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Digital Workplace Trends 2021
Digital Workplace

Digital Workplace Trends 2021

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11 minutes read time
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Published on Mar 18th, 2021
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Written by Janine Marchi

The role of the digital workplace

2020 was the year of making things happen.

Driven by a global pandemic that no one saw coming, organizations got their entire workforces up, running, and functioning remotely - virtually overnight. The digital workplace was advanced by decades in a matter of weeks, a feat of massive scale that was handled with impressive speed and resiliency.

But now what?

With everything shifting to digital, forcing the rapid deployment of an endless array of digital tools, today’s digital workplace is more fragmented and complex than ever before. Organizations are dealing with more digital tools and resources than they could have imagined. They also carried over some historic challenges that complicate matters even further.

The typical organization of today is dealing with:

  • Systems, data, and communications that are being maintained in siloes, which makes it hard for employees to be productive, share knowledge and maintain culture

  • Applications being purchased in a decentralized manner, making it almost impossible to achieve a strategic vision for the digital workplace, and

  • A lack of cross-departmental collaboration

This, coupled with no formal ownership of the digital workplace experience, makes it next to impossible to achieve the modern, next-level digital workplace experiences employees deserve.

That’s a problem, because the digital workplace has moved from being a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have.” In many cases, the digital workplace is the only workplace some employees have, but there’s a clear spotlight on what’s working and what’s not and it’s got to be approached correctly if organizations are going to quickly scale solutions that offer seamless experiences for employees.

So how can organizations get there?

The path to success begins with understanding – and capitalizing on - the trends that will shape digital workplace success in 2021 and beyond. I recently spoke with three industry experts during our 2021 Digital Workplace Trends Webinar to get their take on what organizations should be focusing on in the coming year.

I started by talking Brett Caldon, CEO of Workgrid, about the first trend, reimagining the intranet and digital workplace as a productivity hub.

Trend #1:

Reimagining the Intranet & Digital Workplace as a productivity hub

There’s no question that having an effective digital workplace has become table stakes with everything that’s happened with the pandemic. It’s got to be approached correctly if employees are going to have the tools and experiences they need to be successful.

Q: How can organizations ensure employees have the right tools and digital experiences they need to be successful?

A: There’s a lot of talk about the changes taking place with the digital workplace. Nothing highlights those changes more than the fact that organizations often have different perspectives on what their digital workplace is and even use different terminology when referring to it. For example, some consider their intranet to be the entirety of their digital workplace, while some customers we talk to are working towards creating a broader “digital headquarters.”

Regardless of what you call it, a modern digital workplace needs to be more than simply offering employees a handful of different links to the systems they need.

Success will come from creating a digital workplace that’s focused on productivity and thinking about it as a productivity hub that’s designed to facilitate seamlessly interact with technology.

This focus on productivity, along with wellness, are two very large trends we are seeing in the digital workplace. In fact, wellbeing was becoming more of a priority on the organizational agenda even before the COVID-19 pandemic. It was actually the top-ranked trend for importance in the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study, with 80% of 9,000 survey respondents identifying it as important or very important to their company’s success.

“The Crusade For Employee Experience: How Did We Get Here?” (Source)

It makes sense. Employee well-being relates directly to the digital work environment you provide for employees. Organizations need to make sure they’re providing the tools and resources employees need to have an engaging work experience and can be perform at their best.

Q: Can you share the criteria that will be key to success in supporting the employee experience?

A: To begin with, a digital workplace should provide employees with a centralized location for accessing all of their key transactions and approvals.

That has to be a priority, because the typical workforce loses a ton of productivity every single day just logging in and out of the different systems they need to get their jobs done. But having many disparate back-end systems doesn’t have to mean a fragmented front-end user experience.

The more that the digital workplace can consolidate those resources into a single location, the faster workers can do what they need to do and get back to focusing on the high-value work that drives value for the business.

Now this isn’t to suggest that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to this. These resources have to be centralized where employees are – and that’s going to be different for every employee and every location and every circumstance. For each individual employee you have in your organization, there’s going to be a different preference for how they choose to work.

That’s why an effective digital workplace needs to have multiple doors and entry points that can accommodate different user habits and work scenarios.

Some users may find it useful to have everything consolidated right into the intranet, while others, such as frontline workers, may never navigate to the intranet. Organizations need to think about what types of interfaces are appropriate for each employee type. Some users will need to access their digital workplace from mobile, while others may spend most of their time in a workstream collaboration tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams, where you may want to consider integrating a stream of information and notifications.

Q: What other criteria will be critical for a modern digital workplace?

A: Yes, A modern digital workplace will also need to provide a personalized experience for employees.

Think about your own experiences as an employee. It’s a common occurrence to be overwhelmed with notifications flooding our inboxes with information that isn’t relevant to us. How do we respond to that overload? Chances are, we tune it out. Then everything gets ignored and important information that we do need gets missed.

Organizations are sitting on a ton of data about their employees that they can be putting to work to deliver just the right information to the right employees at the right time. How effectively they can use that data to create a personalized experience for employees will have a big impact on the effectiveness of their digital workplace in the coming year.

The reality is it all comes down to experiences.

An effective digital workplace is one that focuses on the employee experience. Where employees’ digital interactions at work are as personalized, timely and intuitive as the digital experiences they encounter in their everyday lives. To achieve this, the focus should be on putting employees at the center of the experience and delivering a digital work experience that simplifies their work day and helps them become more productive and engaged.

Achieving this doesn’t mean organizations need to run out and start purchasing all sorts of new technology. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s best to take full advantage of the resources that are already in place, such as the investments that have been made in core enterprise systems, like HCM, procurement, and time management systems. A lot of time and money has been spent on those technologies. They’re best-in-class, and businesses relies on them to operate at peak efficiency. It only makes sense to get the most value out of them that you can.

But let’s be honest. Individually, those systems don’t always offer the best user experience for employees. They’re great for power users who spend most of their day in them, but for average employees who just need them occasionally to complete a simple task, they can be frustrating and time-consuming to interact with.

This is a long-standing challenge that organizations have had to deal with, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock any longer. You can build a digital workplace that creates an abstraction layer that insulates workers from the complexity of your enterprise technology. That way, power users can still work directly in the systems they need, while everyone else has a single location for the specific functionality they need for their situation.

For the second trend, the importance of IT and HR collaborating to build a cohesive, effective digital workplace strategy, I spoke with Melanie Foley, Executive Vice President and Chief Talent Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Trend #2:

The importance of IT and HR collaborating to build a cohesive, effective digital workplace strategy

Building an effective digital workplace is very much like the old saying “it takes a village.” It requires input from all major stakeholders across the organization, from internal communications, IT, HR, facilities management, etc. But it’s not enough to be just a team sport. There also needs to be formal ownership of the digital workplace to ensure that each department’s priorities are met and that the experiences that are delivered to the employee are cohesive and empowering, rather than siloed and frustrating. HR will certainly play a big role in building an effective digital workplace for 2021 and beyond.

Q: What do you think is the importance of IT and HR collaborating to build a cohesive and effective digital workplace strategy that improves the employee experience?

A: As an HR leader, I know how important a positive employee experience is. At Liberty, we define employee experience as the interactions that our employees have every day with our company, and the feelings and impact that these interactions have on them. Employee engagement is an outcome of the experience. If we want to increase employees’ engagement, we need to improve their experience.

Because our day-to-day interactions are increasingly digital ones, our Digital Experience team is part of our Employee Experience organization, so that we can look at the holistic digital experiences we offer our employees.

Key moments for employees tend to span across functional silos. To improve employees’ experiences, we need to focus on these moments and not let our structure get in the way of doing so. And that’s why we centralized our digital product owners. This allows the product owners to bring disparate applications and systems together and deliver an improved experience through a digital experience layer. Workgrid is a critical part of our digital experience layer.

Our Digital Experience team is partnered with our IT organization to expand and improve this digital experience layer globally.

The pandemic has made it clear that HR and IT now have a growing priority to work together to ensure new technologies not only address complex business issues, but also meet the expectations of people who use them.

Ultimately, we need to rethink the partnership that has historically existed between HR & IT If we expect to be able to deliver a truly modern digital workplace.

Q: Can you share with us your thoughts on how you’ve seen HR’s role changing to make this shift to deliver “experiences” and how you’re working with IT to deliver on this promise?

A: We’ve all agreed for quite some time that the employee experience needs to be a foremost consideration in anything we do as a business. But more than that, employee experience needs to be considered as part of a holistic, enterprise-wide strategy. That’s why we are putting such a focus on our Global Employee Experience work, and the role that digital plays in our employees’ day-to-day experience.

Yes, it’s certainly an HR “win” to roll out a series of apps related to wellbeing, productivity, etc. But the impact of those efforts is decreased if they aren’t an integral part of all the other initiatives taking place across the company.

HR has the leadership role of understanding the needs of employees and how to improve their experience throughout moments that matter to employees. So it’s important that HR and IT work together to understand what employees really need – what their workflows are like and what their limitations are, both technically and personally. By doing so we can work with IT to collaboratively focus on how technology can be used to deliver experiences in those moments that are more relevant.

Our goal in working together is to deliver exceptional experiences for employees that simplify their days and help them become more productive, engaged, and collaborative. Employees’ technical interactions at work need to be personalized, timely and intuitive. They deserve user experiences like the consumer brands they’re accustomed to using in their everyday lives, such as Amazon and Netflix. Ultimately, if our goal is to effectively retain talent and keep employees engaged, we must actively listen to employee feedback and look for opportunities to support our employees and provide an employee experience where they can be their best - personally and professionally.

We use Workgrid to help achieve this. With Workgrid, we can hide back-end systems from employees, masking complex architectures with a modern interface that helps employees work more effectively. This kind of digital workplace platform helps us centralize access, create personalized experiences and maximize our existing tech investments.

For our third and final digital workplace trend, modern technology driving the execution of digital workplace strategy, we spoke with Gillian McCann, co-founder and CTO of Workgrid.

Trend #3:

Modern technology drives the execution of digital workplace strategy

The workplace has changed more in the past year than it has in the last ten years. There’s a lot of work organizations will need to do to keep up with the pace of change we are seeing for the digital workplace. But what got us here, won’t get us to where we need to be given the fact that the very nature of work has changed.

Q: Can you share with us the modern tools and approaches organizations will have to adopt in order to build a successful digital workplace in the coming year and beyond?

A: To begin with, Citizen Development and No Code (App) Development are going to be a huge driving force in 2021.

That’s because today, every company is a software company. They need to build more applications to improve operational efficiency, drive innovation, and generate revenue. Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of skilled developers. Citizen development enables organizations to empower non-technical employees (citizen developers) to build applications and experiences will help quickly scale app development to the pace that is needed.

This ability is critical because companies are under more pressure than ever to increase optional efficiencies and be more agile, building experiences faster to meet their business needs. Through the use of no-code app development, organizations can create experiences that align to their unique needs, such as building modern user interfaces, automating repetitive tasks, delivering notifications or reminders and even streamlining approval processes – all in a fraction of the time and effort it would take to build something from scratch.

Q: At Workgrid, we are working on enabling our customers with more no-code offerings to build experiences. Can you share some details here on what’s coming?

A: Yes, I’m very excited with the work we’re doing. What we’re working on at Workgrid is functionality to enable organizations to build no code experiences in the form of microapps, chatbot, and smart notifications, and actually integrating those experiences directly into their digital workplace.

This changes the game because what we see with the large enterprises is that while they often find the idea of our out-of-the-box apps to be very useful, they can’t take advantage of them “as-is” because their businesses are unique, with back-end systems like Workday, ADP or ServiceNow that they’ve customized to suit their specific needs.

By offering a no code app builder, our customers can design front-end experiences with the fields and nuances that matter to the unique needs of their employees and business.

There are other trends that I think will also have a big impact in the coming year.

Automation in the digital workplace

Automation should also play a critical part in the modern digital workplace. It just makes good, basic business sense. The more routine processes and procedures we can make happen automatically, without human intervention, the more time and frustration we can all save to spend on more strategic work.

Let’s consider onboarding, for example . It’s a time-consuming procedure to administer, with dozens of steps and tasks – many of which are paper-based – that someone in HR has to manually arrange. It also has to be coordinated with all the other departments that are involved across the organization, like finance, IT, security, etc.

Now there is of course a certain level of efficiency that can be gained from doing this process repeatedly over the course of time. But even that is very limited, because processes like onboarding aren’t the same for every single employee. They differ slightly, or maybe even a lot, based on factors like am employee’s geography or role.

But imagine if you could automate that entire process and make it personalized for every single employee?

How much more efficiently would things run, and how much better of an experience could you deliver if you could give your workers a tailored experience using customizable workflows that deliver personalized tasks based on attributes like persona, business unit, location, job level, and more?

Better yet, what if those tasks could be delivered sequentially, at pre-determined points throughout the entire journey of a process, so a procedure like on or offboarding that usually takes weeks or even months to complete can take place smoothly and in the appropriate timeframe, without the risk of steps being missed along the way?

These are the kind of efficiencies smart organizations will be working to implement in their digital workplaces in the coming year.

Artificial Intelligence & Chatbots

AI and chatbots will also be a major area of focus in 2021.

For one thing, AI will facilitate human productivity, taking on the high-volume, low-value work that distracts us all from the strategic thinking that only we as humans can do. It’s going to augment our roles, handling all of the routine administrative work like submitting service desk tickets, booking meetings rooms and travel and things like that that distract us from the meaningful work we were hired to do.

Employees can utilize the Workgrid Digital Assistant to submit, update, respond to, and close out help desk tickets without having to login to multiple systems.

Chatbots are useful tools for making information easily accessible to employees.

Part of how this will happen is that chatbots will become personal assistants throughout the organization. It’s the natural progression of AI in the workplace, with employees relying on AI powered chatbots to help them find information, alert them to tasks that need to be completed and make proactive recommendations on things like training courses, freeing up their time and energy for the tasks that truly drive business value.

The importance of all of this is driven by the fact that the digital workplace is going to be the only workplace for many employees for the foreseeable future – possibly forever. Making sure that the experiences our employees have within that Digital workplace are as intelligent, seamless and friction-free as possible falls to us - modern technologies are the key to making it all happen.

To find out how other organizations have used Workgrid as a productivity hub to improve the employee experience for their workforce, check out this case study with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

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