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Too many businesses are launching digital workplaces by merely replicating paper-based processes PHOTO: icfasntw

Most people probably believe they currently work in a digital workplace. After all, if you use a computer, you must be in a digital environment, right? 

But the truth is most people still work in a traditional process-driven environment where the computer is only replicating or replacing what were essentially paper-based processes.

The true digital workplace is one where digital technology is transforming the way that we work to make us more knowledgeable, more creative, more interactive and more efficient.

Trends in the Digital Workplace

According to research by Gartner, the trends that identify the move toward a true digital workplace fall into three distinct categories: exploiting information, enablement and mobile productivity. Within each of these three, let’s take a closer look at how the combination of new technologies, changing expectations and evolving work practices will offer both challenges and opportunities:

1. Exploiting Information

Think about your experience with consumer platforms like Amazon and Netflix, which use algorithms and behavior tracking to suggest the sorts of products you might like to buy or movies and TV shows you might enjoy. Now, apply that sort of ambient knowledge to the workplace, and it can be used to deliver information to suit your personal preferences and online behavior. 

No longer will you need to search for the information you need to do your job because it will be delivered right to you. But will that also narrow your focus? If you only use what’s recommended for you, how will you ever stumble across — or be inspired by — the unexpected?

On the other hand, the rise of big data and embedded analytics brings never-before-seen levels of information about how businesses operate and how customers interact with those businesses when using their products. The challenge then becomes figuring out how to use that data to gain practical insights in ways that will drive decisions that deliver actual value.

Once you have the information you need, it has never been easier to develop content around that information and present it in interesting and engaging ways, both inside and outside the organization. We have moved beyond the time when the only option was a PowerPoint slide deck. Now, the ease of creative-studio-type technology means that information can be delivered via video, audio, graphics and animation with minimal investment.

However, a good understanding of content creation and the various types of media is still required to ensure that your messages don’t get lost. In other words, just because everyone can now create a video, doesn’t mean that everyone should. Developing the right differentiation between accessible technology and professional craft is a fine balancing act.

2. Enablement

Part of refining that balancing act between technology and knowing how to use it is the trend toward micro-learning, in which digital technologies are used to deliver the training you need, at the time you need it, through the channel you prefer. Just think of it: no more sitting in three-day training courses to learn about something that you won’t use for six months — if ever.

The digital workplace is about delivering short chunks of knowledge as required. However, this sort of focused training must stay in context and enable the user to understand the topic’s fit with the bigger picture of overall processes. Social networks, and even popular communications tools like text messaging, can be used to distribute this sort of micro-learning.

These tools are also driving collaboration across traditional organizational silos, as the technology-driven networking and sharing paradigm that we now use to talk to friends and family around the world migrates into the workplace. As this migration occurs, it raises questions about whether the private and workplace worlds should merge on common platforms or be kept separate, even though they may have common constituents.

3. Mobile Productivity

This merging of the workspace into the personal space is not only about the use of social platforms, but also the increasing use of personal devices such as smartphones, tablets and personal laptops for company business.

Moving beyond devices, there is a trend toward the increasing use of personal clouds, not only for storing photos, but for all sorts of data storage, some of which may be business related. This trend underscores that the digital workplace is becoming a fluid environment both inside and outside the traditional office space. Managing it from an IT and corporate security perspective is, therefore, becoming more challenging. So far, it appears that companies that embrace and manage this shifting paradigm gain better productivity than those who try to restrict and control it.

The mobile digital workplace also raises challenges for employees in maintaining work-life balance. As the boundaries blur, it can become more difficult to switch off in an always switched-on world. In short, what we get from the evolving digital workplace will ultimately depend on whether we see it as a challenge, an opportunity — or perhaps a combination of both.