Participating in remote online video conference from home.

April 15, 2022

Moving Toward a Digital-First, Remote-First Enterprise

Hardly any company today hasn’t experienced the disruptive force of digital. For some businesses, the disruption feels like a rumble. They make changes here and try to keep up with their markets but do so without any significant change to their core business model. For others pursuing a true digital-first strategy, the changes come on like a roar. Seeing that customers and employees are already “digital first” in their personal lives, they work hard to avoid complacency and deliver superior experiences—both to customers with new expectations and to their own employees working from anywhere under a mobile remote-first strategy.

Enterprises that follow a digital-first approach are convinced that growth demands reworking core processes and optimizing customer experiences. They view digital as a matter of growth and survival. Increasingly, digital is not just something they do. It is who they are. The research proves their point. According to McKinsey, companies pursuing a digital-first, remote-first strategy can expect to increase customer satisfaction by up to 20 percent and reduce costs by 40 percent.

Transitioning to a Digital World

Aside from well-funded startups and technology powerhouses like Facebook and Microsoft, few companies can flip a switch and become all digital. Yet having experienced the benefits of digital-first strategy by working remotely during the pandemic, many managers have high hopes of getting there. A recent survey by Foundry (formerly IDG Communications) showed that 91% of companies have plans to adopt a digital-first business strategy. Yet back in the real world, the majority of digital projects fall short, with one Boston Consulting Group study showing only 30% of them meeting expectations.

Still, going digital is the only path forward for those that don’t want to be left behind. Acknowledging that not everything will go as planned, having a trusted advisor who has helped others go “digital first” can help avoid inevitable potholes. Such partners know what works best and can often recommend packaged solutions that require minimal customization. A set of solutions built on top of the AWS cloud, for example, can help get remote employees or call center agents working together without building a new operation from scratch.

Ultimately, executing a digital-first strategy impacts every area of a business. Because digital transformation is new there is no one right way to go about it. Still, there are some strategies that have been proven to work well. Here are five of the best.

1. Define What a Remote-First Company Is on Your Terms

A great way to avoid digital hesitancy is to show employees how digital can make their jobs more enjoyable and productive. During the pandemic and with offices closed, many digital-first companies were forced to develop a remote-first strategy on the fly. Many made the transition work, but it was far from easy.

A remote-first company builds on this progress and doesn’t turn back. It helps employees bring their best to work feeling productive and inspired. Using a combination of strategic technology planning, cloud-based SaaS applications, and new technology adoption, employees can work efficiently from anywhere. They gain more control over their own work lives, enjoy more time with family, and often cut down on a costly commute.

Going remote provides management with many advantages, too. No longer restricted to hiring local workers, hiring managers can expand their search globally to find more specialized talent. Additionally, by adopting SaaS applications for CRM, HR/payroll, and team communications, organizations can improve internal documentation and process automation.

A remote-first company can also increase the attraction and retention of employees. Video conferencing and team communication/messaging tools like Slack not only enable a desirable work-from-home opportunity, they often improve employees’ experience since they can more quickly meet with their colleagues and increase productivity. With such flexibility and productivity benefits, remote employees are less inclined to look elsewhere for better perks and experiences. It’s no wonder why Upwork reports that 42 percent of US companies were remote-first by nine months into the pandemic. And that the number of remote workers will double in the next five years.

2. Move Core Functions to Digital

Digital leaders aren’t satisfied with half-hearted attempts at transformation. Aiming IT resources at non-core support functions like back-office processes, HR and finance is not enough. Nor are pilot projects that last for years and delay true change. With a goal of digitizing functions in core processes, enterprises executing a digital-first strategy focus their best talent on customer-facing functions such as marketing automation, supplier collaboration, product development, and service delivery.

Savvy business leaders realize the importance of creating an amazing digital experience for end-users via web and mobile applications – whether those users are the business’ customers or within the organization. With a growing remote workforce and the expanding capabilities of online services, users have come to expect a fully-digital experience that is easy to use and is available 24×7.

Digital transformation is essential to make internal processes more agile to rapidly respond to market demands. By capturing data from customers’ application use and interaction, digital enterprises are able to adapt their offerings to match users’ expectations. Technology leaders take to heart that by 2023, digitally transformed businesses will be responsible for more than half of global GDP (Statista).

Woman working remotely on smartphone and laptop.

3. Leverage the Best Digital Technology Available

Great companies following a digital-first strategy don’t start with technology. They take a hard look at their customer and employee requirements first and move to technology solutions from there. That said, virtually all digital strategies build from the ground up on a cloud computing foundation. Besides providing a remote-first virtual work environment, cloud-based solutions are cost-effective, agile, and scalable (services can be added or removed as needed).

Employee use of smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices must also be considered. Making these everyday tools a key part of new workflows makes for better efficiency and flexibility. Setting up unified communications to enhance collaboration and using cloud-based project management tools and chat systems to get more work done, also factor into a successful digital-first strategy.

4. Collect Data, Measure Impact. And Repeat

A successful digital-first strategy provides businesses with constant feedback on the value they are getting from transformation. With a business based on automation and analytics, managers routinely track success metrics such as revenue growth, customer churn, marketing campaign results, and gains from executing well on a remote-first strategy. Unlike digital laggards that tie their business metrics to old ways of work, digital-first companies use metrics to measure their market share and agility today, and continually work on improvements for tomorrow.

5. Elevate Digital to the C-Suite

Responsibility for a digital-first strategy is not something to delegate to junior staff. In a digital-first business, one or more members of the leadership team should be measured on results from the digital improvements. Because top businesses must innovate on core business processes, this calls for an executive serving at the board level. Success dictates staying the course and scaling well to meet growing market demand.

Finally, following a digital-first strategy is hard work. More than just applying a fresh coat of paint, it’s reworking a business from the ground up. Executives, managers, and employees all need to be working toward this common goal. Transparency and clear expectations go a long way in making the business succeed.

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