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How the Digital Workplace Is Becoming More Human-Centered

January 03, 2022 Digital Workplace
David Roe
By David Roe

As we enter a new year and look at the state of the digital workplace, it is clear there have been significant changes in the way we work that will carry us forward and shape the workplace of the future.

And despite attempts by pundits to identify trends that can sum up the changes that are taking place and where that will lead us from here, new practices and technologies are forcing a continuous reassessment of what the digital workplace is all about.

Amid COVID and the Great Resignation, one thing has become clear: Employees have the upper hand. There's a pronounced skills shortage in cutting-edge technologies that is frustrating attempts by leadership to gain a competitive edge by deploying the newest applications and platforms.

Employees Want More From Their Companies

But it goes further than that, said Dom Price, work futurist at Sydney, Australia-based software firm Atlassian. Employees worldwide are redefining what matters most to them as they demand business leaders take a more comprehensive view of their well-being and act on the issues that impact their daily lives, families and communities.

"Leaders have been touting that people are their biggest asset for years, yet data from the recent State of Teams study shows we are far from delivering on our promises," he said. With 82 percent of teams in the US either already experiencing a lack of team resources or trending that way, people are crying out for more from teams and leaders.

The consequences of inaction are real. According to Atlassian’s Return on Action Report, more than a third of employees (38 percent) will quit their job if the values of their employer do not align with their own. Enterprises may, therefore, stand to gain from using the "forced experiment" of the past 18 months to build a better new normal centered around unleashing the potential of their people.

In Price's view, employees need psychological safety, purpose, reliable rituals and strong empathetic leadership to thrive and reach their full potential. "When we start doing that, we’ll build highly effective sustainable teams,” he said.

Related Article: Keeping Humanity at the Center of Technology

How the Digital Workplace Is Becoming More Human

It goes even further than that. There are numerous ways the workplace has changed in recent months, and many of them are driven by the need to meet the human, rather than the technology, needs of the digital workplace.

Here are five ways companies are humanizing their increasingly digital workplace:

1. Incentivizing Employees

At least for the foreseeable future, incentivizing and giving employees a chance to grow will remain one of the core shifts in the digital workplace — and something that preceded COVID-19. In the age of the Great Resignation, companies are beginning to pull out all the stops to retain talent and encourage employees to upskill, said Danielle Phaneuf, partner for cloud and digital strategy at Big Four consultancy PwC.

The younger workforce isn’t as excited about traditional incentives, such as receiving a bonus for completing trainings, she said. Rather, organizations need to provide a variety of career growth opportunities and present upskilling options for employees to try new roles. In the process, businesses need to make sure incentives don’t lead to learning for learning’s sake, and Phaneuf advises companies to give employees a way to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

As the battle for talent rages on, employers must also be as purposeful about replicating the human experience digitally as they are about replicating the work digitally, said Michael Pryor, co-founder and head of Trello, a project management software platform owned by Atlassian.

VR and the metaverse will present massive opportunities to digitize precious in-person time and create a sense of connection, but until these technologies become as ubiquitous as the internet, companies must be just as intentional about bringing their teams together in the virtual world as they are in reality.

Purpose and execution matter equally in the success of both. Alternatively, when the opportunity presents itself for teams to gather in-person, employers are strongly advised to avoid using that precious time to do work. The best collaboration emerges from trust, and this is fostered through shared experience. Invest in fun activities that facilitate organic conversation and build psychological safety.

Related Article: Do You Understand Why Your Employees Are Leaving?

2. Reskilling and Upskilling

Reskilling and upskilling opportunities will remain key tools for employee retention and engagement, especially with attracting top IT talent, said Thomas Wythe, CIO at Australia-based e-learning platform Go1.

Even prior to the shift to a hybrid work environment, companies were facing stiff competition in hiring top technical talent. With the increasing adoption of emerging technologies, demand has intensified.

The pressure is on CIOs and IT to remain agile and relevant in a digital-first workplace. Rather than solely investing in recruitment, successful organizations recognize that the most sustainable path is in retaining talent through relevant, flexible, accessible training to enhance and empower.

From a CIO perspective, change management, problem-solving and cross-communication are some of the most sought-after skills. From an IT worker's point of view, the focus is on digital readiness — collaboration, workplace productivity and social/video/new media that is business-facing.

Related Article: Professional Learning Is Critical — And In Need of a Refresh 

3. Employee Recognition

The pandemic helped surface a more meaningful side to company culture: Employees today seek recognition and value for their contributions, mainly through purpose, connection and a deeper sense of fulfillment. The demands of workplace culture are more dimensional and nuanced than ever before, especially with the shift to the hybrid/remote model. This will continue in 2022.

CEOs and their leadership teams have a strong say in shaping culture through company-wide initiatives, newly expanded resources and a call for greater employee involvement. Metrics-driven benchmarking of various cultural elements such as organizational alignment is a start, but being personally immersed in a company’s day-to-day initiatives as well as in the community's interests affords a CEO the best opportunity to reconsider current practices. This humanizes the workplace.

4. Intimate Clouds

All of this change is expected to be driven by the cloud. But as companies globally have gone “all in” on cloud, relying on the technology’s promise to increase efficiency and profitability, the way the cloud is used will change, said Jenny Koehler, US cloud and digital leader at PwC, shifting from efficiency to intimacy.

In 2022, cloud transformations will take on a new role building connectedness and intimacy between customers, employees and business leaders. Organizations will look to the cloud to solve complex challenges but also build trust and identify new opportunities for stakeholders. The real winners will be those who use cloud for intimacy in encouraging high degrees of C-suite engagement, creating implementation roadmaps and establishing thoughtful plans to address talent. 

Related Article: How to Build a Cloud-First Strategy for the Digital Workspace

5. Human-driven Tech Enablement

In 2022, talent will be core to driving enterprise-wide tech enablement. Previous concerns that technologies such as AI and automation would displace jobs have been replaced by one undeniable truth: Talent is crucial for digitization, said Dan Priest, PWC managing partner for cloud and digital.

This will hold true when it comes to tackling the biggest challenges and opportunities leaders are likely to face in the next year: Navigating the massive cloud migration spurred by COVID-19, solving supply chain issues through a digitally intrinsic approach and pivoting toward the subscription economy.

"Deploying a human-centric, experience-driven formula for tech enablement will help companies unlock the value of their cloud investments and actualize its benefits while accelerating individuals’ upskilling journeys, thus creating more value for your business and customers alike," Priest said.

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