steam coming off the top of a coffee cup
Aside from a hot cup of coffee, of course. PHOTO: Dave Michuda

Recent research from San Francisco-based independent research organization TMR found a significant rise (registration required) in the demand for workplace transformation technology and services. These services are widely regarded as a way of enabling workers to complete tasks on time, ensuring better productivity and even happier workers.

Workers Need New Digital Skills

The services, according to TMR, include core enterprise applications, collaboration applications, instant messaging, enterprise mobility and workplace automation tools. Combined, the report states, these services can instigate digital transformation projects that will change enterprises from traditional workplaces and workforces into digital workplaces and digital workforces. The report adds that the market growth and use of these technologies and services is also driving organizational restructuring, demographics and operation expenditures.

“The transformation in the workplace, particularly digital, provides flexibility and agility to workers, improving their overall performance and productivity,” the report reads. “This necessarily requires changes in the way employees work, in the tools they use and the way they interact with their colleagues and customers.”

It also requires new skillsets, because the kind of people who are entering the workforce are different than those entering the enterprise even 10 years ago. “An interesting trend we have seen at large companies deploying digital workplace technologies is that the projects are increasingly led by digital native millennials with the budget authority to choose technologies,” Peter Yared, founder and CTO at San Francisco-based employee portal provider Sapho said.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. He said IT leaders recognize there is a new generation of both people and technology, and are happy to let millennials drive digital workplace initiatives. “Older people ask their kids what phone they should buy, and now that the kids have grown up, they're asking them what work technologies to deploy,” he said.

Related Article: Poor Digital Skills Hinder Digital Workplace Progress

Workers Need Digital Awareness

Paul Bailo is a corporate executive and professor who is an adjunct executive graduate professor in business at New York University and Columbia University. He believes digital employees need to be more than just technology users, they also need to be digitally aware of their enterprise.

The new digital workplace, he said, requires employees to think on a new level in the non-physical world and see the organization as it should and could be, not only what it is currently. They should be aware of what has worked and has not worked in the digital world. Digital leaders need to be able to bestow confidence in others, so organizations don’t fear embarking on new projects.

Traditional Skills Translate to Digital Workplaces

Specifically, this means digital employees must demonstrate several characteristics that are also key for workers in traditional workplaces, according to Elyssa Respaut, project manager at Bethesda, Md.-based AmDee LLC, a website design and development agency. Those skills include:

Accountability: Even though someone works digitally, they still have timelines and budgets to meet. While hours of work may be more flexible, it's still important employees take accountability for getting tasks done on time and within budget.

Time management: This falls under the accountability as well, but it's very important that workers can self-manage their own time. If the project takes three hours to be completed and it must be delivered by 6 pm EST on Tuesday, it doesn't matter if you work from 3 am to 6 am or noon to 3pm Tuesday — if you miss the deadline it's still a problem.

Communication: It's important your colleagues know they can still talk to you, even if it's not in-person. Sometimes a phone call or video conference are needed to keep a project on task.

Related Article: Why Self-Actualized Companies Achieve Higher Employee Satisfaction

Making Digital Data Accessible

For Janne Hietala, chief commercial officer with the Joensuu, Finland-based information and technology services company Arcusys, digital employees must be able to use enterprise systems and applications to send information to where it is needed and to find information wherever it is buried.

Digital employees need “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 their organizations,” he said. An immersive, personalized and context-sensitive learning environment will create a fully functioning digital workplace and ensure employee engagement.  This is particularly true if workers can access the digital workplace from different devices, which helps people work more efficiently on their own time.

Related Article: How to Define the Digital Workplace 2030 and Why It Matters Now

Empowering Employees to Communicate

Sean Winter, vice president of solutions strategy at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Jive Software, an Aurea company, said a digital workplace should empower employees to communicate and collaborate even as companies, industries and employees change. Organizations, he said, must develop a strategy that evolves with these changes so that people can connect, and easily find and share information and expertise.

“Digital transformation initiatives often deliver more technologies than ever for communicating and collaborating. But while those tools are making some tasks easier, they can make your digital workplace more complicated,” he said.

Without a central hub for the digital workplace, employees often struggle with an ever-expanding patchwork of disparate systems and apps that make it harder to find information and work effectively across functions, roles and geographies. To ensure employee engagement in digital workplace, enterprises need to offer them:

  1. Device access: All employees need a way to access the business applications that their company provides. Whether it's through a laptop or a smartphone, and whether it's an employee-owned device or company-supplied hardware, these access devices are the gateway into the digital workplace.
  2. Communications software: Some businesses prefer to use phones while others use elaborate videoconferencing software. Whatever the case may be, it's critical to have technology that allows your employees to communicate and collaborate with one another on a regular basis.
  3. Business applications: This is the crux of a firm's digital workplace. From business software to knowledge management platforms to project management systems, these applications are what enable employees to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
  4. Security: Having a digital workplace is generally good for productivity, but what good is it if malicious parties can easily compromise it? Digital security is critical to ensuring your network and data are safe and secure at all times.

A workplace transformation benefits an organization in ways more than one. It ups productivity and competitive advantage, brings down costs, and improves collaboration. However, before any of this can happen, enterprises need to ensure that employees buy into the concept in the first place. That, in turn, will only happen if the organization is adapted to offer them access to the tools, services and applications they need.