when she stated that "More than 80% of Millennials sleep with their cell phones (as compared to only a third of Boomers); More than half check them in the middle of the night. A third send over 35 text messages after having gone to bed. For digital natives, life is lived mediated." We most definitely live and work in a digital culture, a digiculture.

For businesses, there is an emphasis to keep up with the fast pace of digital technology, and the continually evolving digital culture. We use email and collaboration software to connect to other workers and departments, project management software to facilitate workplace effectiveness, and various software tools to accomplish our jobs. However, many companies are still using yesterday’s technology, and have not even embraced the digital culture within their own organization. A company that does not encourage and emphasize the importance of digital culture is a company risks a lack of growth and stagnation among its employees.

A common scenario when digital becomes a prerogative within a company is to push it within certain segments or departments, but to leave the rest behind — and most businesses have digitized some aspects of the company. Truly embracing a digital culture means to support digital within every department, for every employee, because the ROI when everyone is on board is significant whether we are talking about sales, advertising, marketing, production, development, creative, managerial or executive staff, and it eventually filters down to user experience.

User expectations are high due to regular interactions with high level companies that have become a digital staple in their lives, such as Apple, Amazon and Google. They use these digital services and products to facilitate communications and productivity every single day. Workers are used to seeing the Amazon van delivering goods that were only purchased yesterday, or even earlier the same day. These companies generally provide instant support for problems, and instant gratification with easy access to information, services and solutions. We live in a world that is focused on user experience, customer needs and interconnectivity, with companies not just responding to needs, but anticipating and proactively solving problems that have yet to occur.

The technological instruments that are illustrative of a digital culture also facilitate a company’s digital evolution and help it to create better user experiences, become more efficient, and as a result, more profitable.

The four characteristics of a digital culture that a business must constantly embrace are flexibility, innovative thinking, enhanced departmental collaboration and continued learning.

Related Article: The Digital Workplace Defined

Flexibility and Adaptability Means Your Company Rolls With the Changes

Typically, adaptability is defined as “the nature of changing or creating modifications in oneself to suit a new environment.” For businesses operating in a digital culture, it means that the company must be receptive to new methodologies, procedural changes, and software and technology, as they relate to mindsets, business models, projects, goals, individual tasks and finally, employees.

An example of flexibility within the business would be that of the traditional model of working on a project on a department-by-department basis, versus using project management software throughout the organization. According to PMI, the non-profit Project Management Institute, as of 2019, while 93% of organizations report using standardized project management practices, only 23% of those groups use them across the entire organization.

If these groups began using project management software throughout their organization, they would be facilitating the collaboration between departments, achieving easier and more effective task delegation, implementing standardized processes across the board, and would be more likely to complete a project on schedule. Though we live in a digital culture, the old school mindset is still pervasive in many businesses. Being flexible is not an option, it’s now a requirement.

Innovative, Out of the Box Thinking

It's a given that innovation drives a digital culture, and that creativity is what drives innovation. An open business culture that embraces innovation is better able to understand its customer's experiences. A creative perspective provides a business with a competitive edge, and better recognition of new opportunities. The development and implementation of new ideas, products or existing services is a direct result of innovative thinking. It makes one a more effective leader who is able to create solutions that solve problems. Innovation involves taking risks, and potential failures, but failure is an acceptable, even required, hazard in a successful business.

Learning Opportunities

Consider Ikea, who in 2017, before AR was even seriously considered a viable consumer technology, decided to begin using Augmented Reality in its Ikea Place app, allowing users to experience Ikea’s furniture in the user’s own environment through the Ikea app. It remains rated 4.7 stars out of 5, is the number two app downloaded that was built on Apple’s AR Kit, and is frequently cited as one of the most successful AR experiences in retail.

Related Article:  8 Ways to Support a Customer-Obsessed Work Culture

Departmental Collaboration — Stop Working in a Silo

Enhancing interdepartmental communications and collaboration is an absolute necessity. In the digital culture, a transparent, collaborative environment is the key to preventing the silo effect. This is the term for what happens when departments are isolated from one another, even when they are working on the same or similar projects. About the only aspect of life in 2020 where we need more effective communications is at work.

The advantages of effective collaboration between employees in various departments, with various skill sets, is that everyone stays on the same page, with no overlap or confusion. Employees can work using their strengths, and get a better idea of what is being done in other departments, rather than certain areas of the company being an unknown void. Employees get to know each other better through the transparency of workplace collaboration. Many different collaboration tools are available that meet the specific needs of every business.

Effective collaboration stops the problem of one department being derailed by another, such as when the advertising department takes months to come up with a user experience-based project that the programmers in the development department are simply unable to implement.

Continued Education Means Employees Wear Many Hats

The digital culture of businesses today consists of employees with varying levels of knowledge. Those in marketing have a different level of knowledge and experiences with digital culture than those in development. An effective business today works to ensure that its employees are continuing to add value to the company and their own worth by providing digital training programs that are geared to the various levels of knowledge and experience of its employees.

According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, "upskilling," as they refer to in-house training, is something that Millennial employees demand and is a trend they believe will shape the business world in 2020. "Companies must particularly address the expectations that Millennials and members of Generation Z have about learning and growth on the job." They believe that businesses must "develop meaningful training programs not only for skills critical to business now, but also for those that will matter in the future."

A continued learning program in the workplace enables employees to grow and perform more effectively in their position, and results in a more qualified and competent employee that is more likely to be retained in the workplace. Additionally, most employees want to continue their education, and have recognized that it’s essential to learn new skills throughout their lives to keep up with the evolution of the workplace.

Effective leaders know the skill sets of the positions within the departments in their company, and are able to define those skill sets. By making the skill sets of those positions available to employees, those employees are able to learn which skills they need to learn so they are able to move up within the company. Leadership then ensures that the continued learning program offers those courses to their employees, thus retaining their valued employees, and keeping their investments in-company. It’s a returning cycle of investment, and is a defining characteristic of an upwardly evolving company within the digital culture.


A business that embraces digital technology is going to see the ROI for their efforts with a synergistic effect that includes improving their profits, enhancing their efficiency, evolving the company and retaining their fulfilled employees. Those businesses that fail to do so will inevitably flounder, and will lose employees and customers to those businesses who have continued to evolve as part of the digital culture.

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