The ‘new’ digital workplace?

I co-authored a view on this subject back in 2013, and then, as now, the fundamentals remain true.

Productivity is still one of the ASX 100’s top considerations to enhance profitability…and the war for talent in the digital economy shows a direct relationship between flexible digital workplace technology capabilities, employee satisfaction, retention and productivity.

Deloitte’s 2017 Tech Trends and Human Capital Trends global reports both highlight two key shifts occurring now:

  • Technology is the disruptor, humans are the competitive advantage
  • The changing role of the worker will become the key tool to drive the future of business success

The outlook?

The next big shift in customer experience and competitive advantage is employee experience.

New realities

Technology can learn faster than we can and work is playing catch up.  With the massive growth of AI, cognitive computing, robotics and exponential data growth, jobs and tasks are vulnerable to automation.  Add to that, demographic and generational changes, the changing nature of careers, and the explosion of contingent work and you have major shifts that will fundamentally change what is work in the next 5 – 7 years.

These shifts yield a new definition of work-life balance.  As employees’ behaviours have shifted to adapt with new technologies, they have new expectations of the workplace and how they will invest their time and loyalty in those organisations that meet and align with their needs and values. Central to this is how the work culture drives this loyalty and meets the employee’s life demands, of flexibility, mobility and wellness, with infrastructure and technologies.

Great employees make happy customers.  If an organisation focusses on the employee experience, removing bad friction with poor internal systems, this can free the employee to spend more time on great solutions, products and service for customers.

We think about future workplace shifts using a simple frame:

Work – ‘what’ and ‘how’ activities are conducted to deliver value – the shift is a fundamental redesign to use more essential human skills augmented by technology

Worker – ‘who’ does the work as a combination of capability, capacity, culture, leadership, alignment and agility – the shift is a net reduction in human workforce both onshore and offshore

Workplace – ‘where’ work is performed (physical and virtual environments) as a combination of facilities, infrastructure and technologies – the shift is accelerated collaboration, innovation and communication

Technology Evolution

Clients in 2013 wanted help to define digital workplace strategies and plans to take advantage of the technologies that were maturing rapidly alongside enterprise platforms.  In 2017, even as technologies in general have ‘grown up’ for use in the workplace, digital workplace strategies still need to be both tactical and strategic to keep pace with the rate of technology evolution.

Some key trends from our 2017 Tech Trends report we believe are impacting the digital workplace now are:

Shifting IT’s focus to driving innovations and business strategy. Evolutionary strategies including partner collaborations, improving efficiencies through automation and creating multi-functional teams, accelerate workplace capabilities for employee experience and workforce productivity.

Machine learning, cognitive analytics, robotic process automation (RPA) and bots, and voice-first technologies are automating workloads and potentially enhancing customer engagement and increasing workforce productivity.

Businesses starting to think about their products, offerings and processes as a collection of services.  XaaS casts core modernisation in a new light as efforts can be directed to create greater efficiencies and to engage customers, employees and business partners in new ways – for example: deploying APIs on top of legacy systems can help extend the reach of existing services and, potentially, enable new revenue streams.

Advances in natural language processing and machine learning can help to tap unstructured data sources.  Documents, videos, tickets, voice, texts, emails, tweets that remain in the ‘dark’, represent tremendous opportunities to better use precious resources to enable a stream of insights, improving employee productivity and streamlining services.

Using augmented and virtual reality and IoT, mixed reality adds intelligence and digital content to the space around us.  This can help workers make decisions quickly, process critical information, visualise scenarios, or communicate with others – e.g. field workers don’t lose situational awareness whilst seeing statistics, video feeds, alerts and communications amongst workers.

‘More for less’?

Pressure to reduce ICT costs remains, but understanding the cycle of investments for flexible and engaging digital workplace solutions, should articulate that these can contribute to the top and bottom lines.  The evolution cycle of consumer technologies will continue to change faster than investments in underlying enterprise technical infrastructure.  To be successful, organisations need coherent arguments for investments to deliver employee experiences rather than various commodity tools to implement.

 Overcoming hurdles

A majority of digital workplace programs often become traditional multi-year rollouts of end user computing tools.  Organisations wonder why the millions spent have not yielded the anticipated worker engagement and productivity gains.

Often these workplace programs are planned and executed within organisational functional structures.  These are usually driven at different speeds, can be influenced by a risk aversion culture and perceptions, and ultimately lead to isolated decision making and siloed delivery.

We counsel leaders to recognise the speed bumps within their organisation that hinder necessary integrated decision making and co-ordinated delivery across lines of business, HR, Operations, Real Estate, Finance and Technology.

Where to start

Use business language terms (top and bottom line productivity gains, employee engagement, cost optimisation etc.) for digital workplace investments that yield employee experience and business benefits.

Break down the functional silos of Technology, Property, HR and Business Units to jointly operate on one path for employee experience. Is there a role for a ‘Chief Experience Officer?’

Build working prototypes of targeted, experiential value cases to demonstrate value early. Then orchestrate delivery with integrated decision making. Organisations should seek to create accelerators with full scaling ability, or look to external partners to do this.

Ultimately design delivery to accelerate worker cultural shifts, breed excitement and engage employees.

While technologies will continue to evolve rapidly, organisations with coherent strategies and orchestrated, integrated and adaptive mechanisms that deliver productivity gains and engaging employee experiences, will win the workforce for competitive advantage in the future.

Want to get started on your journey? Talk to us…..

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