The 4 Technologies That Will Make the Digital Workplace Permanent
Not surprisingly, 2021 did not magically usher in wholesale changes to the way the world works overnight. As the coronavirus vaccine gets rolled out across the country at varying speeds, some organizations are dusting off their return-to-work plans. That could include vaccination registries for employees who return to work, among other changes.
As we near the one-year mark of COVID-19’s widespread arrival in the US, there’s also a class of organizations that will be making permanent changes to their workplace. While the examples of technology companies like Twitter and Facebook are often cited, even more traditional companies such as Nationwide Insurance have announced changes, in their case shutting down five regional offices.
The technologies rolled out in the midst of the crisis to cope with the massive shift to work from home will, at least in some cases, shift to allow organizations to thrive digitally rather than simply survive. Gartner’s Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace looked at nearly 40 of them. Here are four that are critical to helping organizations become true digital-first workplaces:
1. Ambient Virtual Meetings
Zoom, Teams and other well-trodden solutions work great in a lot of instances. For example, when there is a single speaker presenting information or when interaction is limited to set speakers giving status updates, it’s an effective solution to connect people digitally. In-person meetings flow differently than this when the goal is collaboration and discussion. While there are many tips and tricks out there to improve the experience, there’s only so much an organization can do to encourage more natural, collaborative meetings.
While early in Gartner’s hype cycle, the idea of ambient virtual meetings have been around for awhile. These new technologies try to more closely mimic an in-person meeting. For example, being able to pick up the cues that someone gives off when they want to talk or more naturally feel the gaze of someone who is addressing you directly are just some of the ways to make virtual meetings feel more natural.
2. Voice of the Employee
Manual and digital employee surveys have been around for a long time but getting informal, in-the-flow-of-work feedback has always been a challenge. Both are critical for getting the true voice of employees. While working in person, you may see that someone is struggling with an aspect of their work and intercept them before they ever get to a survey. In a remote environment, you can find that the survey responses come too late to temper challenges.
New employee voice tools that use other emerging technologies like chatbots are prompting conversations and suggestions that capture the true voice of your employees. While these are no replacement for leadership and management conversations, they can be good first indicators for when something good or bad is happening in real-time, regardless of where a person is working.
Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Employee Program Fit for the Remote Workforce?
3. Digital Experience Monitoring
In the past, organizations might focus their technology monitoring efforts on uptime and application availability. With everyone working on company infrastructure, this was a rough but somewhat effective way of ensuring people had the technology access they needed. Even in this environment, employee-facing application availability and uptime might even be secondary to customer-facing systems.
With people working off their own devices or on their own networks, the experience they have can be very different. Employees may not even know that their experience is different or unexpected because they don’t get to compare notes easily with coworkers. Digital experience monitoring allows organizations to go beyond just rote uptime metrics to understand the different challenges employees are facing as they are accessing critical work tools.
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4. Smart Workspace
Work may start with an email or a chat, but it likely involves other digital applications. Whether it’s collaborating on a project plan or a code update, employees today are in and out of systems. Some of those systems work well together and some have mobile capabilities. But as you switch in and out of them, you begin to experience the issues of these disconnected tools.
Beyond collaboration tools, intranets, chat and document management, bringing all of these together is the goal of smart workspaces. Instead of loading up 18 different apps that work semi-well together, you get a capable tool that reduces technical overhead and employee confusion. Today, many of these tools have capability trade offs but there are emerging platforms that bring many productivity tools together while also reducing costs and complexity.
Related Article: Why Smart Workplaces Are Emerging in the Enterprise
Making Digital Work a Reality
Some of these technologies are available today and some are still early in development. All of them will help usher in an age where employers can make the digital workplace a reality with even fewer downsides than today.
While everyone will take a different approach to rolling out the technologies that are right for their organizations, ensuring a better overall experience should be the first priority for every HR and technology leader.
Whether it’s facilitating more natural conversations, creating more productive ways to work together digitally or just better understanding the employee experience, organizations have the ability to gain more from the stop-gap measures that were needed to move to remote in the first place.
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About the Author
Lance Haun is a leadership and technology columnist for Reworked. He has spent nearly 20 years researching and writing about HR, work and technology.