millennial woman with vr headset on covering her mouth in surprise
PHOTO: Hammer & Tusk

The future of the digital workplace is of course all about technology, more than anything though, it will be about how people interact with the technology. Advancements in mobility, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) hold a tremendous amount of promise. The key for enterprises is balancing the entry of digital natives into the workplace, technology investments in these new technologies and how these two things interact.

Any discussion of how technology is shaping the workplace of the future must consider how workers are driving change, either in concert with that technology or in resistance to it, according to Kristen Ames, vice-president of Logical Design Solutions. Businesses are bringing more and more digital natives into their workplaces and that is having an impact on the shape of the digital workplace of the future.

Digital Natives Grew Up With Tech

These natives grew up with technology as a fundamental condition of their social, domestic and educational lives. As the workplace becomes more consumerized, these workers’ implicit comfort with and reliance upon technology as a way of working, learning and collaborating will shape businesses of all kinds — from companies’ technology investments to their structures of work to their organizational design. There are three direct implications, according to Ames.

1. Timelines Accelerate, Placing a Premium on Attention

Digital natives move fast — whether it’s through their gig economy-based careers, their penchant for microlearning or their capability to conduct multiple conversations across (at best) tangentially related online discussions and projects.

Investments in AI, IoT, and other technologies that do repetitive tasks, output usable business intelligence or provide real-time decision support will benefit these digital natives. They offload work to technology easier than their older workmates so they can focus their attention on the most strategic or judgment-oriented work, which only humans can do.

Related Article: 7 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Reinventing Human Resources

2. Good Ideas Come From Everywhere

Digital natives are social media natives. For them, a company without instant messaging, social forums and other ways of connecting online in real time are a red flag. But beyond relying on these platforms to connect and communicate, these workers are accustomed to establishing their online personas and influencing discourse through multiple platforms. Implicitly, social networks and multi-cloud experiences are diffuse and anti-hierarchical.

These workers expect to weigh in and be heard, in real-time and in meaningful discussions about work. To keep them engaged, businesses that previously relied on rigid corporate hierarchies and in-person influence need to shift. Create open and accessible platforms for discussion, weave them into the fabric of day-to-day work, and set clear expectations for how this technology should and should not be used.

3. Results Over Optics

Younger generations of workers are comfortable with constant connectivity. They work from their mobile phones, often respond instantly to emails and expect to text with their colleagues as soon as an idea or issue arises whether it is between 9 and 5 or not. These behaviors undermine conventional optics of productivity, like spending a set number of hours in the office each day. Conversely, digital natives expect the contributions of each individual to be transparently visible.

“Globally speaking, companies should take these expectations seriously and invest in the technologies that will meet people where they are, assisting them in new ways of working and collaborating,” Ames said.

Related Article:  What a Digital Workplace Is and What It Isn't

The Kind of Tools Digital Natives Use

So what about the tools? Darren Chait, COO and co-founder of Hugo, which develops a meeting note platform that keeps teams connected, spends much of his time trying to understand the needs of key IT decision-makers, in particular CIOs, and how their perceptions around workplace technology are changing.

He argues that today’s enterprise technology ecosystem, particularly the SaaS ecosystem, is approaching an inflection point in its evolution. More than 90 percent of the SaaS tools used by companies today are department-specific and the average organization employs 129 distinct apps. As a result, a new breed of digital team collaboration tools has emerged, like Slack or Trello, that use extensive software interoperability to drive greater synergy among these disparate business applications.

As these new applications play an increasingly arterial role within the enterprise, the improved information flows they facilitate enable businesses to better assess the value of their enterprise technologies on both an individual level and in respect to one another. In turn, businesses are able to better organize and prioritize their technology suites to arrive at a technology formula best suited for them.

The result is that the digital workforce isn't just driving the consumerization of IT, but also accelerating the consumerization of the workplace. These changing employee behaviors and expectations are shaping the way organizations think about the role of technology in the workplace.

These tools, implemented with the purpose of improving interorganizational communications, information and workflows, are also pivotal in dissolving team silos and ending information sharing on “need-to-know” bases. Empowered with more information and the ability to extend their voices further within the organization, employees have the ability to improve their net contribution, irrespective of employment tier or any immutable qualities that may have previously, explicitly or implicitly, limited their opportunities for growth and success.

Planning the Workplace

The results is that when planning the workplaces, enterprises can no longer think about technology in isolation. Technology is ingrained in just about every aspect of life for digital natives, so their tech preferences affect how they behave: in isolation and when interacting and collaborating with others, as well as how they perform most efficiently, said Darryl Henderson, an interior architecture practice leader who designs physical digital workplaces for Hanbury.   

These ‘natives’ are accustomed to working in large groups, breaking into smaller clusters for specific tasks, and retreating to their headphones and goggles for isolated downtime. This generation blends work and downtime throughout the day and in a variety of locations. More than ever before, technology and the physical work environment need to be considered collectively. The result is that digital natives, in terms of the software they use, expect:

  • The future workplace to allow them to be connected, at all times, from anywhere.
  • Productivity apps to become commonplace — apps that will aid them in navigating their days.
  • Seamless integration of technology needs to be at the forefront of decision-makers minds when thinking of upgrading or rolling out new technology.

Shadow Digital Tech

In the past, when BYOD strategies were not implemented and mobile workers were forced to leave their own mobile devices at home, they started bringing unauthorized devices and apps into the workplace. Likewise, digital natives who are not offered the apps they need and want will bring their own unauthorized tools into the workplace, creating considerable security issues.

New research from NextPlane shows just how much of a problem this is. A majority (82 percent) of digital natives, based on a survey of 750 IT professionals, are pushing back on IT or management when the company tries to dictate which collaboration tools should be used. But IT is standing its ground; nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of IT pros say they prevail when employees push back.

The Fight to Collaborate Part 2: IT Stands Its Ground (free after registration) showed that despite the fact that the vast majority of IT professionals (84 percent) believe their companies are providing end users with the software tools they need to collaborate successfully, they also recognize that end users sometimes deviate from mandated technologies and use their own preferred tools to communicate with their colleagues. Other findings:

  • 23 percent felt confident they have visibility into which platforms are inside their company and the usage patterns of team collaboration tools.
  • 13 percent said that some employees continued using the chosen tools in defiance of IT and the company.
  • 54 percent said the company has the final say on all of the collaboration tools end users need to do their jobs.
  • 36 percent said they have some say in what kind of collaboration tools they want to use to do their job.

To summarize, digital workplaces now and in the future will provide digital natives with the ability to find information and delegate information to the right people without risking security. Unobtrusive communication with intelligent tools to aid in work processes will help teams form rapidly and work with networks outside organizations.