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Surviving COVID-19: Digital Workplaces for Indonesian Enterprises

While it is apparent that governments and scientists were ill-prepared for COVID-19, neither it seems, were enterprises. ‘Digital workplaces’ in particular are now key for enterprise survival during the pandemic. Indonesian enterprises have recognized this and are catching up.

The COVID-19 phenomenon has affected not only our behaviors and purchasing habits as consumers, but also dramatically influenced business continuity. Enterprises across regions have tried to adapt to the current uncertainty by rethinking the strategy for their production and distribution. It is interesting to note that one of the focusing aspects by organizations is implementing digital workplaces for employees, as businesses still need to perform well and at the same time comply with local restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Miraculously, COVID-19 has forced business players, including those who are in Indonesia, to accelerate digital transformation, starting with minimal efforts like adopting video conferences and communication applications during social distancing. A July 2020 study, the “Workday Digital Agility Index” conducted by Workday, Inc. and International Data Corporation (IDC) showed that 83% of C-level executives across nine countries in the Asia Pacific are now prioritizing digital transformation and relying on technology for business processes. The study also shows that the pandemic has been a wake-up call of sorts for 50% of Indonesian companies, to recognize the need to emphasize digital technology to support the new business normal, both for their front-end and back-end services, including managing human resources in the face of limited mobility due to COVID-19. 

Percentages of Indonesian consumers trying Digital Applications for the first time during COVID-19

Source: Mobile Marketing Association

As seen in the graph above, work from home software takes third place for the most used digital application in Indonesia, with 27% first-time users during the pandemic. It even exceeds digital entertainment and online groceries. Global users for Microsoft Teams soared in April 2020 from 32 to 44 million in a week, as did Zoom downloads, from only 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million after COVID-19 began. The same is believed to have happened with other office productivity software such as Google Suite, Cisco WebEx, Teams etc. These tools have become helpers for more than 3.300 Indonesia companies across the capital that have established work from home policies during the outbreak. 

Taking a step back from the pandemic, the global research and advisory firm, Gartner, in 2018 classified Indonesia in the ‘intermediate’ category for digital readiness behind Vietnam, China and Malaysia. Until 2019, only 30% of Indonesian companies were considered as ‘digitally determined’ leaders who are intentionally investing in long term digital transformation, while the rest are ‘digitally distraught’ or slow technology adopters, not to mention sometimes being reluctant to propel digital change. In relation to digital workplaces, the first category of companies is familiar with flexible working hour policies or remote working options for their employees and even progressively drove the technology to the next level for greater employee engagement and working systems. And of course, these initial steps helped companies very much for a smooth working transition during the pandemic. On a personal note, my current company which has already used Microsoft 365 as a daily digital workplace is not surprised with the new routine and setting.    

The more important question is what has happened with the second category of companies. Some Indonesian enterprises are struggling to equip employees with the required facilitation during the pandemic, as the result of minimum digital investment in the organization’s sustainability. Surprisingly, only 48.9% of Indonesia’s digital economy players are confident they can survive through COVID-19 for a year ahead. Even before the pandemic, organizations across Asia Pacific have had similar challenges when adopting workspace modernization, including the high cost of technology, privacy concerns, lack of skilled resources, lack of committed budget, and immature technology. Going back to the Workday Digital Agility research, it is found that Indonesian enterprises also have difficulty in managing approval systems and operational activities, promoting a culture of digital adaptation, and ensuring employee’s digital skills during a pandemic. 

While conventional companies are still figuring out the best ways to propel digital transformation, many start-ups have already built their business environments with emerging technologies such as cloud infrastructure, and are heavily applying remote working that is suitable for the character of millennial employees as digital natives. Globally, reports show that 77% of millennials agree that flexible working hours are key to productivity. This is in line with an  IDC report in 2020  that stated digital workplaces can increase employee productivity up to 20%. Gojek, Grab, Ovo, and Tokopedia are some Indonesian start-up leaders who have not been hesitant at all in operationalising digital workplaces from the very beginning of social distancing in March. Measuring productivity can be a new problem, but companies who are already experienced with digital workplace and flexible working policies (like Tokopedia), have utilized relevant parameters to ensure the completion of individual results and company objectives, even when their employees are working at home. As a result, start-ups have become more popular in the eyes of millennials and it is interesting to see how flexible working might be one of the future criteria that job seekers prioritize because of COVID-19. 

Finally, looking to the future, some Indonesian companies might continue to boost the existence of digital workplaces. Others will return to normal working times and physically working in offices. However, COVID-19 has become a special lesson learned for these enterprises, highlighting the fact that digital transformation, specifically digital workplaces and systems, are crucial for internal organization to survive in the midst of external risk and uncertainty. 

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