The State of the Digital Workplace 2 Years Into the Pandemic
Whatever the course of the COVID-19 pandemic from here, it's clear it had a seismic impact on the workplace. Through record-low unemployment before the pandemic to mass layoffs and furloughs and now a struggle to attract and retain employees, organizations have faced a significant challenge: striking the right balance between what leadership wants and what employees demand.
And the effects of the pandemic on the digital workplace are far from over. Soaring technology investments have underscored the value of cloud-based solutions for organizations regardless of sector.
“Tools for collaboration, reporting and analytics, and compliance have been the three most important areas of technology investment, as they enable adaptation to current conditions as well as future changes,” said Evelyn McMullen, human capital management analyst at Boston-based research institute Nucleus Research.
While those investments have led to positive benefits for the organization, much work remains to be done to take full advantage of the rise of digital workplace tools for productivity, collaboration and management.
Digital Documentation Goes Mainstream
The pandemic has significantly accelerated the transition from paper-based processes to digital ones, said Simon Longbottom, vice president of product marketing at Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Sign. He said this will remain a practice not just with remote companies but also across hybrid or in-person organizations.
The reason is simple: Companies have experienced time, cost and satisfaction benefits from digitizing and streamlining document-heavy processes. They've also reduced the burden on customers and employees to carry out mundane, paper-based tasks such as filling out loan agreements, healthcare registration forms and business contracts. Organizations now rely on digital document management and e-signatures to keep business going — and customers have come to expect the practicality and added convenience from the process.
A 2021 Adobe survey found that more than a quarter (27 percent) of Americans electronically signed a document for the first time in 2020. The applications were also varied, from business contracts and healthcare registration forms to loan agreements, employment contracts and parental consent forms. At Adobe, this resulted in 17-times growth in the number of digitally signed agreements on its platform over the past two years.
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Pandemic-Fueled Digital Workplace Productivity Gains at Risk
A recent Adaptavist study of 1,600 workers in the US and 4,000 workers globally found that half of workers want to continue working from home post-pandemic. Yet, the same proportion also expressed growing frustration over the tools and technologies there were provided.
Six out of 10 US respondents said the pandemic required their company to adopt new tools to enable the work-from-home environment, but the chosen solutions proved to be less than what was desired. More than a third (36 percent) said they'd like access to better tools and software to accommodate their remote work requirements, ahead of the number who said they'd like training and learning opportunities (32 percent).
This frustration is potentially damaging to productivity. Melanie Lougee, head of employee workflow strategy at Santa Clara, Calif-based ServiceNow, said the workplace is evolving into an event center, where employees are logging in from different locations, time zones and devices to collaborate and brainstorm.
In a digital workplace, she said, technology needs to help employees connect to create positive and productive work experiences. And this doesn't stop at remote work. For example, as organizations embrace hybrid work, many employees hired during the pandemic — and even those hired pre-pandemic — may be unfamiliar with office layouts. Indoor mapping technology can help employees find their way around the office, like Google Maps helps you get from point A to point B.
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Managers Need to Shift Focus to Culture and Coaching
Employee priorities are shifting too, and so is the role of the manager. Some employees are prioritizing their mental health and well-being and looking for companies with strong environmental, social and governance initiatives over those that provide a bigger paycheck.
That focus on corporate values means leaders also need to shift their messaging and offering. Managers today must balance team culture with driving deadlines, all the while providing improved learning, upskilling opportunities and career advancement.
“As managers evolve into a coach and career advisor, technology that helps them personalize learning and growth opportunities to ensure employees feel supported in a role will be critical,” Lougee said. “Technology that delivers in-moment learning to employees can supplement the training and resources managers are providing to empower employees, directly in the flow of their work.”
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More Need to Integrate Data Into Collaboration Platforms
The pandemic also revealed the cracks in organizations’ communications and collaboration capabilities. COVID forced an immediate response due to the urgency of the issue and the need to better equip teams working remotely, said Scott Francis, technology evangelist at Fujitsu Computer Products of America.
While tools like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams that allow employees to connect in real time are invaluable, deeper integration with enterprise content management and document capture systems is necessary. This raises the bar on collaboration capabilities between remote and hybrid teams, and requires that data is readily and securely available to employees and customers wherever they are.
The integration of front-office and back-office systems has enabled companies to deliver more value to customers by automating labor-intensive processes and offer faster response times. Automation increase accuracy and expedites processes in ways that benefit customers and the company’s bottom line.
“As a result, technology innovations such as artificial intelligence-based content classification and extraction technology will continue to mature in 2022,” Francis said. "Enterprise search will advance, thanks to the benefit of natural language processing and AI, which will enhance business intelligence and worker productivity.”