Over the past 12 months, the digital workplace conversation has made it clear we are talking about more than just a collection of technologies or apps designed to collectively improve productivity in organizations. What has also become clear is that the digitization of the workplace is an ongoing process with a great deal yet to be done.

As such, it's impossible to predict to any level of certainty what will happen over the next year. But some common digital workplace themes took shape in 2017 that look set to grow in prominence over the next 12 months. 

9 Trends Shaping the Digital Workplace in 2018

1. Voice-Activated Search

Tegan Groombridge is digital marketing manager with Bath, England-based Futureproof Digital Media. She said the topics of content and search will dominate digital workplace over the next 12 months, particularly voice-activated search.

“We all know that content is king, we know that our content must be optimized with good use of keywords and links for SEO purposes and most importantly we need to know if it answers our users questions. But have you optimized for voice search?” she said to CMSWire.

Groombridge cited research carried out by MediaPost and comScore, which predicted that 50 percent of all searches will be done by voice by 2020 with 50 percent of homes now having at least one smart speaker. Furthermore, it said at least 30 percent of all search queries will be completed without a device with a screen. This indicates businesses should start preparing their content for these long tail search enquiries. 

2. Cybersecurity Threats Increase

Securing content will play an equally important role in 2018. Tim Roddy, VP Cybersecurity Product Strategy at Fidelis Cybersecurity noted this will be particularly important as the number of employees working remotely increases. "The compounding growth of remote workers and connected devices will see businesses face more cyber threats than ever before. The network edge is in a state of flux and so are today's security technologies designed to protect them,” he said.

Roddy predicts 2018 will see a spike in sophisticated cyberattacks that use combinations of unusual vectors to breach company networks, reimagining the supply chain attack that is common today. Simply identifying devices through endpoint security will not be enough to truly mitigate the threats resulting from the distributed workplace next year.

3. Technology Restraints

Organizations will turn to more efficient apps and accessible apps to manage and get the greatest use of content. Rick Veague, CTO of Itasca,Ill.-based IFS North America, said limitations around workplace apps could be deal-breakers when it comes to hiring and retaining staff. Organizations will have to overcome two problems in particular in the coming year:

  • Inaccessible tools: Forty-six percent of experienced, middle-aged tech workers would consider changing jobs due to poor enterprise software usability, according to a recent survey conducted by IFS.
  • Lack of integration and collaboration: Thirty-seven percent of businesses are looking for a boost in collaboration, with finance and procurement departments reporting a severe lack of platform and application integration.

4. Rethinking Remote Work

Another profound change in the digital workplace involves our definition of "remote work." Alex Shootman, CEO of Workfront, said the term remote will have a different meaning over the coming years.

In the next 10 years, he said, no one will use the term remote work or remote worker. Instead, people will go to work on a dynamic digital platform as a workplace. They will report to work in full, high-definition 3-D holograms and making it no different to interact with someone in person or someone projected into the workplace. Every worker will also have a personal 'co-bot' who will act as concierge, gofer, analyst and predictor, allowing workers to specialize in making work "human." 

5. Invisible AI

Lehi, Utah-based Workfront’s chief product and technology officer Steven ZoBell, said the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the digital workplace will also become so pervasive and ingrained as to seem almost invisible. By 2028, ZoBell continued, AI will not be something with which to proactively interact and manage, but will be so fully integrated throughout every aspect of our lives (including the workplace) that the boundary between artificial intelligence and human intelligence will become indistinguishable.

The systems used as operational systems of record will become the foundation of work, with decisions on work to be done, indications of work progress, as well as automatic adjustments made to work taking place without human intervention.

6. Cloud Storage

Glenn Weinstein is CIO at Indianapolis, Ind.-based Appirio, a global services company that helps customers integrate cloud technologies. He believes next year workers will become increasingly dependent on data stored in the cloud. “If workers have to wait for a manager or someone in IT to pull a custom report, they usually don't bother, and you lose an opportunity for insight or action. To create a more productive workforce, everyone in the organization — not just business owners and managers — needs access to real-time data.”

Learning Opportunities

Storing data in the cloud minimizes security risks posed by desktop and laptop computers. Cloud app providers will build more native logging and audit features to help security professionals monitor and control user activity at the source, rather than forcing administrators to intercept the activity via third-party tools.

He also believes remote working will drive this cloud-based data trend. He said remote work means more data in the cloud, with workflows designed so that users find it easy to save and access data in the cloud, allowing them to work from anywhere, at any time.

7. Collaboration Evolves

Costin Tuculescu, vice president of collaboration at Mountain View, Calif-based Intermedia said the evolution of collaboration and the influx of millennials will reshape the workplace in the near future.

The internet and mobility are enabling a different paradigm of information collaboration, and a millennial-dominated workforce is on the horizon. This requires a complete overhaul of communication services. Much like video calling is becoming the norm in the consumer world with millennials, video conferencing will become ubiquitous in business, bridging the gap between distributed teams, vendors and customers — creating stronger bonds between stakeholders.

8. Virtual Reality Slowly Enters the Workplace

Bringing virtual reality (VR) into the workplace will be a challenge, Tuculescu continued. Despite strong growth in the mobile workforce, businesses still view virtual reality as a novelty, with very few having the computing power needed for full integration. However, he said it would be premature to expect executives to put on a VR helmet to have a meeting any time soon. Phone, email and video will still be the most common approaches for holding meetings with a distributed office.

9. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) emerged as an important technology in 2017 and looks primed to take an even bigger part in 2018, according to Bill Galusha, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Irvine, Calif.-based Kofax.

Galusha called 2017 a year of acceleration and adoption of RPA in large enterprises. While some want to move the discussion to the next level, bringing in the element of artificial intelligence, there are no shortage of opportunities for enterprises to implement RPA now, which will lead to continued growth and adoption of it in 2018.

When combined with other proven technologies, like document capture, RPA will gain additional traction. As businesses become more familiar with the technology, its place in business process automation will become clearer. Even early adopters are now realizing they may have fallen short in their understanding of RPA's strengths, driving a new look into how RPA providers differ in terms of processing a variety of structured, semi-structured and unstructured content. The use of software robots in combination with machine learning, document classification and data extraction services is proving a very powerful combination.

The Digital Workplace Experience conference (June 18-20, Chicago) features the latest on digital workplace technologies. For more major digital workplace topics, speakers and more, visit www.dwexperience.com