It’s not too much of a stretch to say that companies crammed several years of digital transformation into the span of just a few short weeks in the spring of 2020. Of course, it wasn’t a choice for most. The COVID-19 pandemic made the shift to new ways of working a necessity as organizations across the globe shuttered offices and sent legions of workers home.

But as office workers set up shop at the kitchen table and struggled to keep the kids out of sight on the Zoom meeting, something became increasingly clear. Those organizations already along the path to digital transformation found themselves in a better position to cope with the challenges created by the rapid shift to remote working. And, unsurprisingly, COVID-19 gave those who hadn’t made the digital workplace a priority a solid shove in that direction.

That’s one of the findings from a study of more than 450 executives surveyed for “The State of the Digital Workplace 2020” report. CMSWire and Reworked conducted this original survey in spring 2020 to assess the state of the digital workplace. Broadly speaking, the digital workplace refers to an ever-evolving set of practices that encompasses leadership, culture, technology and practices to deliver operational goals and positive employee experience. And, according to the survey, there's a growing level of maturity in practice and rising levels of satisfaction with the tools needed to carry it out. But significant challenges remain.

Related Research: The State of the Digital Workplace 2020

The Digital Workplace Accelerates

The digital transformation of work, which was already picking up momentum in prior years, accelerated significantly in 2020. Survey data over the past four years shows a steady increase of organizations formalizing a digital workplace strategy or program, growing from less than half of all organizations (46%) in 2017 to nearly three quarters in 2020 (72%).

2020 state of digital workplace infographic

That acceleration is matched by a growing maturity. After three years of relatively static responses, a solid majority (58%) of organizations now report a significant level of maturity in their approach to the digital workplace. That’s a considerable leap from 2019, when it was 39%.

More than half of organizations now rate the digital workplace as a high priority this year, compared with less than half (48%) in 2019. The rise of remote working driven by the effects of COVID-19 clearly had an impact, but other factors are at play as well. The widespread adoption of cloud technologies in the workplace, such as Microsoft Office 365 and the Google Suite, increasingly make the promise of the digital workplace a reality.

Satisfaction with those tools and technologies is also improving. While a persistent gap remains between expectations and level of satisfaction with digital workplace tools and technologies, that gap narrowed this year. Survey responses indicate the average of all tools “working well” in 2020 was 23%, up from 11% in 2019.

More mature organizations had an advantage here, reporting a greater proportion of tools working well and a lesser proportion of digital workplace tools that needed work. That's likely a reflection of more robust and effective deployments, more sophisticated support for users and tighter integration with overall strategy and processes.

Related Article: What's at the Core of a Successful Digital Workplace?

What’s Driving Investment

Beyond the immediate need created by the pandemic-driven shift to distributed teams and remote work, several priorities have emerged for digital workplace investment. According to the survey, the top five priorities driving digital workplace investment are:

  • Culture and change (29%)
  • Improving customer service (29%)
  • Knowledge management (29%)
  • Digitization and process improvement (28%)
  • Learning and development (28%)

When controlling for maturity, an interesting distinction emerges. Organizations with a more mature digital workplace strategy have moved beyond basic process improvement and digitization to higher-value outcomes.

While companies in the early stages of digital workplace transformation focus on the nuts and bolts, more mature organizations have set their sights on improving employee experience, effectively managing performance, driving change across the enterprise and ultimately delivering better outcomes for customers as a result.

Learning Opportunities

Challenges Remain

Despite accelerated progress and a rising level of maturity, challenges remain. Unsurprisingly, money is the biggest reported challenge to the transformation of the digital workplace. One in three survey respondents cited budget constraints as a limitation on their efforts. This held true regardless of company size. Tightened purse strings are a fact of life for many, whether you're a 500-person shop or a 100,000 person multinational company.

Beyond budget, respondents identified a range of further challenges:

  • Lack of cross-departmental collaboration (20%)
  • Competing initiatives or departments (20%)
  • Digital workplace adoption (17%)
  • Organizational culture (16%)

What these challenges point out is the need to develop a stronger business case for the digital workplace. The push to remote work created the opportunity. It’s up to digital workplace leaders to make the case for continued investment to fulfill the promise. Fortunately, as this study points out, there’s a strong rationale for opening up the wallet. Digital workplace maturity has proven to be a source of competitive advantage for organizations as they grapple with the immediate challenges of COVID-19. Those near-term advantages can turn into long-term opportunity as work continues to evolve at a rapid pace.