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PHOTO: Tim Foster

If you were looking for one single event that sums up the digital workplace over the past year, look no further than the beginning of December and the acquisition of Slack by Salesforce. The $27 billion deal had it all. Globally speaking it was about Salesforce buying itself into the digital workplace market. While it had made moves in the space in 2016 when it bought the productivity app Quip, it was never going to make the grade without something special.

Slack was that special ingredient. It brought a number of new technologies to Salesforce and gave it enterprise traction in a space it wasn't really playing in before, notably the digital workplace.

But this was about more than just buying into a tech space. This encapsulated what has happened over the past 12 months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and redefines the way in which many organizations are going to work in the future. After nine months of forced remote working, it had become clear by September that many enterprise leaders were looking at the cost benefits of having a large part of the workforce working from home.

To enable that we saw companies like Microsoft and its Teams offering in Microsoft 365 up its game to such a point that it will soon be possible to have virtual conferences in Teams with 25,000 attendees. It wasn’t the only one. Zoom, despite its well-publicized privacy problems also added monthly upgrades and saw its user-base grow beyond anything anyone could have imagined at the beginning of the year.

Driving all that is the remote workplace and the likelihood that millions of workers will continue working from home even after the pandemic has passed. It does not mean, however, that the physical workplace will disappear. Rather it means that one of the major emerging trends at the end of 2020 is the hybrid workplace —a workplace consisting of workers working remotely, workers working on site and workers spanning the two. COVID-19 pushed many trends into high gear over the year, but hybrid work is one of the most striking ones of the past 12 months and one that will carry us into 2021. It is also reflected in the Top 10 articles published on the digital workplace over the year. Here they are:

10. Will COVID-19 Be a Tipping Point for Technology?

While the world grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, technology is getting an ultimate test as it's called in to support the efforts of governments, medical professionals, researchers and businesses around the globe. History has proven that with any crisis, new opportunities and ways of doing things emerge. When the dust finally settles, the changes in behaviors and new working models going into practice now may become the new norm.

9. Microsoft’s Project Cortex Wants You to Hire a Knowledge Manager

With all the talk about AI replacing people in business, here is (perhaps) welcome news. As part of Microsoft’s Project Cortex rollout, Microsoft is advocating for new knowledge management positions, staffed by living, breathing human beings. It mooted three principal roles: Content Services Admin (aka "Knowledge Admin"), Knowledge Manager (KM), Subject Matter ExpertsKnowledge, for these purposes, refers to the compilation of related information in meaningful ways so that personnel can analyze a business situation and take well-informed action. But Project Cortex still faces challenges ahead.

8. Zoom Lawsuit Brings Video Conferencing Security Into the Spotlight

In April, a user sued San Jose, Calif.-based Zoom for sharing personal information with third-party providers like Facebook without proper notice. The New York Times reported Zoom sent user names and email addresses to a company system which in turn matched them with LinkedIn profiles. Adding to this, the FBI issued warnings of “Zoom-bombing” after receiving multiple reports of hackers disrupting conferences with pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language. The New York Attorney General sent Zoom a letter asking about its security and privacy practices. The big questions now? How can enterprises ensure workplace apps like Zoom provide them with necessary capabilities like video-conferencing while protecting employee privacy and their organization’s sensitive information?

7. Microsoft Teams: The Channel Internal Comms Can’t Ignore

You can no longer ignore Microsoft Teams as an internal communication channel. The sudden shift in working patterns brought on by the coronavirus has led to a dramatic rise in daily use of Teams. So much activity is happening there now that it cannot be ignored, particularly as the new limit of 10,000 users for a team takes it far from its origins as a closed-group collaboration tool.

6. How HR Can Lead Digital Transformation

Human resource departments are more important than ever in shaping corporate culture to support digital transformation. HR is essential when it comes to influencing and sustaining the future of work. No longer can HR leaders sit on the sidelines and wait for those in the C-suite to adopt a culture of technological innovation and digital transformation that serves the company and its stakeholders — they must  step up and take an active role. 

5. 6 Workplace Lessons from 6 Months of COVID-19

Six months into the COVID-19 crisis, there have been major changes in the way business operates. From remote workers to rapid transformation and the use of new technologies and methodologies, the way some things get done is hardly recognizable from one year ago. Here are six ways that business has changed across industries, departments and borders.

4. Why Culture Change Is Essential for Digital Transformation

Shortcomings in organizational culture are one of the main impediments to company success in the digital age, according to a recent McKinsey survey of global executives. The survey highlighted three digital-culture deficiencies: functional and departmental silos, a fear of taking risks, and difficulty forming and acting on a single view of the customer.

3. 6 Proven Business Benefits of Remote Work

Job seekers have long been drawn to remote jobs because they provide flexibility in the form of greater personal and professional control over their private lives and careers. Remote workers can largely work how, when and where they want — whether from their home offices, coworking centers, or while working abroad and traveling as digital nomads. They also save money usually spent on daily transit, business attire and eating out.

2. COVID-19 Puts Company Cultures to the Test

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is pushing businesses around the world into an unprecedented inflection point. Company culture, leadership, employee experience and digital workplace experiences are now being put to the test. The way many companies work changed overnight. Massive numbers of workforces have gone remote. Travel restrictions have gutted the ability to accomplish certain tasks. Team collaboration, morale support and the ability of executive teams to pivot, and quickly, have seemingly never been more paramount.

1. Why Remote Learning and Online Learning Are Not the Same

When enterprises finally started sending people home because of the coronavirus, Gartner undertook a survey of 800 global HR executives to find out to what degree remote working had become a reality. The survey indicated that 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home, regardless of whether they showed coronavirus-related symptoms. Nearly all organizations (97%) had, even then, cancelled work-related travel, more than an 80% increase on the two weeks that preceded.