Get Reworked Podcast Guest Sarah Kimmel Vice President of Research Simpler Media Group

Get Reworked Podcast: The New Reality of the Digital Workplace

November 17, 2020 Digital Workplace
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By Get Reworked Podcast

Get Reworked Podcast Guest Sarah Kimmel Vice President of Research Simpler Media Group
In March 2020, legions of workers walked out the office doors, trekked home and set up shop at the kitchen table to begin working from home. What we didn’t know then, but do now, is that abrupt departure from the office was actually our entrance into a profoundly different era of work.

“What had been up to that point a slow and steady movement by inches towards digital workplace maturity over years became a movement of miles, practically overnight,” said Sarah Kimmel, vice president of research at Simpler Media Group. And all things considered, the transition went pretty smoothly.

In this podcast conversation, Sarah unpacks the results of her research into the state of the digital workplace pre- and post-COVID, and the tools and technologies that are making this new era of work a reality. 

Plus, podcast co-hosts Mike Prokopeak and Siobhan Fagan talk about how Reworked was started and what exactly we mean when we talk about the digital workplace. Our new reality of remote work fueled the acceleration of the digital workplace and it's not done yet.

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Show Notes

Research Report: 2020 State of the Digital Workplace Report: Q3 Edition

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Mike Prokopeak: Thank you for joining us for Get Reworked where you're going to hear from the business leaders revolutionizing the way we work. We're going to be diving deep into the workplace technologies, practices and strategies at the heart of digital transformation. I'm Mike Prokopeak, editor in chief at Reworked.co, and I am joined by my co-host and fellow editor on Reworked, Siobhan Fagan. Welcome, Siobhan.

Siobhan Fagan: Hey Mike, thanks for having me.

Mike: It's great to be here for our first podcast. I think it's pretty important at this point that we talk a little bit about what Reworked is. We're calling it the digital brand that is focused on the revolution or evolution of work. While I'm a relative newcomer to the brand — I joined in June — and the brand itself only started in April, Siobhan, you were there from the beginning when the idea was hatched out of the greater Simpler Media Group, which is our parent company. So tell us a little bit about that beginning. Where and when did the idea for this brand of reworked to cover the revolution/evolution of work, where did that start?

Siobhan: When the publisher of Simpler Media Group, Brice Dunwoodie, launched his first site, CMSWire, back in 2003, it was devoted to topics about CMSs, content management systems. And over the years as it grew its coverage and areas that it was looking into started growing with it. So it expanded past that initial content management system area. It was a logical progression and we started covering what was then known as Enterprise 2.0, to some people, social business. Years pass, the digital workplace name starts getting passed around so we moved over from social business to digital workplace. And it just started becoming very obvious that this was an area that deserved its own platform, its own publication and a dedicated staff to it. And so I think that is a safe bet of where it came from. I can't pinpoint it to a specific day but that was the genesis story.

Mike: It's probably incumbent on us right now to talk a little bit about that digital workplace because that really is the center point for the conversations we're going to be having with this podcast and that are happening on our website and through our different coverage venues when we're covering the evolution of work.

What exactly is the digital workplace? As you mentioned, it was at one point, social business. Now we're talking about digital workplace. I was attending an event last week where somebody was talking about the idea of work tech, that technology should really be deeply integrated into how we do work. It's no longer like you go outside of your day-to-day work to engage with a technology tool and then come back into your regular work. Everything is sort of integrated into that and I think that's really what the digital workplace is about. Now, as you think about what the digital workplace is how would you define it, Siobhan?

Siobhan: It's a tough one. It's used in many different formats but I like to think of it as that old triumvirate: the people, processes and tools. So you can't just look at it from the technology angle, which obviously is a huge part of it. It's enabling all of us to work from home right now. It eased the transition into our current situation greatly but you can't remove the processes from that picture or the people, the people have to always come first and foremost. So for me, a really simplified version is the combination of people processes and technology, all working together to get work done.

Mike: Yeah, I'm pretty proud to say that we've gotten through the first few minutes without actually mentioning COVID. Because that actually is something that is unavoidable in just about every conversation, but we're going to come to it now because we cannot avoid the fact that a pandemic means that everybody in the world is affected by it. But when it comes to the digital workplace, you talked about the rise of remote work, you talked about some of the enabling technologies that are enabling us to get through this extremely challenging time. But a lot of the themes that were behind the digital workplace were already in place.

And in fact, our first guest for the podcast is going to be helping us to pick some of those apart and talk about how they've been advanced. But you know, if you step back away from the pandemic for a second, what are some of the themes that you see were arising from this period, even before this happened, that were driving digital workplace?

Siobhan: Even before this, most modern businesses could not function the way that they used to without digitalizing a lot of their processes, without turning to the tools to speed the collaboration, the innovation, all of the different ways that people work now. We're no longer working on factory lines. I mean, some people are, but even those people have their device in their pocket where they're receiving the information from the front office through either their employee app or their intranet on their mobile phone. So because everything has sped up so much, not having those tools is an impediment.

Mike: And I think what's really impressive, what's really jarring about the last few months is since March, when folks were going into the office and then suddenly the next day, they were at home, at the kitchen table, wherever they are doing work and have been there in most cases since, that we've gone through just this massive transformation of work. And yes, it is by and large digital work but I think some of the themes that are arising out of that are the fact that this is the future of how we work. This is what we can expect. And I think that we've gone through this with a long enough time frame now that we can expect that we've got new habits in place.

I look at for example at my brother-in-law who was always an “office guy,” gets in on Monday and couldn't wait to talk about what was happening in the football game the day before or liked that social aspect of it. And within the first few weeks of working from home, he was more than willing to say, “You know what, I don't really miss it. I don't know that I ever need to go back.” I think, anecdotally, we're seeing a lot of change coming about in people's attitudes about work. Are you seeing similar things anecdotally in your own experience?

Siobhan: Yeah, I would say that the general consensus among my friends and family, those who are able to work from home — although I do have a fair amount who do still have to go into a physical workplace but that's specific to their roles and their jobs — but most of them were quite welcoming of the ability to work from home. I think it busted some of the myths about what people do when they work from home. We're not all taking naps and eating bon-bons and catching up on Netflix. That it was possible to be productive during this time period ...

Mike: And although many of us are still wearing our pajamas, but you can be productive in pajamas.

Siobhan: You can be very ... you know a good loose waistband can't be denied. But I think that a big change also, and this is more from the editing that I've done and conversations I've had, has been going on with leadership. And leadership realizing that a lot of the fears that they previously had about working from home, they were baseless.

Mike: Face time is actually just that — it's face time. It's not necessary, in many cases for efficiency, productivity. And in fact what we may be seeing is that it actually gets in the way of us being productive.

Siobhan: Not that there's anything wrong with a little face time.

Mike: I think we're starting to see the pendulum swing a little bit on that.

So we're talking a lot about stories and anecdotally what we're seeing as we're going out and writing and interviewing folks about what's happening in the world of work but that is significantly different from hard data. And that's actually where we're going to be bringing in our first guest to somebody who's going to be bringing the receipts, so to speak, from a data perspective.

So I'm especially excited to bring in our guest Sarah Kimmel, vice president of research at Simpler Media Group. Editorial disclaimer, Simpler Media Group's research group is affiliated with Reworked and therefore the data that we're going to be sharing is ours here and Sarah works as part of our team on Reworked. With that, I'm pretty excited to start digging into some of the research that we've seen around the digital workplace and have Sarah do that. So, Siobhan, are you ready to dig in?

Siobhan: I am so ready.

Mike: Alright, let's Get Reworked. Sarah Kimmel, welcome to our first podcast.

Sarah Kimmel: Thank you, Mike. Happy to be here.

Mike: So as I was just mentioning, we're talking anecdotally a lot about the digital workplace. And I'm excited to have you here because you actually are doing real research on this. But before we dive into some of your research, tell us a little bit about you and what drew you into being a researcher. You worked at Accenture for quite a while doing analysis, you and I were co-workers at a former workplace, Human Capital Media, where we collaborated on a lot of research in the talent, corporate learning and development and human resources spaces. What drew you into this field of work?

Sarah: Believe it or not, it's gonna sound strange but it was the complexity. My background and my educational background is almost all in social science. And research like this is basically social science. The thing about social systems is that things are all connected. There's a lot of nuance. People are complicated, and people in groups and systems are even more complicated. And when you get to people interacting with technology, in groups and in systems, it's positively Byzantine. So I love questions. And the beautiful thing about this kind of research is that no matter how much you learn there are always more questions. I don't think I've ever done a study where I didn't have more questions coming out of it than I had going into it. There's always more to learn. And that's really what makes this rewarding for me.

Mike: That was a great answer. But I just gotta say, the fact that you brought in the word Byzantine already, in just the first few minutes of our podcast, I'm really impressed. Siobhan, are you?

Siobhan: She's already elevated the bar here, I'm gonna have to get a thesaurus for our next episode.

Mike: Well, yeah, so we talk about research in a very abstract way. And you mentioned that your background is in social science research. What do you think is something that people actually misunderstand based on their perceptions of what research is and in particular, social science research? What are some of the things that you often see as misunderstandings about the work that you do?

Sarah: I would say that the biggest misunderstanding is that there's always a simple answer to the questions that they have. So from the beginning of my career, the pressure has always been to make things easier and simpler and easier to understand. And I have a lot of sympathy for that position. People are really busy, understanding complex things takes a lot of effort.

But at the same time, if you don't allow some space for the complexity that actually exists out there, then you end up making flawed decisions. So my answer to this is that the best way to bridge that gap is to use narrative. So data work at the end of the day is a lot of storytelling. And the biggest misunderstanding of all is that this work is all math.

But in reality, it's half math and half storytelling. You could run all of the equations and algorithms and have all of your percentages. But if you can't communicate it out to people in a way that makes it comprehensible and actionable then it doesn't actually make any difference.

Mike: Alright, so let's dig in to our digital workplace research. So as a little bit of a background, we've done two studies on the state of the digital workplace this year. And interestingly, one of them was completed in early March, just before COVID shut down many of our workplaces in what we thought would just be a few weeks or maybe a couple months, and is in fact turning out in many cases to be more like a year. So there, our first study was completed then. So it gives us a little bit of a snapshot of where the world was just pre-COVID. And then, Sarah, you just completed another research study that was released in October. That is an analysis of many of those same questions that we were asking but actually giving us a snapshot of what's changed. So we've got a really interesting picture here of the world of work and the state of the digital workplace just before COVID and then the state of work a few months later. So as you look at the big picture of those two studies, what are some of the things that stand out to you the most about the digital workplace?

Sarah: The first thing is that there's been a really radical change in the workplace. And that may seem really obvious to say that, of course, it's changed. But the change is quite profound. What had been up to that point, a slow and steady movement by inches towards digital workplace maturity over years became a movement of miles practically overnight.

And by far, the biggest surprise is that it happened without being a disaster. Organizations are actually feeling very, very good about how they handled the transition. They're feeling very proud of it.

And I'll start throwing out a couple of numbers here, 59% of them said that they were extremely satisfied with their organization’s shift to remote work and an additional 35% say they were moderately satisfied. So that's 94% of organizations feeling pretty good about how they handled the transition to digital workplace.

And we asked them also how did it play out on the ground, and only 2% said it was chaotic. And 20% said it was a little fitful, their approach had been kind of reactive but the remainder said that the transition had been smooth or iterative, that they had been able to improve on their transition little by little.

So the biggest surprise is that this actually went pretty well, all things considered, by no means that worst case scenario that many people might have expected.

Mike: And this is probably a good point to jump in and talk about who we're researching. Can you give us an idea of who's answering these questions because that might paint or color a little bit of the way we look at this?

Sarah: Sure. So we're talking to business leaders pretty much at director level and above, people who handle digital workplace for their organization, people who are on the HR side who are frequently handling the people side of digital workplace. That's kind of the core group of people that we are serving every year about this.

Siobhan: Sarah, that's a really interesting point that everybody felt so great about how they handled this but it raises the question, how were they doing before this? In the March study, did you see anything that maybe would have predicted this outcome?

Sarah: Absolutely, and a really good point. In fact, I'm going to go not just to March but I'm going to go to the year before. From 2019 to March of 2020, there was in fact already some movement towards digital workplace maturity. So there was a rise from 2019 of 8 percentage points in those who said that their digital workplace was mature. So some considerable effort had clearly been made in increasing digital workplace maturity before the pandemic. So in March, another 36% said that their digital workplace maturity was about midway. And that was an increase from 2019 of 9 percentage points.

So the pre-COVID story is that digital workplace maturity was already increasing. When you put those numbers together, in 2019 39% of organizations said that they were either mature or about midway. In March of 2020, just before COVID hit, that percentage had risen to 58%. So this helps to explain the smoothness that organizations are describing in their transition into digital workplace in March. So they were better prepared than they had ever been.

Siobhan: There was a great anecdote that came up in the report that I was hoping you might be able to share that sort of speaks to this where it was the case study from Aberdeen. And he was discussing how quickly they were able to do the turnaround after discussing the measures that they took for over a year, sort of like the COVID crisis forced them to pull the Band Aid off.

Sarah: So what we actually kind of see in the data is three very distinct groups. And the first group is about the top 25%. And as you say, there was this group of organizations that had been preparing pretty hardcore and working on their digital workplace plan for years in some instances. And when you start looking at how those organizations describe the transition that they went through, they're basically saying, “Hey, no problem, we transitioned right over, we had everything in place, we had all the technologies we needed, our people knew what to do, they had already been interacting in a digital environment. No problem for us.”

Then you have this bigger group in the middle. And what they say is, we had some of this in place. And what we did was we scaled it as fast as we could, we rolled out some enablement for our employees to help them use the technologies and come up to speed a little bit faster. We had to iterate on what we were doing and get a little bit better as we went.

And then there's another group, probably the 25% on the other side of this equation, that were not prepared. They didn't have the technologies in place, they hadn't been running any kind of these platforms, or they didn't have processes in place. For them, it was a either a much rougher transition, a little bit more chaotic, a little bit more reactive, where they were kind of putting out fires and solving problems as they went.

So that's what it looks like when you're looking at what happened in the broader picture.

Mike: Necessity is the mother of invention for that group of folks that you just mentioned, Sarah, who are in the bottom quartile of preparedness for this. But you heard a lot of them talk about the first phase of the pandemic and how that changed their work and how it was really about business sustainment. It was how do we keep business operations just going, let alone how do we actually be more productive and thrive. It was really just figuring out how do we make work, work still.

Maybe pulling back from the data a little bit, a question for you, Sarah, and Siobhan would love to hear your point of view on this, too. We talked about how this was a necessary thing to make all this change happen, that we shoehorned in years of digital transformation and change management efforts into literally a process of just a few weeks. How much time would it have taken otherwise for us to really get to this point that we're now at. Sarah, what are your thoughts there?

Sarah: I'm not sure that I can give a definitive answer about how long it would have taken. But I mean, I can estimate given how quickly the digital workplace maturity had been growing year on year for the last couple of years and I would estimate to get to where we are right now.

So to be clear, when we repeated our study in August, after five months of COVID response, what we found is that that group of people that was 58% of organizations in March who said that they were mature or halfway, it went from 58% to 77% in five months. Now, we're over three in four organizations are either mature or halfway with their digital workplace.

And in fact, the most amazing thing is that there's no one left who says that they haven't started yet, everyone else says we're at an early phase. That's a pretty profound shift in a really short period of time. And to go from 58 to 77%, that would probably have taken another three years, maybe more because you could certainly make the argument that the cultural barriers that were in place, some of the cross functional collaboration where that cross functional collaboration was a little rocky, that the experience of the pandemic and the necessity, as you say, of collaborating just to remain in business really swept away a lot of those roadblocks that existed before in this big one fell swoop, whereas overcoming those roadblocks might have taken several more years.

Siobhan: People have been talking about working in this style now for over 20 years. And while nobody would wish for another pandemic to sort of force the hand of businesses, this really was the catalyst. And when given no choice, as Sarah says, every business is now somewhere on the road to digital workplace implementation. It's unfortunate that it took this but I do think that it will profoundly change the way that businesses work moving forward even should they choose to go back to the office.

Mike: And want to move us into the next thing we want to ask you about, Sarah, which is digital workplace technology tools. Because what really strikes me here is the tools were ready for the moment when this happened. I mean, yes, Zoom was around when we suddenly had to do video conference calls and Microsoft Teams was available. It was actually already rolled out in many large organizations. The tools were there for the moment. I don't think we could have said that 10 years ago that we would have been able to have done this. But the evolution of the technologies and tools kind of allowed us to make that transition a little bit smoother.

Sarah, from our research, what are people saying about the tools and technologies that they're using now in the digital workplace? Are they fairly pleased?

Sarah: They are pleased and you said, 10 years ago, we might not have been able to make this transition. And in fact, what I would say from our data is that in 2019, we would not have been able to make this smooth of a transition.

One of the really big shifts between 2019 and 2020 is that organizations reported a really remarkable increase in the effectiveness of their digital workplace tools. And for some of those tools, it was more than a 20 percentage point increase in organizations who said that their tools were working well. So that's part of the story about the smoothness of this transition.

In our post-COVID data set, what we primarily see is that organizations leaned hard on the technologies that they already had. They scaled technologies they had already been using in a more limited way, or they accelerated timelines on implementing things that they had already been planning to roll out.

So they improvised wildly using whatever they had available to make it work. What they didn't do a lot of was implement wholly new technologies to help deal with the transition to digital workplace. They were really using things that they already had on hand.

Siobhan: One thing that I did notice, while those numbers were great and I remember the numbers from 2019 were really sad, but that email still was the most well-rated tool of all of them. And that still shows that there's definitely a pretty big room for improvement when email is the most valued and most valuable tool in the workplace. Would you agree, Mike?

Mike: I love email.

Siobhan: Says everyone ...

Mike: Unfortunately, when I say email it's also like task list, daily management tool. Everything lives within it which is not a productive way to use email.

Siobhan: I just wanted to point that out because I saw that and I saw the lift and I was like, “Yay.” And then I saw email up top and I was like, “Oh.”

Mike: If we want to look bright side there, that indicates at least to me and Sarah, love your point of view on this, that there's still room for a lot of growth and satisfaction there. Because you're right, email is not a productivity tool. It's a communication tool that is being superseded in a lot of cases by Slack and other platforms that make real-time communication a lot more efficient and effective and scalable.

Siobhan: You can say it, Mike, it's where communications go to die.

Mike: Yes. Sarah, do you still see room for growth in people’s satisfaction with the tools? I mean, is what the research is showing really just relief that we made it so far?

Sarah: There's definitely some relief that we made it. But there's still plenty of room for growth. When I say that effectiveness, that feeling that organizations had that their tools were working well had increased by 20 percentage points, they were increasing them from some pretty low numbers. So there's still plenty of headway there for those tools to increase.

One thing I will say about something like email is that it's been around for a really, really long time. And those are always the technologies that everyone is more likely to say, “Oh, it's working well, or it's great, or, you know, we really lean on it.” The longer it's been around, the more people are likely to say that it's working well. So some of those newer technologies, part of the issue there is that a lot of them just haven't been adopted yet by the great mass of organizations, things like AI or machine learning or project management.

I remember looking at the data on the percentage of organizations that had adopted project management platforms and you would think that would be really high, you know, everyone's got to be productive and organize their work but it's actually under 50% of organizations even now that have adopted a project management software.

Siobhan: That's a great point. So I mean, it's easy to rag on email, but at the end of the day, email does have certain things right. I mean, you can send an email to anybody at any company as long as they have an email address. The same can't be said for Slack or a Teams message. A lot of these collaboration platforms are just now figuring out how to bring in external collaborators, which is such an important part of so many of our businesses.

Sarah: People lean on what's familiar too, especially in a crisis. They're going to turn to like what they know works, in a certain sense. So that's one of the things that we saw happen during the COVID crisis is that organizations turned to what they already had. And they turned to what they knew, and figured out a way to cobble everything together and make it all work. And there's nothing wrong with that. Certainly, that's exactly what you want during a crisis.

One of the things that we did see, though, in some of the comments from the respondents was that they have started to think a little bit longer term about this digital transformation for their organization. They might need to think it through more strategically, have a more robust strategy and address some of the places where the tools and technology or even the people enablement that they have might be falling a little bit short.

Mike: All right, Sarah, we're still talking about the development of technology. And I think one of the things that it really comes down to as we look ahead is where the money is, where people are spending money.

There's never enough money to go around. People who take surveys can talk in great detail about their plans and dreams for what they would like to do and what they see as the priorities. But what really matters is spending and where their budget dollars are going. Can you talk a little bit about how you've seen spending plans shift and change in the time between our two surveys?

Sarah: Yeah, so budget constraints are an issue. And in fact, it's the top issue.

Right now, 41% of organizations say that budget constraints are their top digital workplace challenge. And that's up 8% since March. By the way, budget constraints were the top challenge in March as well. It's just that not as many organizations said that it was a serious challenge for them.

So one of the things that we also saw is that almost everything actually became more of a challenge, because almost everyone was doing more with digital workplace. So those challenges were more likely to arise. But budget is an issue. And it is a bigger issue than it was in March.

So there have been a couple of ways that organizations have responded to the budget constraints. We did ask them really specifically what happened with your budget because of COVID? Did it get put on hold completely? Did you move money around? Did you invest a little bit more in things you had already been invested in? Or did you invest in new technologies that you needed?

And the answer is a little bit of all of the above. There was a group you know, in the 20-22% range, who said that all their budgets were on hold. They were not able to invest in anything new because of the pandemic and the uncertainty with customers and with revenue, everything was frozen. But that wasn't the majority of organizations by any means.

Most organizations, what they said, was that they had actually increased spending in areas that they were already investing. So if they had been using a digital workplace tool in a limited way, chances are excellent that they increased spending in that area to scale that tool for the whole enterprise.

There were also a big chunk of organizations who said that they had moved their money around so many organizations found that things that they had invested in or things that they already had in their budget were no longer even remotely relevant to anything. The pandemic had utterly changed the landscape to the degree that some of the things they had been planning to invest in, were no longer viable. So some of the budget got moved around to places where it needed to be in order to keep business running.

So it's a complex answer here. But what I will say is, in order to keep things going, it was pretty clear that people made the case that the investments that they needed, and the tools and technologies and in some cases, even the training or enablement for their workforce that they needed, that budget was available, money was found from somewhere else or there was just a little bit more investment in things that they were already investing in. There were organizations that had to cut all their funding altogether. And this may be a temporary hold as well. That's one of the open questions that's still remaining.

Mike: And we're seeing this from the companies that are serving large enterprises, that this has actually been a time of massive growth for many of them. And we're not just talking about Zoom or Microsoft who in many cases companies were already using and just decided to pour in more or expand their use of.

There are niche vendors, too. We talked a little bit about the learning market. So, learning experience platforms, for example, have seen just absolutely massive growth. Online learning course providers have seen some incredible growth and investment over this period of time. So there's a lot of growth that's happening as far as where companies are spending money.

But it does come down to priorities and what's important for you. Maybe we're a little bit on the edge right now, in the sense of we're beyond that business sustainment phase. And now it's kind of like, okay, where are we going next? Are we ready to invest in growth as enterprises? And what do we invest in to to get there?

Siobhan, do you have a similar feeling that we're at a tipping point when it comes to the tools and technologies that companies are using and spending on?

Siobhan: Yeah, I think that Sarah brought up a great point as far as businesses getting out of that panic mode of getting it done when they first moved in. And what we've seen over the last few months is a time for businesses to step back, assess the situation, figure out what worked, what didn't work. And that includes tools, processes, culture, communications, and start being more thoughtful and deliberate about creating a strategy and also introducing some governance to a lot of different areas that had not had it previously.

Mike: So this is getting us a little bit into what's been happening behind the scenes when it comes to investment in tools and technologies. And of course, COVID has been the thing that's dominated a lot of that conversation but there are longer term things and trends that are happening behind the scenes.

And, Sarah, we may diverge a little bit from the data and the research here. But I would love to have you jump in if you've got a data point that might be able to illustrate or round out our conversation there. Siobhan, from your point of view, you talked a little bit about governance and those sort of things. What are some of the trends that are driving growth of the digital workplace that are not COVID, for example?

Siobhan: I think that a lot of it has to do with the customer side of things. So businesses have to respond in much faster time frames than they previously had to. The planning out the marketing plan a year in advance and having it set and then just running it without responding to current events is no longer an option. So this is where we start seeing those connections between the internal tools that businesses are using in order to deliver those experiences, for lack of a better term, to the customers.

And those interactions are constantly needed to be refreshed, rethought, revised. So this was already happening. And this has been happening for a few years now. It's a big push towards moving towards a more agile workplace, part of which is introducing more digital tools. So that to me is a big one. How about you?

Mike: And I think employee experience, too, is one of those bigger trends. This has been happening for a while. It kind of grew out of the user experience movement, which again was very correlated with the customer experience movement that we've seen. But that conversation has shifted as employees have come to expect the same level of tools, functionality, ease of use in their work tools that they get from their “secular lives.” So I think it's really important to bring up employee experience. Sarah, do we have any data around employee experience in our survey? I seem to remember that we talked a little bit about who's owning it within the enterprise. And is there something that you can add to that part of it?

Sarah: I can add a little bit about who's owning it, which is that it's kind of a big open question mark. No clear answer if you were to wave the magic 8 ball. At the moment, it's either a very distributed ownership of the employee experience across the organization, or it's whoever has grabbed it and is finding it a useful construct at the moment.

That's, I would say, one of the challenges going forward is to define where does employee experience live for the modern enterprise? Who does own it because when things are not owned or at least don't have a shared responsibility in different functions in the organization, there's not a lot of movement that's going to happen there that's productive.

Siobhan: That's an interesting point, though, Sarah, because do you think it has to be the same department or departments owning employee experience for each organization? Or does it just matter that there is somebody taking that ownership,

Sarah: I would lean toward the latter. It doesn't necessarily always have to be HR or doesn't have to be the executive leadership team or somebody like that, or even a CIO or a chief technology officer. It doesn't need to live in one place everywhere.

But I do think that someone in each organization has to own it and has to be responsible for moving the needle there. Where you will see similarity across organizations will be in what those levers are that lead to improvement. I think that in in a lot of different organizations, you'll probably see the same kinds of interventions lead to progress and improvement and employee experience. But there may be a lot of differences between organizations in who's leading that effort.

Mike: You mentioned giant question marks and employee experience and how that is governed and carried out is one question. The future state of our work right now, where many of us are remote and distributed is another giant question mark. Many organizations were thinking that they would be back to normal, back in the office over the summer. And that extended into the fall and in many cases, and now extending into February, March of 2021. That window for when things are going to be back to office or what that's going to look like is expanding, it's growing, it's still open. What did our research show around the future state of work, of planning to return to office?

Sarah: It's early. It's also pretty clear, though, that we're looking at an utterly changed landscape.

So we did ask organizations what the mix of remote and distributed workforce will look like after the pandemic is completely over. And only 3% of them anticipate a complete return to a pre-COVID state and in-person workplace. Only 3%.

Five percent say that they have permanently shifted to a completely digital workplace and they won't be going back at all. 55% say that they anticipate a substantial increase in remote working even after the pandemic is over. And the remaining 28% say that they'll see a slight increase in remote working, but most people will go back to the office.

So that's 60%. You know, when you take the 5% that have shifted completely to a digital workplace, and the 55%, who anticipate a substantial increase in remote working. Sixty percent of their workforce will have shifted very substantially towards a digital workplace. I can't even completely wrap my head around the enormity of a shift like that.

Mike: And that's still speculative, too. I mean, the reality might be even larger as we start to grapple with the reality of how this continues to play out.

Sarah: Absolutely. For complete transparency, it's also possible that we'll get to the other side of the pandemic, everyone will be so happy to go back to the office. I'm just saying, it's a possibility, that everyone will want to put it behind them, get back to the workplace and get back to normal. So we could see less of a shift. But it doesn't look that way. It looks like organizations now that they've gotten to the other side of this are really seeing the value of it.

Siobhan: Sarah, when you were doing this question, do you know or did you get a sense if any of the businesses were consulting with their employees about what their preferences were? Or were these decisions being made from above?

Sarah: I don't have specific data on this. However, I have been hearing quite a lot. Some of them are asking their employees about their preferences and hearing really interesting things that surprised them as well.

I have heard some organizations say that people are pretty happy about this. They're entirely thrilled to continue remote working but they have some challenges. One of them is just your work-from-home office space is not as great as your in-person office experience. Things as simple as a really nice chair or a standing desk or a really big monitor so that you can see your entire team on your Zoom calls. Things like that, I think, that you'll see some shifts in how organizations are addressing some of the challenges that are still there. But it is kind of looking like organizations are hearing those concerns from their employees, Siobhan.

Siobhan: Yeah, I think that another big one that is not necessarily directly related to the workplace but when the people working from home don't have their kids doing gym class on a Zoom call in the next room might be a changing factor. When the kids actually can go back to school, we actually will get a better picture even than before of how well people can work from home.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Mike: I can speak from firsthand experience on that question, Siobhan. The first time I heard PE class going on next door to me in the office was a bit of a shocker. We might have actually been on a staff meeting when it was happening. And that was when I was like, OK, this reality at some point has to come to a close.

Siobhan: Yeah, I can say when I heard that a PE teacher was assigning reports that made me scratch my head. But that's going down a rabbit hole.

Mike: Yeah, there's lots of rabbit holes we can go there. To bring things to a close, Sarah, you mentioned a couple things that we're starting to see or that are open questions out of this research. And you're going to be doing this research again in the coming year. What are some of those unanswered questions that you're really interested in exploring about the digital workplace?

Sarah: So I'm fascinated by a lot of things. I said at the beginning that you always have more questions at the end that you had at the beginning. And I think that a lot of the things I'm personally interested in are, as organizations are looking at an altered workplace completely, What are they thinking about in terms of their strategy going forward to address this changed reality?

And in particular, how do they maintain professional networks inside of a digital workplace? How are they going to do that? And that's incredibly critical for their leadership development. So how do they still grow their leadership pipeline and make sure that their leaders are being connected to other leaders and to each other in a big professional network across their organization? How do they do that in a digital environment, when you know people really don't want to linger on zoom for a half an hour after a call, just chatting with each other the way that they would at a conference or something like that.

So big challenge there with networking, and Siobhan mentioned culture. How do you maintain thriving organizational culture when you're in a digital space. It's a lot easier to do in an in-person environment. We all have the tools to naturally enable our culture and to support it in an in-person environment. But you have to be a lot more deliberate about those things in an online environment.

And then I also have questions about diversity and inclusion. Really interesting to see, do we see a more inclusive environment when everyone is online, when we get a little bit of distance in the workplace or do some of the biases that people have harden? Do we just see a replication of the same biases in an online environment? Absolutely fascinated to know that.

Mike: A lot of really interesting questions that we need to explore because we are going through this massive transformation at work and are still looking to see where this is headed. And I think some of those questions you just asked, Sarah, are going to be key to that future.

Alright with that, I want to say thank you to our first Get Reworked podcast guest, so thank you so much, Sarah Kimmel, for joining us today.

Sarah: My pleasure. Thanks, Mike for having me.

Mike: And Siobhan, this is our first one. Congratulations. We got it done.

I'm going to provide a link in our show notes to a lot of the things that we talked about as well as some articles from Reworked that are related to this, but primarily a link to the research so that you can go and download it and check it out for yourself. So please be sure to do that.

I want to say thank you to everyone who is joining us and listening to us today. If you like what you hear, be sure to give us a review on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to send us a note at [email protected] if you have an idea for a guest or just want to reach out and say hello.

Today's episode of Get Reworked is produced by Jennifer Nelson and Jessie McQuarters at Audiodentity. You can find them online at audiodentity.com. Follow us online at reworked.co. Thanks again for joining us and be sure to join us for our next episode.

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