The digital transformation dilemma: UK employees want pandemic-era tech to stay, says research

As the UK prepares to return to normal in the coming months and industries reopen, research from The Workforce Institute at UKG reveals that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 87% of UK workers have been propelled into the future of work by accelerating their digital transformation projects.

Furthermore, 86% are enjoying the benefits of these new technologies, and 38% are fearful that their organisation will go back to the ‘old way’ of doing things post-pandemic.

The global research commissioned by The Workforce Institute at UKG and conducted by Workplace Intelligence dissects the feelings of nearly 4,000 employees1 and business leaders across 11 countries to understand what digital transformation initiatives took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, how leaders and employees felt about these new technologies, and what they hope to see in the post-pandemic world of work.

Accelerated digital transformation projects caused employees to interact with new technologies.

The vast majority (87%) of UK decision makers said that digital transformation projects were sped up as a result of the pandemic. When asked to what degree they felt the pandemic accelerated these projects, 75% said between 1 to 3 years.

This is evidenced by more than three quarters (76%) of employees saying that they used at least one new technology or application during the crisis. Of those new technologies, more than a third (36%) started using mobile applications to complete some work activities and nearly a quarter (24%) were empowered to leverage more self-service solutions.

Reflecting on their preparation, leaders are varied on the actions they took during the crisis, with 34% accelerating a critical technology deployment, 30% deciding to replace a software vendor, and 29% saying that they ‘found’ budget to pursue a technology improvement that was previously thought to be too expensive or unnecessary.

Employees welcomed new technologies but wish they had been implemented previously.

These new technology implementations were well received, with 86% of UK employees giving their organisation a passing grade (A, B, or C) for its use or deployment of new technology during the COVID-19 pandemic to help them do their job more safely, efficiently, or from an alternative location.

However, almost half (44%) of all UK workers regardless of level said that their company’s pandemic response would have been smoother if they had implemented modern technologies as part of their standard strategy instead of waiting for the crisis to occur. And 42% feel that their organisation was slow to embrace new technologies prior to the pandemic.

Looking to the future, employees hope to keep these technologies in their arsenal to better perform in their roles, as 60% hope their organisation keeps many of the technology and policy changes that were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic response. However, 38% believe their organisation will roll back the changes, going back to the ‘old way’ of doing things.

Modern technologies show benefits, but budgets and IT challenges pose roadblocks.

Despite fear of rolling back technological improvements, U.K. workers remain optimistic about potential business benefits, with about half or more hoping their company's digital transformation efforts:

  • create a better customer experience (54%);
  • create a better employee experience (51%); and
  • improve decision making (44%).

Though they see barriers to these benefits, with more than one third feeling that their companies main challenge to selecting or implementing new technologies is:

  • budget restraints (40%);security and privacy concerns (34%); and
  • culture change and employee adoption (35%).

“COVID-19 turned the world of work upside down and clearly forced the digital transformation hand in a very short period of time,” said Peter Harte, group VP, EMEA, UKG. “Some organisations were simply trying to survive – and still are – but others have been thriving. One year later, organisations are seeing the fruits of their digital transformation labour and it’s now imperative to have a technology roadmap to aid them in thriving throughout the remainder of 2021 and into the future to keep pace with developments to not only protect their bottom line, but also meet the needs of their people and customers.”

Survey methodology

Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Savanta, Inc. for Workplace Intelligence on behalf of The Workforce Institute at UKG in June 2020. For this survey, 3,903 domestic and international respondents were asked general questions to explore leadership and employee attitudes around trust in the workplace, digital transformation, and crisis response/management.

The study targeted people between the ages of 18 and 55 years old. Respondents are recruited through a number of different mechanisms, via different sources to join the panels and participate in market research surveys. All panelists have passed a double opt-in process and complete on average 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in surveys. Respondents are invited to take part via email and are provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation.

The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 1.6 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

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