It would be difficult to point to one innovation or change that could be applied across all business sectors in the digital workplace over the past year. There is, however, one change that has been constant, the speed at which change takes place, said Stephen Troy, CEO and founder of AeroPay Express. Generally speaking, power and speed combined with analytics, have brought tremendous benefits and disruption to the digital workplace across all industries, Troy said. Unprecedented volumes of data are being analyzed at record speed, which is giving early adopters, and their customers, real-time information and answers to simple and complex questions.

This is making every company rethink how they interact with their customers, forcing them to retool and innovate to keep up with the fast-changing business landscape. Any business that does not adapt to this constant change will, at their own peril, see an erosion of their market share in the coming years.

This is most evident in the financial services industry, which is steeped in tradition and human intuition that is being transformed by computers to make real-time decisions by crunching thousands of bits of data to analyze risk. It might have taken a loan officer days or weeks to collect data and to make a decision, but now the information can be processed within minutes of an application being completed. Finance companies and banks who rely solely on collateral, can now get real-time information on cash flow in order to assess repayment. “Non-financial institutions are also benefiting from this newfound freedom of information. Retail stores, restaurants and grocers, who once played banker to their customers by carrying house charge accounts, now accept credit cards leaving lending to the lenders, allowing them to focus on their core business,” Troy said.

New Technologies In The Mainstream

"This was a banner year for digital technology in the workplace,” said Dan Healey, head of human resources for SAP North America. In SAP and many other big companies, there has been a major uptick in the use of machine learning technology to remove unconscious bias from the recruitment process. These same companies have developed workforces that are driven by power users of collaboration tools while also experimenting with artificial intelligence to improve the dialogue between employees and managers to ensure a supportive environment with bi-directional feedback.

Analytics is another area that has seen huge traction in 2018, and many companies are using it throughout the organization to gain deeper insights to enable them to better understand — and therefore attract and retain — employees. 

Overall, there were 10 digital workplace trends specific to certain industries and enterprises that have not yet achieved widespread use.

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1. Remote Working

Rebecca Corliss, VP at video conferencing developer Owl Labs, said communication enabling remote working is one of the big trends over the past year. The world is more connected than ever, and it’s changing the way we work, and even how we hire. As digitization opens new communication channels, modern workplaces are not only taking advantage of the ability to interview candidates in different regions, but also to hire them to work remotely.

According to Owl Lab’s 2018 Global State of Remote Work, over half (56 percent) of companies across the globe allow employees to work remotely or are fully remote companies — demonstrating an increased opportunity for global employment.

2. Securing IoT Gateway Communications

Over the year, enterprises started looking at ways to secure the Internet of Things (IoT), according to DH2i CEO and Co-founder Don Boxley.

Making smart product IoT devices, is the new product differentiator — even ovens have IP addresses now. Companies that have been investing in IoT initiatives understand that the IoT gateway layer is the key that unlocks a high return on those IoT investments. IoT gateways manage device connectivity, protocol translation, updating, management, predictive and streaming data analytics, and data flow between devices and the cloud. In 2018, improving the security of that high data flow with a Zero Trust security model drove enterprises to start replacing VPNs with micro-perimeters. Micro-perimeters remove an IoT device’s network presence, which eliminates potential attack surfaces created by using a VPN.

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3. Zero Trust Hybrid Cloud Security

Traditional VPN software solutions are obsolete for the new IT reality of hybrid and multi-cloud environments. They weren’t designed for them, they’re complex to configure, and they give users a “slice of the network,” creating a lateral network attack surface. A new class of purpose-built security software emerged in 2018 to eliminate these issues and disrupt the cloud VPN market. This new security software enables organizations to build lightweight dynamic micro-perimeters to secure application- and workload-centric connections between on-premises and cloud/hosted environments, with virtually no attack surface.

4. Augmented Reality

Jeff Ridgeway, SVP of business development for North America at Zappar, said many businesses began to see the power of augmented reality (AR) in learning, training and development in 2018. AR is increasingly seen as a tool that can drive both top-line growth and increase operational efficiency. This becomes a major factor in optimizing overhead and delivering on the bottom line.

Learning Opportunities

The business applications of AR in the workplace are wide-ranging. Internally, managers can leverage AR to conduct practical training before employees step onto the shop floor, or to prototype products and safely test them with minimum overhead. Onboarding new staff is another use case. Once the recruitment process is complete many organizations embark on significant onboarding programs to get new team members settled into their new roles.

5. Globalized Gig Economy

Ben Aston, the founder of The Digital Project Manager, an online resource for digital agencies and project managers, said there is an increase in freelance, remote and co-working arrangements. Unlike some trends this year, the gig economy has very clear, direct impacts on a digital team’s daily work. There might be a smaller core of full-time members who interact with a distributed web of gig workers that’s constantly in flux.

This presents new challenges, especially in management, as we try to keep work and communication flowing smoothly across time zones, cultural differences, and varied levels of commitment and involvement in the projects at hand. Digital companies will be challenged to find ways to unify and motivate these distributed teams as the way we produce work continues to change in 2019.

6. Customer Experience

Customer experience (CX) is a business differentiator for SMBs. Small businesses compete with larger business primarily on their ability to offer better CX. However, larger businesses have taken note and are investing more in this area. As a result, small businesses must focus on continuing to improve and prioritize CX, or they risk losing one of their biggest competitive advantages.

7. Focus on Retention

Equipping employees with the right tools drives retention. Retaining the strongest performing employees can be a full-time job in competitive markets when the economy is good. However, creating an employee experience that makes team members feel prepared to perform their best may be easier.

8. Robotic Process Automation

Vargha Moayed, chief strategy officer at UiPath, an enterprise Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software company, said between one-fourth and one-third of enterprises around the world are actively using RPA software in their IT, finance and accounting, as well as procurement and HR processes. Many of these enterprises have already established complex, large-scale automation projects, with thousands of RPA software robots automating hundreds of processes. Others are setting up robotic centers of excellence and establishing executive teams to manage enterprise RPA implementation.

For the number of global enterprises that have already adopted RPA, there are just as many that are planning to do so. Deloitte suggests the RPA market is predicted to gain significant traction in the next year, and reach a $5 billion market by 2020. With nothing short of tremendous progress being forecast for the software, adoption of RPA is clearly on the rise.

9. Moving To Service Software

Popular Pays CEO Corbett Drummey said the move to service is dramatically changing business models, even for hardware companies. (e.g Apple offering a 1- or 2-year subscription/phone upgrade plans, and companies like Peloton introducing subscriptions along with their hardware).

For companies, this minimizes risk, makes revenue growth more scientific, measurable and predictable, and most importantly helps drive stronger retention, which leads to sustained growth over time.

Think Strategically About Technology

Amanda Lombraña offers a number of trends identified in the Workplace Trends research from Gartner owned SoftwareAdvice. The survey uncovered that, globally speaking, small and midsize business (SMB) leaders who don’t think strategically about technology face a high risk of falling behind their competitors. So make sure you and your organization are doing everything that can be done to ensure the tools you choose solve the problems you actually have.