Every year, as we celebrate India’s remarkable growth story, we often emphasise its diverse culture, the Information Technology boom, and the digital transformation that have propelled its progress. However, amid these narratives, there’s an essential but often overlooked element: the profound impact of technology on an organisation’s culture.
Defining an organisation’s culture is a challenging task. MIT Professor Edgar Schein simplifies it as the basic ways in which a group comes together, learns from collective experiences, and applies those learnings. It’s composed of several layers: Artefacts – the easily seen or felt elements like HR policies and vision & mission, Values – which delve deeper into how employees react to situations, and the enigmatic Assumed Values – hidden belief systems that shape the organisation.
Let’s understand this through a journey divided into two distinct halves – the pre-COVID era and the post-COVID era. The pandemic acted as a pivotal point, accelerating society’s adoption of new technologies, the development of innovative solutions, and the transformation of businesses.
The Impact of Technology on Organisational Culture
Technology’s influence on culture is often underestimated. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made it abundantly clear how organisations evolve with technology.
Before the pandemic, workplace communication primarily relied on email and intranet posts, limiting employees’ access to vital information and hampering collaboration. However, the pandemic compelled organisations to embrace collaborative tools like Google Docs, Figma, MS Teams, and Zoom. These tools facilitated seamless information sharing and collaboration, bridging geographical divides.
In addition to enhancing communication efficiency, technology has elevated transparency and trust within organisations. The realisation of the importance of two-way communication has prompted a shift from traditional means to easily digestible, customised modes such as Company Communicator and Slack.
AI and analytics-powered chatbots like Leena AI and Infeedo have proven instrumental for HR teams. These chatbots offer actionable insights to enhance the employee experience, surpassing the effectiveness of traditional employee engagement surveys. Furthermore, organisations can deploy AI-powered chatbots to provide employees with round-the-clock support and instant query resolution, fostering a more positive and productive work environment.
These technological advancements have significantly impacted an organisation’s ‘Artefacts level’ of culture, influencing elements like the organisation’s vision, strategy, and policies. While these may seem superficial, they wield substantial influence within an organisation.
Organisations, much like human societies, rely on strong relationships and networks between individuals to function effectively. Before Covid-19, these networks were often localised, concentrated in specific geographical or functional urban centres, and heavily dependent on personal interactions. Information flowed through word of mouth and informal connections.
However, the pandemic forced organisations to reevaluate these networks. To address this challenge, our organisation introduced the ‘Digicast.’ A few months into the pandemic, this digital event became a platform to discuss performance, initiatives, and answer queries from associates. It enabled us to reach thousands of associates simultaneously, replacing old informal or localised Employee Benefit Meetings.
Additionally, the sudden shift to remote work resulted in a lack of human connection. To counter this, we introduced the groundbreaking ‘Digital CEO Awards.’ This initiative not only engaged top-performing associates but also involved their families, especially their children. We encouraged families to reveal the human side of our high-performing associates, fostering a people-centric culture. For the first time, we engaged associates globally, showcasing our organisation’s commitment to its people.
These initiatives and technological tools highlight the values an organisation stands for and believes in, shaping its ‘Values level’ of culture.
Cutting-edge technology tools like Chat GPT, Copy AI, and Design AI have emerged as enablers, empowering employees to deliver outcomes with unparalleled speed and agility. These tools, when integrated into daily work, boost productivity. For instance, Chat GPT can generate insightful job descriptions that attract top talent, emphasising values like accountability and result orientation.
Talent is a precious resource, and nurturing talent remains one of HR’s most critical functions. Technology has transformed this arena, making personalised learning accessible through online platforms. These platforms enable individuals to grow and develop their skills. Additionally, employee-friendly rewards and recognition tools, digital onboarding, and performance management systems have established a robust digital ecosystem within organisations. These systems capture key performance indicators, allowing employees to track their performance regularly, in turn fostering a performance-driven culture.
However, despite these remarkable technological advancements, a crucial question remains: “Is this enough?” In my view, it isn’t. This is not due to technology’s failure to support or enhance our efforts but because every interaction and feedback mechanism relies solely on data, often neglecting the importance of human interaction.
Consider this: when we encounter an issue with an order and need to reach out to the customer care of an e-commerce or banking platform, we often find ourselves frustrated by the inability to connect with a human representative. This experience highlights the significance of human interaction. Although it may appear inefficient, it remains effective. Technology should complement human and emotional intelligence, not replace them.
The significance and impact of technology on organisational culture will continue to grow. Over time, we will witness its influence on the hidden ‘Assumed Values’ of an organisation’s culture. AI-powered tools will play a pivotal role in engaging and interacting with people, resolving issues, and streamlining HR processes. The mundane or transactional aspects of HR will likely be outsourced to bots and other advanced systems.
However, one constant will remain unchanged: the ‘Human’ in Human Resources. It will continue to be at the core of any organisation’s culture, ensuring that technology, while revolutionary, complements the essential aspects of human interaction and emotional intelligence. This harmonious blend will define the future of workplace culture, embracing technology as an ally rather than a substitute for human connection.