This year’s coolest vendors in the digital workplace take an integrated, creative approach to the employee journey, Gartner maintains.

The Stamford, Conn.-based research organization concludes that these vendors show potential in strategic partnerships between HR and IT to power the digital workplace, inspiring those teams to chart a new course.

Digital workplaces enable “more effective ways of working,” increase employee engagement and “exploit consumer-oriented styles and technologies. Effective digital workplaces emphasize people, technology and management.

“This requires a tighter partnership between IT, HR and the business than ever before,” said Adam Preset, research director of digital workplace at Gartner.

“It’s really an evolution of the old adage, ‘Hire for attitude, then train for skill.’ Every industry is competing for the same high-impact performers, but some of those workers might be new to the workforce, and they might not be ready to hit the ground running in every way that an enterprise might demand.”

Gartner predicts 50 percent of IT organizations will support assets and services outside their IT service portfolio by 2018. And by 2020, 20 percent of organizations’ IT and HR departments will make employee engagement improvement a shared performance objective.

“It’s important to get the maximum return in the minimum time out of any employee,” Preset told CMSWire.

“It’s also important to introduce right away that the organization, large enterprise or small, has a learning culture, that learning is a key value, and that it’s intrinsic to the organization’s ability to grow and to adapt to fast changes."

Think virtual assistants, gamification platforms and mobile applications in the modern workplace to drive productivity and engagement. In a few years, some of these practices may even take over the office to replace uninspiring meetings and ineffective brainstorming. So think of vendors like these as pioneer designers of the employee journey.

“When new, significant projects come up, you don’t look at the way you’ve always done things, whether that’s with certain software tools or practices. You look for the new ways you should innovate. You can amplify your results, and the state of the art experiment you run today may permeate your enterprise and just be the way you do business and collaborate tomorrow,” Preset said.

The Winners

While Gartner noted the list isn’t exhaustive, analysts highlighted the new, innovative vendors that treat the digital workplace not as a product but as a partnership between the business, HR and IT teams to strategize around existing employees and recruitment. Here are this year’s five picks:

Major League Hacking

Some of the vendors mentioned in the report, like New York City-based Major League Hacking, host hackathons as job fairs to find talent. Major League Hacking oversees event promotion, sponsor outreach and coordination with student leagues at universities. Mike Gotta, Gartner research VP of collaboration and social software, said this is a cool vendor because it provides a framework for others wanting to run hackathons at their organizations. 

These events have caught eyes of tech sponsors like Dell, Google and Microsoft, as well as sponsors across industries, including Deloitte, PwC and L.L. Bean. Gotta notes its challenges, including increasing a presence across educational institutions and addressing needs of sponsors and partners and threats of competitors that provide a similar service, as hackathons is a growing space. In the long run, MLH will need to push growth toward new areas, like corporate hackathons, and branch out beyond technology-driven problems.

Job Market Maker

Gartner recognized Charleston, S.C.-based Job Market Maker for using analytics and natural-language processing to match job descriptions and competencies with candidates’ profiles. The better suited employees are to their role, the more engagement, analyst Helen Poitevin said. Job Market Maker also maps people to learning content and evaluates their career paths, rather than depending on recruiters to find good candidates. 

Its Engage product uses analytics, news and social media feeds to mine databases of candidates and alerts recruiters when a person is likelier to make a career change. Poitevin points out many organizations are slow to use these technologies in talent acquisition, but Gartner foresees rapid adoption here because of how difficult it is to hire suitable talent — which makes using data here very valuable.

APPrise Mobile

There’s also a need for workplace communications where employees can communicate across the organization with specific teams, as is the case with New York City-based APPrise Mobile’s theEMPLOYEEapp. The platform as a service lets organizations build and deploy from a library of apps for internal, external and financial needs (to investors, for example). Analyst Monica Basso notes, however, that this platform may be seen as a lower priority compared to collaboration or business support at transitioning organizations. APPrise will see strong competition from mobile app vendors developing platforms and cloud platform providers like SAP and Salesforce, Basso said.

One Month

New York City-based One Month offers digital skills courses and services in app development, adaptive design and project management. The courses take employees through basics in some 16 hours, One Month claims. It also doubles to engage employees when people feel they are learning new skills and improving overall business results of the organization. Analyst Matt Cain says organizations can sustain themselves by raising digital dexterity and technology skills. 

One Month faces “fierce competition” in edtech, Cain noted, which attracts significant attention from venture capitalists right now. Udacity and Udemy have gained a lot of traction in the enterprise, and One Month will need to keep building its learning modules and develop metrics to prove its business impact to stay competitive, Cain said.

Infolio

Infolio, part of part of London-based Motech Ltd., delivers an electronic workplace platform that analyst Paul Miller believes “has the potential to unseat email and Microsoft Excel as the normal tools of work.” We use those “normal” tools out of Habit, Miller said, but they aren’t very engaging in solving complex problems that require collaboration. Infolio’s digital workplace platform gives employees a place to visualize and share projects, accounts or roles from enterprise and productivity applications. Miller cites low market awareness of Infolio, nothing issues scaling up rapidly because of limited sales and partner channels.

Gartner’s 4 Recommendations

  1. Imagine the employee journey before and after recruitment, thinking about people’s daily touchpoints with the organization to foster engagement throughout. Gotta said a lot of organizations understand their workers “through the lens of process and roles,” which leaves out areas where people work together to come up with workarounds or take on additional work to help their colleagues. “We believe that IT groups can talk to their digital marketing teams to better understand some of the methods and tools they use to create personas [and] journey maps to better understand employee needs. This can help organization improve their engagement strategy, IT services, or come up with new team-building experiences like sponsoring an innovation program,” he added.
  2. Introduce new hires to the organization’s culture and priorities by educating employees on talent and skill acquisition.
  3. Consider the two-way communication between employees and their supervisors. Gartner suggests thinking beyond email and considering enterprise platforms that support more agile and engaging feedback cultures. Consider the retail, hospitality, manufacturing or other hyper-mobile workers, Preset said. “Their organizations are poised to reap full advantage of new ways to communicate, to keep in touch, to share the company vision and to build a solid, meaningful feedback loop. An organization is defined by how it communicates. It has the opportunity to redefine its culture and leap ahead of the era of bulletin boards and word-of-mouth to a fully connected, consistently engaged workforce.”
  4. Use a bimodal approach in the collaboration strategy to shift focus away from traditional tools and practices as employees adopt new initiatives. Enterprises focused on standard services delivered by IT are realizing that it constrains their workers, Preset said, and the standard suite of office productivity tools doesn’t cut it anymore. “Employees want to be both effective and creative. Workers are digitally dexterous, leverage lots of technology in their lives outside of work and and are eager for opportunities to use that skill and knowledge. You don’t have to be in a startup. You don’t have to consider you company special or edgy. You can be in established enterprises with the willingness to experiment and you can bake intellectual curiosity into the culture. That’s what bimodal IT is about.”
Title image "Summertime" (CC BY 2.0) by Trish Hamme