5 Key Characteristics of the Digital Workforce

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5 Key Characteristics of the Digital Workforce

There’s a lot of talk about digital HR and the digital workforce. In this article, I will answer the question of what the digital workforce is and how you can apply this knowledge to make better people decisions. To do this, I use the five key characteristics that any digital workforce needs to have.

What is the digital workforce?

The answer to this question is a bit ironic. If you search the internet (and I did it for you), the short answer is: no one really knows. According to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report from 2017, it is rated as very important! The picture below shows the percentage of respondents rating this digital HR trend “important” or “very important”.

Digital HR Trend

Source: Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, 2017

Of course, the digital workforce is not the same as digital HR – but it has a lot to do with it!

To learn what the digital workforce is, we can best look at the organizations that already leverage this. These are the high-growth firms like Google and Facebook were a few years ago. These kinds of organizations can scale up their workforce very rapidly by leveraging all the digital capabilities available.

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If we can learn from these high-growth organizations we can start to apply these learnings to our own organization. In my talk below I use the book Exponential Organizations to explain how these organizations make better workforce decisions and leverage all the digital capabilities available.

In the video, I explain what the digital workforce is, how it will change the way we work and how it can be used to make the organization more effective.

Characteristics of the digital workforce

As you saw in the video, the digital workforce consists of five key components, which can be remembered by the SCALE acronym.

  1. Staff on demand
  2. Communities which are maintained and leveraged
  3. Algorithms that enable the workforce to operate more efficiently
  4. Leveraging off technology to fully automate work
  5. Engaging the workforce that remains

1. Staff on demand

One of the key characteristics of the digital workforce is staff on demand. Staff on-demand centers on leveraging people outside of the organization. Oftentimes, this is referred to as the distributed workforce

Organizations are increasingly moving away from employees with contracts, and relying on staff on demand. An example is Uber that has a fleet of drivers that come online whenever they feel like working. Interestingly, the number of drivers at any given time correlates with the number of people who are looking for taxis. Most Uber drivers like to work during the weekends and special events because that’s a busy time with a lot of customers. This way the supply of staff matches customer demand.

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Similar things are happening for food delivery services like Uber eats, takeaway.com, Delivery Hero, and Foodora. For Deliveroo, part of Delivery Hero, it takes 2 minutes to sign up as a deliverer and usually within a few days you are sent the Deliveroo kit – including their signature backpack – and you’re ready to go. In this case, the workforce is very physical – but the onboarding is very low touch and digital.

Other examples that I mention in the video, are Fiverr and Gigwalk. Gigwalk enables you to have your product checked in any store all over the world by people you don’t employ. This way you can get almost real-time data on your products without having to check yourself. Fiverr is a freelance service marketplace, which enables you to get almost any job you’d like to have done for a few dollars.

2. Communities

A second part of the digital workforce are communities. Communities and crowd can be leveraged for ideas and input. Examples are the increasingly popular hackathons or innovation competitions, in which prizes are awarded to those teams that come up with the best solutions to real-life problems.

Other examples of communities are communities of former employees. Having access to talent that is intimately familiar with the organization can offer numerous benefits when it comes to project work and specialized assignments.

3. Algorithms

Algorithms make life easier – and they are everywhere today. There’s an increasing amount of tools that can be used to make a job easier. As a writer, I use Grammarly, an online grammar and spell checking tool, and Hemmingway, an editor that highlights complex sentences and common errors.

For other jobs, there are other tools. Simple algorithms enable you to create ready-made contracts, and tools like Lynn enable you to check Non-Disclosure Agreements – which are often highly standardized – for errors and suspicious clauses. Another app, FeeBelly scans general contracts for hidden fees or other costly details and points them out to the user.

If there are routine and predictable tasks in your company, look into possibilities for automation. These include routine HR processes which are also eligible for automation. This often increases speed and improves employee experience and data quality.

4. Leveraging technology to automate tasks

Where algorithms make work easier, automation makes it effortless. A truly digital workforce shouldn’t be preoccupied with routine and repetitive tasks. According to the McKinsey Global Industry Report, 23% of work hours in the US may be automated by 2030, and 15% of global work hours. Leading this trend will simply save you time.

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Jobs that are most likely to be automated, have a predictable pattern of repetitive activities. Below, you’ll find a list of jobs that are the most at risk.

Image source

Journalism will also be at risk of automation. This article may be written by a bot, based on the YouTube clip that was included. You simply don’t know. What you do know is that the Washington Post reported having published 850 robot-written articles in 2016 alone.

Automation is coming and it will have a very real impact. It will make our lives much easier but it will also challenge us to change and interact much more with machines than we did previously. The more boring and generally more repetitive tasks will be automated, giving us more time to spend on problem-solving and the creation of new ideas. This will help us to up our productivity significantly.

5. Engaging the workforce (that remains)

When workers spend more time on problem-solving and creative tasks, being in the right mental state becomes even more important. The importance of engagement will only increase further.

Engaged workers have the energy to face the challenges of the day, they are dedicated to their work, and are absorbed in their tasks. They are more productive, make fewer mistakes, and are also more innovative.

With the increase in productivity, the payoff of an engaged workforce will be even higher for organizations.

In order for workers to get in that right state of mind, they need to start thinking of technology as something that makes their (working) lives easier first. Here lies a task for organizations and HR, they need to prepare their workforce for a more automated and technology-driven future. In other words: they need to create a pro-technology mindset and culture among their employees.

One way to do this is with visual storytelling.

Especially when managers, HR, and executives don’t know how to introduce their employees to a new idea or how to engage them in the implementation of a new strategy, visual storytelling can be very useful. It is a complete package of meaning, context, and emotions that draws people to a particular story. As such, it accelerates understanding and forms a fast, consistent & common language for organizations to get and keep their people engaged.


That wraps up the key characteristics of a digital workforce. I hope that this article has shown you that digital is an inevitability – but that leveraging it the right way can benefit the employee and the organization. Leveraging digital helps to save time, just cost, and focus your organization and employees on the tasks that bring the most value.

Digital is here now. To learn more about the digital workforce, check our Digital HR Certification Program.

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