Even before Corona, our workplaces were on their way to becoming digital. The demands of a global workforce – collaboration over vast distances, continuous mobile communication, home office, and flexible working hours – have provided enterprises with a unique set of challenges and opportunities that only our digital age could tackle. Of course, Corona has made the demand for the solutions acute, and rapid adoption essential. A transformation that should have been driven by strategy was hijacked by necessity. 2021 will continue to see swift implementation of digital workplace solutions, but with a year’s worth of experience, organizations and enterprises are likely to shift their focus back to their long-term strategic and planning goals. Here’s what we think you’ll see in 2021:
The move to the digital workplace in 2020 was driven less by strategic deliberation and more by the emergency. Now that we have all these digital tools to make home office and distanced working possible, we have to decide where they fit in our long-term digital plans and how we can get the most out of our investment. In some cases, we may decide that we need different digital workplace solutions, or we may discover that some of the solutions we’ve implemented don’t meet our needs or long-term goals. Additionally, many companies focused on isolated solutions, such as MS Teams, or focused only on communication or VPN tools instead of developing a holistic approach. Going forward, digital workplace goals will focus on finding the right tools and solutions, and developing more holistic approaches to the needs of digital workplaces, depending on business, security, and work needs. 2021 will be the year of digital workplace strategy.
Just as digital strategy took a backseat to home office necessity, governance gave way to relaxed rules and open structures. These will prove to be wins in the long-term both for enterprises and their employees; enterprises were forced into uncomfortable territory by the Corona pandemic, but the gains in flexibility will likely be a boon to productivity. But businesses still need to protect their infrastructure – centralized or not – and ensure data privacy and security. As Gartner’s “6 Trends on the Gartner Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace, 2020” reports, one of the trends from 2020 has been “Bring your own thing to the digital workplace.” This means that a lot of employee-owned devices, like “fitness bands, smart lights, air filters, voice assistants, smart earbuds” or even mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, are now connected to or interact regularly with enterprise systems. The question for enterprise IT is how to ensure the security of their environment and how to protect data privacy. This might entail VPNs, approval processes, defining how and when certain devices may be used with enterprise systems. These are governance questions, and they will form the backbone of any digital workplace strategy going forward.
3.) Process Automation
Once the strategy and governance questions have been settled, enterprises will want to automate the processes for accessing digital workplace solutions, installing and managing security and data privacy protocols, and where necessary, approving and on-boarding the use of employee-owned devices for access to enterprise IT. This step is crucial to making sure your employees can work without unnecessary delays or bureaucratic hurdles. It will also add to productivity and enhance the overall quality of workplace satisfaction. Process automation will include enterprise app marketplaces as well as a robust intranet where processes can be communicated and documented, and employees can collaborate on business-critical activities no matter where or how they work.
From Pandemic to Strategy
How do you take the environment you have, gifted to you by unexpected and extreme circumstances, and turn it into a long-term and sustainable digital workplace strategy?
- Assess employee experiences. Have the tools you’ve implemented during Corona or even before added value to their work lives? Can they work faster and more effectively? Are they able to communicate more easily, share important information, and make better, smarter decisions? Are the tools intuitive, user-friendly, and easy to use? If they are, great! If not, then it’s time to start looking around for new and better options.
- Find out what you have. One of the challenges facing any digital workplace is Shadow IT, low-cost cloud-based solutions that may not have been onboarded through the normal channels, and may not be a part of your planning. They might include communications tools like Zoom, Slack, Discord, writing and collaboration tools such as Evernote, among many others. Find those solutions and add those to your inventory of digital workplace tools. That list is key to your next steps, deciding what to keep based on cost, employee experience, and workplace need.
- Decide on long-term digital workplace goals. Maybe the Corona Crisis has won you over to the notion of home office, and your goal now is to make it so everyone can work from home. Maybe you would like to keep a hybrid model, giving flexibilities to those who really need it, but maintaining an office culture. Or maybe your business requires mobile, globally accessible workplaces. Whatever the case may be, this will form your strategy: how do you want your workplace to look and operate in ten years, and how are you going to get there.
- Establish, centralize and automate key processes. Whether it’s an app store to give employees easy and quick access to tools and solutions, or centralized on-boarding and training processes, your digital workplace requires automatic processes. Trigger tickets, alerts, and emails when new employees come on-board, when existing employees change roles, or with the implementation of new tools and processes. Tools such as an intranet can give employees quick and easy access to continuously updated information and applications, wherever and whenever they need them.
However, you decide to tackle the problem of strategy, make sure you have the right tools and processes in place to support that strategy.