In much of the discussion about digital transformation remote working is often cited as the most obvious expression of these processes. However, COVID-19 will pass, many workers will continue to work from home and enterprises will still have to transform their workplaces.

Digital Workplace Movement

Prior to COVID-19, research from NTT, published in their 2019 Digital Means Business Benchmarking Report, indicated that most organizations recognized the need to digitally transform their workplaces, but that there was a significant gap between those who were progressing at pace and those slower off the starting blocks.

As we have seen already, COVID-19 has changed all that. The 2021 report from NTT, titled Future Disrupted: 2021 Technology Trends, published recently, suggests that, over the next year, the link between business value and investment will become more pronounced. Now, more than ever, the report reads, IT needs to be willing and able to respond to what the business needs.

As evidence of the disruption COVID-19 will have on future digital workplaces, NTT looks beyond 2021. Based on a survey of 1,350 decision makers and influencers across 19 markets around the world, some of the findings reveal the extent to which enterprise leaders are struggling with shaping workplaces after COVID-19. It showed that:

  • Less than a third of all businesses (30.7%) have changed their IT policy to help employees work within a new operating model.
  • Under half (43.3%) have deployed new communication and productivity tools. In many cases employees have been left to use their personal devices and applications which has rapidly increased the potential for security vulnerabilities.
  • As such, 66.9% of organizations are finding it more difficult to spot IT security or business risk brought about by employees when they are working remotely.
  • Only 46.4% have increased their IT security capabilities to keep their organization and employees secure.

“Employee well-being will be at the forefront of the business agenda and companies will need to adopt an employee-centric strategy around a distributed workforce to be successful in the new normal, the report reads. It also predicts the emergence of five new and emerging technologies that will shape the digital workplace. They include:

  • All-photonics networks will enable end-to-end, information transmission between the terminal and the server and will allow users to develop intensive sustainable communications environment.
  • Digital twin computing (DTC) will enable predictive analytics by integrating the real and virtual worlds
  • Low-code/no-code platforms built to enable anyone to create business applications using their company data — will be a significant differentiator for businesses. The "citizen developer" approach is also utilizing robotic process automation to automate certain business processes, allowing employees to spend time on higher-value work.
  • Quantum and edge computing will usher in a new era of edge computing

The problem is that many of these technologies are, for the moment, beyond the reach of most and will not be generalized for another three to five years. The problems of developing digital workplaces, however, are more immediate than that.

Related Article: How COVID-19 Has Changed Digital Transformation Strategies

Catching up on Investments

Everett Harper is CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Truss, a software engineering firm that works for both private and public sector companies.

He said that it has become clear over the past few months that organizations that have  delayed making investments in last few years, have accelerated those investments and have put dollars, and people into the challenge of digital transformation. The result is that there are now transformation offices across many organizations serving as centers for transformation efforts, and they have budget and support from the executive suite. As a result, digital transformation has passed being a buzzword into funded initiatives with business goals.

Take the example of supply chain processes. Enterprise leaders here recognize that these processes are fragile. Data is not normalized, timely, nor actionable to adjust to rapid changes that has been evident during the pandemic. Underlying that data are broken or legacy systems, or siloed departments whose conflicting incentives are now laid bare.

At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, many leaders and CEOs estimated that going back to the office would take place in 2-3 months. And on the backside of the second surge, people realized it will last through 2021. Finally, the companies are now are realizing that digital transformation, like many other change management processes or culture change processes, is not measured by fixing it quickly.

This means the fundamental issue and opportunity in the future is not just about digitizing processes. It is about how companies will rethink the definition of individual and team performance. “That's the real digital transformation that I don't think we've contemplated yet. The winners of this will be people who take this seriously, who have a long-term vision, and who rely on their networks of people to help them change their organization,” Harper said.

The Role of Technology

While this sudden shift is causing a lot of panic and uncertainty, it is also shedding light on how powerful technology can be in this critical time. There are dozens of tools that will, in the future, enable even the slowest digital developer to transform. “We are coming to realize that there is a plethora of tools and software that supports just about every kind of virtual business function,” Akram Assaf, CTO of Dubai-based Bayt, a digital recruitment company, told us. "From teleconferencing to shared projects, to online hiring and talent management, and all the way to virtually simulated events and conferences, the possibilities are massive.”

Learning Opportunities

Many companies, especially those that already operate in the technology field are finding the shift less cumbersome (think of social media companies, digital news outlets, software providers, and such). Other establishments that are more heavily dependent on physical contact (such as restaurants, retailers, government agencies, etc.) are a bit challenged with this task.

Nonetheless, for the future, it is vital that all kinds of organizations and sectors quickly shift to remote work and look at utilizing virtual and online technologies to minimize the economic and financial burden that is already surfacing due to COVID-19.

According to the Remote Work in the MENA, a poll conducted recently by Bayt, 89% of respondents believe that companies will start favoring employees who can carry out their jobs independently and remotely. In fact, facilitating remote access can lower equipment costs, reduce office overhead, and boost employee productivity.

Post pandemic, most organizations will likely continue offering flexible and remote work to save money and boost employee morale. From teleconferencing to shared projects, to online hiring and talent management, and all the way to virtually simulated events and conferences, the possibilities are massive.

Security in the Future of Digital Transformation

According to Chase Norlin, CEO of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Transmosis, a cybersecurity workforce developer, the shift to remote work has created a significant increase in cybercriminal activities that are now attacking home users in larger numbers and in particular small businesses and individuals with little to no cybersecurity protection. He says that small businesses are the number 1 target for cybercriminals, but most enterprise cybersecurity software companies focus on SMBs (100-500+ person companies) or large enterprise accounts. The entire service is particularly relevant to the post COVID-19 world where many small businesses are now working from home.

And it could be ruinous for small businesses when you consider that the average cost in 2019 for a small businesses to recover from a ransomware attack was $84,000.

There are several emerging technologies and actions that will, in the future, protect companies from attack. They include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (A.I.): Cybersecurity software platforms that aid in the detection and proactive elimination of cybersecurity attacks.
  • Virtual Security Operation Centers: Live personnel that utilize new advanced A.I. detection platforms to proactively mitigate and/or eliminate cybersecurity threats.
  • The growing importance of advanced cybersecurity services for protecting the home environment due to the widespread proliferation of IoT devices and trends in remote work.
  • Increase in the amount of people becoming trained in cybersecurity technology and entering the workforce.

COVID-19 was the catalyst that forced many companies to devise transformation strategies and to adopt technologies to support a newly remote workforce, even if they were no ready. Though businesses have had to think fast when it comes to digital transformation, one basic principle of transformation has held true: companies need a single source of business truth, provided in real-time and more often than not, hosted in the future. This is what the future of the enterprise looks like.