The digital workplace is made up of a set of critical technologies that allow workers to access all their work information and to communicate and collaborate on core projects and activities. Digital workplace strategy aims to optimize these environments and boost employee engagement using both technologies and processes.

It's a dynamic environment, particularly in the use of technology. The pace of change and new technologies entering the market make it hard to keep up, and the cloud has given workers access to any kind of app or technology they might need or want, whether sanctioned by IT or not.

Expanding Capabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has firmly put the “foot on the pedal” for most organizations to accelerate the deployment of new technologies and expand existing capabilities, said Craig Peasley, director of marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe.

On the other side of the equation, technology providers have a major task ahead of them to help customers minimize business interruptions and build more resilience for the future.

“As we settle into new routines at work, the focus is not just cloud access but more importantly cloud working,” Peasley said. “New productivity solutions must integrate work well with the platforms people already use at work like Microsoft 365, Google Drive and more. This helps to reduce the learning curve and promotes consistency across platforms and devices.”

He added that modern cloud productivity vendors must keep IT in mind. IT wants deployments to be as easy as flipping an ‘on’ switch, and minimize the hassle, version control and security risks of employees downloading files to their desktops.

It is clear that the rate of technology deployment in the enterprise is increasing and the key is to future-proof technology in a constantly shifting digital workplace. There are several things enterprises can do to ensure that they do not get left behind.

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1. Shift From Mobile First to Remote First

The key to future-proofing technology for the digital workplace is enabling remote interactions and virtual spaces for the long term, said Todd Greene, CEO of PubNub, a San Francisco-based developer of real-time communication and infrastructure-as-a-service platforms.

A decade ago, "mobile first" was the rallying cry for software designers to build apps that were smartphone-ready. Microsoft redefined its direction as early as 2014 when it told enterprises it would be making them both productive and mobile.

Today, Greene said, that has change. "Remote first" is now the top priority for app design, IT configuration and HR policies, since without it, users find it extremely hard to collaborate for remote work, play, learning and health.

“Remote interactions are the virtual layer of communications and help create virtual spaces that go beyond basic chat apps and video calls," Greene said. "There’s new opportunities to engage with employees and stakeholders remotely via polls and instant feedback, customer support built directly into smart homes, and order tracking and dispatch for deliveries.”

At the core, tools must be able to engage users via in-app chat, synchronization of documents, real-time updates and status, and the ability to see changes as they happen in real time like document editing and poll results.

“Companies need to reprioritize their 2020 roadmaps to consider not only 1:1 collaboration but also what happens when potentially millions of users are in the same virtual spaces. All these collaboration features generate more data that needs to be secured and protect users’ privacy,” he said.

2. Using Cloud-based Apps

Digital workplace tools and apps need to be cloud-based, said John Knightly, chief marketing officer of San Jose, Calif.-based BlueJeans by Verizon. One of the hallmarks of a productive workplace is equipping employees to work productively how and where they want – whether that's at home, on the go or in an office.

In an era where team members increasingly prefer to bring their own devices, it is also critical to select collaboration tools based on open standards that interoperate with other tools in the workplace, he added. For example, as video conferencing has become the way teams connect, ensuring your video conferencing service works across operating systems, browsers, conference room systems, mobile devices and different PCs is critical to adapting to changes in employee preferences.

Similarly, the use of cloud-based apps for collaboration simplifies integrations as most can connect and interoperate through the cloud and thereby streamline workflows as employees move from tool to tool, such as from a project management tool to a messaging app to a video conferencing app.

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3. Accessing Apps

However, none of this is workable unless workers are offered the right tools and an easy, single access point, said Shash Anand, vice president of product strategy at Canada-based SOTI.

He suggested the solution to a future-proofed workplace is identifying the necessary adaptations that will help organizations successfully operate in a dramatically changing landscape — from speeding up inevitable digital transformation to rethinking operations entirely. As part of the tech stack, organizations also need the right tools to allow them to transform operations seamlessly and efficiently.

“To start, a single interface for logging in is ideal for discovering and securely accessing all work-related applications," he said. "Second, ensure you have tools that allow you to build apps in minutes, not months.”

The ability to build and update mobile applications quickly for the entire workforce allows staff to stay up to date on the latest changes affecting business, he said.

Anand also pointed out that remote employees will undoubtedly run into issues with new apps or have trouble accessing digital environments. That is where a diagnostic help desk tool is needed to resolve issues immediately. Enterprises also need the ability to analyze device and application usage to ensure workers are productive and using the apps provided to help them complete their work.

As companies seek greater visibility into their operations, it is important to have tools that make operations more transparent and this is typically done through leveraging IoT devices, such as sensors. “Having an integrated tool set with all of these components will ensure that your digital workplace tech stack is future-proofed, allowing you to adopt quickly and meet your customer’s needs,” he said.

4. The Importance of Security

Ben Dunay, who leads a cybersecurity team at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., pointed out that the shift to a remote workforce and the increased number of collaboration applications makes the need to protect the corporate infrastructure more important than ever.

It's a huge challenge for many enterprises. This is often because corporate VPN setups are typically not designed for large numbers of off-site workers and scaling access to business-critical applications can be expensive and complex.

A remote workforce, and the accompanying scores of newly remote devices, requires supplemental off-network security measures for web access. Existing on-network protection against things like malware, ransomware and phishing is no longer relevant and increases the risk of compromise.

“Ensuring a relevant security posture is something that enterprises should be cognizant of as they look to develop a future-proofed technology stack, heading into the end of 2020 and into 2021," Dunay said. "This will be important if they want to ensure seamless operations and achieve business continuity."