Why the intersection of technology and people is key to productivity

Three leaders discuss new research and unlock digital transformation success.

By Sara Downey & Sara Kleinsmith, thought leadership, Dell Technologies

“There is a reason we were born with two eyes and binocular vision. We’re built for 3D-immersive experiences. Otherwise, we’d be cyclopes.” That’s how Matt Baker, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Dell Technologies, looks at the metaverse. He commented on the metaverse and its inherent value in establishing deeper levels of connection and empathy in the workplace during a recent Dell Technologies LinkedIn Live panel discussion on how to break through at the intersection of people and technology.

Panelist Dr. Mark van Rijmenam, future tech strategist (aka the “digital speaker”) and founder of Datafloq.com noted that businesses dismissed the genesis of the internet, and then social media, until they couldn’t. Van Rijmenam speculated the same will happen with the metaverse, the next incarnation of the internet.

Of course, early iterations of the metaverse have been around for some time. Baker cited the posthumous Tupac (2Pac) concert, that wowed crowds at the Coachella festival in California in 2012 (16 years after his death). Inspired by Holodeck in Star Trek, Baker believes that one day, the virtual and physical worlds will merge, leading to more enjoyable, fulfilling experiences.

Similarly, van Rijmenam forecasts that the metaverse and their digital avatars could create a new decentralized route to market across all industries, not just media and music. He states that B2B firms have a huge amount to gain from the metaverse (what he calls the “phygital” world), such as being able to interact with digital twins and engage with colleagues near and far in more tactile, empathetic ways.

In fact, empathizing with people undergoing workplace change was a dominant theme of the LinkedIn discussion, dedicated to understanding how businesses can successfully digitally transform and realize new heights in productivity.

Digital transformation is a “wicked problem” to solve

Van Rijmenam described digital transformation as a “wicked problem”—it’s difficult to solve, often cultural in nature and has many interconnections and stakeholders.

Baker agreed and said it’s akin to being pulled through a knothole—it can be tough. But the strain can be alleviated with a three-pronged, balanced approach encompassing people, technology and processes.

However, that formula is often lacking in enterprises. Dell’s seminal Breakthrough study (with 10,500 respondents across 40-plus countries) suggests that digital transformation tends to falter along employee lines, with 64% of respondents reporting the failure of their digital transformation programs often lies with the humans tasked with carrying it out.

To resolve this and find the balance that Baker refers to, panelist Helen Yu, digital transformation author, CEO of Tigon Advisory and “professional multiplier,” believes businesses need to resist technology’s allure temporarily and put people first. After all, technology is a just an enabler. It only has disruptive potential in human hands—a sentiment shared by our recent Dell Technologies World Trailblazer guest speaker, Matthew McConaughey.

Break through with people, for people

All three panelists agreed that acknowledging people as the driving force for successful digital transformation is key to achieving a more humane and productive workplace. Baker underlined that digital transformation should happen with people, not to them. Yu said it should happen for people.

With a people-first approach, industry can provide what the Breakthrough study shows employees expressly want: to be freed to do their best work and task machines to do the repetitive tasks.

Although just 37% of workers polled said they’re experiencing mentally stimulating work, with a clearly communicated vision, it’s possible to embrace change and elevate their roles.

Lessons from scaling Mount Everest

In Yu’s recent blog post, she compared digital transformation to her experience of climbing Mount Everest, where she had to contend with the mountain’s frigid temperatures, harrowing terrain and assault on everything her body had always known as “normal.”

She acknowledged that her equipment alone did not sustain her. She had to trust her expedition team, listen to her Sherpas, feel comfortable sharing her concerns and questions with others and embrace the growth opportunities.

Yu regards change like a tall mountain: technology alone is not enough; people must come first.

When we think of big technological feats, metaverse and Web 3.0 might come to mind, but Yu believes the role of the modern CIO is even more pivotal. They’re influencing how people, data, processes and security converge to create real innovation. They can dispel fears of job displacement (tech taking people’s jobs) by helping people feel taken care of, prepared and excited about the future.

Route to innovation is trust

All three participants underlined the importance of trust. Just as Yu had to trust her guides on Earth’s highest mountain, employees need to trust their leaders and the process. That trust often comes from feeling listened to and supported.

Unfortunately, the Breakthrough study points to a trust deficit, with 83% of respondents saying their leaders overlook different perspectives/viewpoints and more than one in three (34%) employees saying their leaders treat staff as dispensable.

Baker drew a correlation between these trust issues and the 60% of respondents who say the organizational culture is restricting employees’ ability to innovate.

Baker asked Yu how to create the kind of trust that leads to a culture of innovation. Yu said the key is empathy, pointing out that empathy leads to trust, greater retention, employee productivity, innovation and a sense of belonging. Without it, “people feel alone, threatened or judged. They feel like a cog in a machine. No paycheck can make those feelings go away.”

She said that breaking through with empathy begins with building a community based on an empathetic mindset, modelled by empathetic leadership. “This culture should inform everything, from responsive and trusted technology designs that put the end-user experience first, to thoughtful transformational change programs that wins over hearts and minds.”

Van Rijmenam noted that emerging technologies, like the metaverse, can elicit deeper levels of empathy and trust but it’s incumbent upon leaders to seek out these frontier opportunities. At the intersection of people and technology, he sees a move toward bionic organizations, where data enables humans and machines to collaborate seamlessly, creating optimal conditions for human progress.

These are just some of our highlights from a fast-paced discussion. What are yours? The LinkedIn Live discussion was recorded so you can listen at your leisure.

Lead photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash