This year confirmed our long held view that companies prefer product-based digital workplaces instead of designing them from scratch. In 2017, we predicted that businesses would prefer nimbleness and speed of set-up over drawn out requirements and design thinking.
We were proven right. Clients repeatedly told us they wanted to take a pragmatic approach to defining their requirements. This, as we have seen, has become a standard approach as businesses will often make changes to their strategies as their technology transformation programs develop.
And in 2018, given the scale many organisations have already undertaken in transforming their infrastructure and platforms – such as moving over to the cloud or moving more staff on to mobile devices – next year will be when that investment must pay off. Our one big prediction* is that digital workplace technologies will be held to account and must clearly contribute to improving the bottom-line, along with cost savings, productivity gains and better engaged workers.
This means we must demonstrate through digital workplace tools and features how we can engage 'hard-to-reach' workers; rebuild trust between senior management and among grassroots teams and communities; provide staff who are spread across many brands and locations with more 'connection' to their brand, locality or place of work whilst having a stronger connection to their entire organisation.
Lastly, businesses need much better advice in how to make better choices in what is fast becoming a congested technology marketplace. With so many kinds of tools on offer, there is an important role in providing clarity on which tools, technologies and platforms to use, or avoid.
All of these themes will not be easy to accomplish but they are essential to tackle. Getting them right will make a huge difference to everyone who wants to get the most from their digital workplace investment in 2018.
*As always, the only rule of predicting the future is that trends are by their very nature unpredictable.
Trend One: Improve how we work
Improving internal communications and employee engagement will always be important outcomes for a digital workplace. However, in 2018, given the current low-growth economic climate, we believe the pendulum has already shifted towards those businesses who will demand productivity gains from technology too. After all, for the many who have invested in technology and infrastructure including Office 365 over the past few years, have done so to reap its productive benefits.
We will need to prove a positive impact on the bottom-line, driving greater efficiency gains by how staff use their digital workplace platforms in new ways. Next year, we must be at the forefront of showing how staff can access tools, data, content more speedily, whilst also helping them connect with each other and collaborate more easily than ever. Our challenge will be to find ways to produce identifiable tangible benefits from using these many new tools and platforms.
- Focus on productivity-enhancing platform designs
- Integration with business systems and processes
- Outcome-led measurement and metrics
Trend Two: Target the hard-to-reach
Backbone central functions and support services are essential to how a company communicates and functions. However, staff who are on the 'front-line' can sometimes feel neglected and unloved in early digital workplace goals. Those who work in factories, call centers, retail outlets, on the road or even on their own at home can sometimes feel like an after-thought. Having to use shared kiosks, with access limited time, or because they are contractors or temporary workers, can mean they don't always end up getting full access to content, tools and services compared with permanent staff.
But these staff are critical to the normal operations of any organisation. Indeed, they will often be at the forefront of interacting with customers, and their feedback is essential to shaping new ideas too. In 2018, our goal should be to better include them in our strategies. They often need better access to tools or processes, that equally takes into consideration the specific conditions they work in. And help them stay more engaged with the wider company too.
- Staff segmentation plans
- Regular engagement through and after the design process
- Mobile-first design and delivery
Trend Three: Close the leadership gap
Leadership has never been more important. We believe in 2018 they will have more options of how to engage staff via their digital workplace platforms. Given more calls for transparency and openness in how decisions are made, next year we must innovate in the use of content such as video, social and live streaming. These ideas will help staff who demand more authenticity and directness in knowing where the decision-making is heading.
The same is true for staff 'on the ground', who will demand more innovative spaces, communities and collaboration. We should expect our digital workplaces to forge more directness in how staff all over communicate with one another making better use of knowledge too, that has up until now, always been hard to capture and share widely. This means helping them foster more productive relationships in how they work together on projects, interest groups and ideas more easily, through well executed platform technologies.
- Finding inventive ways to use communications
- Using more rich-media on the digital workplace
- Bringing teams into the design process
Trend Four: Where I work matters most
A challenge we expect to see more of is the tension found in many large or global organisations who comprise of many brands, subsidiaries or business units. On one hand, there is a need for a joined-up single digital workplace comprising of the entire company. While, on the other hand, staff will often complain that they relate more to the brands and networks they associate with than the parent company they are all part of. This is a dilemma for communication managers who understandably want staff to connect more with their entire organisational goals and values too, rather than have staff exist somewhere else.
In 2018 digital workplace communications strategies will have to work hard to realise these expectations and provide communications managers with good publishing options to achieve the right balance. For senior managers, being able to target all staff with company-wide communications will remain vital. But to have the added benefit of allowing staff to exert a degree of control of what they read too -- by locality, brand or specific area of interest too. The interface will need to reflect these decisions in its design, branding and languages.
- Need for technology to support multiple brands
- More understanding of a multi-brand infrastructure
- Include targeted brand and designs to reflect localisation
Trend Five: Simplify the technology landscape
This year many new digital workplace technologies, tools and platforms continued to emerge. Because of this, in 2018, there will be a greater need for clarity on what to use, or avoid or come back to later. We need to deliver clients with clear advice of how to use, make sense of, and distinguish between many myriad tools, advising staff on what to use. Our job is to simplify these choices.
Whether it’s deciding between Workplace, Yammer, Groups or Teams, we should advise on the boundaries of each tool or platforms' value, and being clear of their data interoperability too. This also means helping customers cut through the hype, advising to either sit back or wait for longer for an emerging technology to mature. The positioning and value of these and many other tools, if not made explicitly clear from the outset, will offset their potential and continue to cause confusion and caution, halting investment in them.
- Provide insight and comparison between technologies
- Allow different staff groups to choose between what they prefer
- Create case studies to showcase successes and failures
Over the course of 2018, we’ll be building on these trends to help guide you through the ever-changing digital workplace landscape.
Contributions from the BrightStarr team of Paul Seda, Katy Smith, Hannah Unsworth.