Understanding Digital Workplace Trends: Top 3 Insights From the 2019 Digital Workplace Experience Conference

According to statistics and anecdotal data shared at the Digital Workplace Experience event, the evolution of the digital workplace is accelerating -- but it's still a journey, and a pretty slow one at that as organizations have to work hard to make sure they get their digital experience right. Since understanding the digital workplace trends that are shaping priorities across the industry is critical to achieving success, here are the 3 main themes we took away from the event.

1. The importance of employee experience

It would seem obvious that making sure employees have a good work experience would be a top priority for organizations, yet according to Gallup, 51% of employees are not engaged and a shocking 16% are actively not engaged. Now that could be because despite their best efforts, companies are just focused on the wrong engagement tactics (foosball tables and "Free Massage Fridays" don't earn you as many employee experience points as you might think). But other statistics indicate that the root of the problem probably lies elsewhere.

According to Symantec, the typical organization supports 928 different applications. With the average employee spending up to one hour daily going back and forth between apps to do their jobs while also getting interrupted countless times by email, messaging apps, meetings and involved quests to find information in complicated corporate systems (Deloitte estimates that 72% of employees can't effectively find the right information), it's no wonder workers aren't as engaged with their work as they could be.

Source: Udemy 2018 Workplace Distraction Report

Now this might seem like a complicated problem to unravel -- how exactly do you fix a productivity issue that's being caused by the very technology you implemented to make employees more efficient in the first place? Thankfully it's not as challenging a conundrum as it appears.

Organizations simply need to focus on understanding what employees really need, a mindset that's appearing to be adopted more and more if sessions from DWX such as "Employee driven design for a perfect day" and "How to improve employee lifetime value with better workplace experience" are any indicator.

The bottom line is this: it doesn't matter how easy-to-use the apps you're implementing are. If they're creating a complicated, disjointed experience for staff, then they just aren't helpful, period.

To truly improve the employee experience, organizations should focus on breaking down the silos of information employees are forced to work within. It's an issue that was discussed in Workgrid CEO Brett Caldon's session "The Genesis for a Consistent Employee Experience," and one that derails worker productivity and destroys the employee experience more than most organizations realize.

As each functional group within an organization strikes out on their own to create the best experience possible for employees (a noble idea on paper), the result is a mishmash of applications people are forced to toggle between countless times a day. It's frustrating, regardless of how great each individual experience is, and it also wastes an inordinate amount of time -- time that could be better spent on high-value work.

Organizations can avoid this issue by rethinking the siloed experiences they're currently providing to employees and replacing them with a unified digital experience layer, a contextual experience that provides employees with one-stop access to all of the corporate resources and applications they need the most.

2. Culture and change

If you're familiar with steno pads, carbon paper and white out, then you know that there's nothing new about the concept of change in the workplace -- it's been in a state of constant flux ever since the age of manual typewriters.

It's the significant cultural change that's taking place that makes this such a unique time, however. For one thing, an entire generation is leaving the workforce as Baby Boomers are beginning to transition into retirement, taking all the institutional knowledge they've amassed over the years with them. Then there's the increasing creation of HR titles such as Chief Experience Officer and Employee Experience Manager -- roles focused solely on improving employee engagement. Changes like these mean that for the first time ever, the workplace is being recognized for what it really is, something much more than the physical attributes of a desk and four walls.

According to a recent conversation with Gartner analyst Matthew Cain, employee experience and corporate culture are "all the rage" lately and are the two biggest trends in the digital workplace right now. While it's about time that these concepts are finally getting their turn in the limelight, there is still a critical shortcoming within organizations that needs to be rectified in order to create a truly valuable employee experience. It's a point that was made in the 2019 "State of the Digital Workplace" report:

It's a classic case of "whose job is it, anyway?"

If no one knows where the responsibility lies to create a consistent, easy-to-use and engaging employee experience then no one will do it and the organization will suffer as a result. To be successful, companies need to set aside this historically siloed approach and establish cross-functional teams whose sole focus is to collaborate on creating a digital workplace that meets the needs of today's modern workforce.

3. Future of work

"...the digital workplace of the future will be shaped by both technology and human resources."
-- CMS Wire

Predicting the future of anything carries about as much likelihood of success -- not to mention risk of failure -- as "assuming" does, and we all know what happens when we assume anything.

The problem with trying to predict the future of work is that the ebb and flow of technology makes it a slippery proposition at best. Think about all the innovations of the past, such as fax machines and Palm Pilots, that held the promise of revolutionizing the workplace. Now they're little more than dusty relics that elicit snickers of derision (seriously, how annoying is it when you run across that rare business that insists you fax them your paperwork?). That's a long fall from once being heralded as a beacon of workplace efficiency. It's also a prime demonstration of the fact that predicting the future is best left to those with crystal balls.

Instead of trying to tell what the future of work will look like, obsessing over burning questions like "will AI really mean that robots steal all of our jobs?", it's more helpful to define what the future of work needs to be about.

The reality is, the ideal work environment won't simply appear because of an app or even a suite of solutions. Technology alone cannot manage the load. Instead, a successful workplace of the future will be built by giving thoughtful consideration to the human element of the workplace equation as well. Organizations will need to understand the challenges and needs of an evolving workforce, creating intelligent experiences personal to every employee and utilizing whatever technology is necessary (and available) to attract and retain the best talent and ultimately drive customer satisfaction.

As employers and employees alike grapple with what it means to be successful in a modern work environment, there's no question that there will be many stumbling blocks along the way. One thing is for certain however -- organizations today are faced with a unique opportunity. They can implement technology as it's always been used, merely as a tool to drive further efficiency and cost reduction. They could also take a more impactful leadership approach, however and harness the power of digital workplace trends to create an environment that increases value and meaning for both employees and customers alike.

Which approach will your organization choose?