Kathy Gibson is at Fujitsu Forum in Munich – A massive 83% of companies have transformed their workforces in the last three years, almost half of them having experienced massive transformation.

In fact, workforce transformation is becoming business as usual now, becoming a constant that is closely aligned to digital transformation.

Helen Lamb, vice-president and head of GDG portfolio and service lines at Fujitsu, points out that new research shows that 72% of organisations have “significantly exceeded” their strategic objectives in the last three years.

The study, by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for Fujitsu and Citrix, confirms that despite employee resistance to change being the biggest single barrier to workforce transformation (38%), the most common benefits are higher salaries, retraining and technology upgrades.

Workforce transformation is defined as a “significant and deliberate change to the nature of your company’s employee base and the way in which it is deployed” and the study notes this process “might include extensive retraining of staff, introducing new work and management styles, and changing the way in which your organisation hires its employees”.

Respondents place investing in the right technology ahead of people reskilling as the most-common initiative for workforce transformation, cited by some 83% of companies.

In equal second place are increased salaries and initiatives to improve the digital skills of a workforce – with 77% of firms taking these steps to boost skills and productivity.

Three-quarters of organisations agreed or strongly agreed that workforce and technology transformation share common objectives as employers look for increased digital and high-value skills. Benefits of transformation were cited as including higher salaries, additional training and better technology.

A lot of workforce transformation is tied into training, which is being driven by a need for new skills, Lamb adds.

According to data gathered by the EIU among firms which believe they have “transformed extensively”, two in five needed to make “considerable” upgrades to their existing technology infrastructures to succeed. Behind new technology adoption (56%), skills training and development (54%) was the second most-popular measure.

However, there is still some way to go. The study found that companies in North America are furthest ahead with workplace transformation, with 68% saying they have “significantly transformed”, compared with just 36% in Japan, while Europe (26%) and Australia/New Zealand (22%) trail behind.

Transformation comes with a price – with respondents citing one-off cost as the biggest single factor (81%), followed by increased employment costs (76%) and increased organisational complexity (75%). Fujitsu expects a reduction in resistance to transformation, since almost four in five (79%) of respondents also agreeing this will accelerate in the next three years.

The ideal workforce is both efficient and creative. The study shows that companies are seeking the following qualities: efficient (39%), creative (37%), experienced (32%), tech-savvy (27%) and engaged (21%).

The type of skills that companies are looking for include and increased need for digital skills (35%); an increased need for high-value skills (34%); an increased need for automated tasks and jobs (31%); an increased need for human skills (25%); and an increased need for workforce mobility (24%).

Delivering true workforce transformation is a long, hard journey, says Anna Kopp, head of IT Germany at Microsoft.

“There is a lot of work that we still have to do. We have to first accept the need to change.”

Charles Barratt, senior manager: digital workspace pursuits EMEA at VMware, adds that each company thinks it’s unique, but they all face similar challenges.

“The one thing I am seeing at the moment is a significant focus on employee experience – and that is a very exciting place to be.”

People don’t like change, so even a relatively small amount of change feels like a big deal, says Steve Wilson, vice-president: products, cloud and core services at Citrix. “But what we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg and we are just at the outset of working on employee engagement.”

A lack of data at a leadership level is stymying change – and if we don’t have data, we are scared to change, explains Kopp.

“Bogging employees down does not lead to good experience.”

She adds that sometimes we get too involved with measuring everything which can slow down the pace of change.

“There is lots of data and we want to make decisions based on data. But in Europe we have challenges around adhering to rules around employee privacy.”

Often the reason for changing workforces is believed to be driven by millennials. But Barratt believes the issue is deeper than that. “You have to cater to the whole workforce,” he says.

“The workforce is what the workforce is,” Wilson adds. “There is a war for talent on and companies have to think about that.

“The employee experience will not only impact your existing employees, but it will inform their longevity – and your ability to attract new talent.”

New workplace experiences can help to do this.

Kopp points out that we need 50-million people with digital skills within the next few years – and 60% of students today will have a job that doesn’t exist today.

New digital business models come out of the blue and they come quickly, she adds. This means it’s almost impossible to train for what is coming, so we need people who are able to adapt and change.

“The ideal manager needs to change even more,” she warns. “There is a lot you need to do from bottom-up and top-down.”

The CEO, CIO and head of HR have to drive workforce transformation, but middle managers have to make it happen in the workplace.

Barratt points out that people are at the centre of all transformation. “Where we see successful change is when we define a vision that is based on conversations with people.

“If you don’t’ talk to people, you will drive an IT project which may not open all the business doors you need to.”

Wilson agrees that it should not be approached as an IT problem. “Digital transformation is further down the path because people have woken up to the fact that their business can be disrupted by a better customer experience.”

But these same companies are often not delivering the same experience to their employees. “Start to think about the platforms you will build your next-generation applications on,” he says. “It has to be able to provide consumer-style services that offer employee experiences that feel like customer experiences.”