What will the digital workplace of 2019 look like? Probably a lot like 2018, considering it’s only a few weeks away. Despite advances in digital workplace technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), many organizations still struggle to help employees accomplish common tasks like finding information to do their jobs, according to the State of Digital Workplace 2018 report by Igloo Software. 

Digital workplace experts share some thoughts on what will disrupt the digital workplace in 2019 and help organizations and their employees move forward.

Getting to the 'Near Future of Work'

Sharon O’Dea, digital communication and collaboration expert and co-founder of consultancy Lithos Partners, told CMSWire in 2018 the future of work became front of mind for policymakers, grappling with the impact of increasing automation, the growth of the gig economy, and the rise of AI. It was the theme, she said, of Argentina’s presidency of the G20 this year. In January, the International Labour Organisation will announce the long-awaited findings of its Global Commission on the Future of Work, she added. “In 2019 I believe the focus will switch from the theory to the reality — the near future of work,” O’Dea said. “Organizations are looking at these macro trends and asking how they can ameliorate risk and capitalize on the opportunities it presents. As the digital workplace is where work gets done, there’ll be a renewed focus on how it can enable organizations to adapt to the new world of work.”

How can our platforms ensure people are informed and engaged? In a world where talent is globally distributed but opportunity is not, how can the digital workplace help companies to tap into a global marketplace of talent? How can the digital workplace help organizations innovate? “As the future of work becomes the reality of work,” O’Dea said, “the pressure is on for the digital workplace to deliver on its promise.”

Related Article: The Future of Work: Enterprise Productivity Experts' Trends for 2018

From Pleasant Experience to Transformative  

Digital workplace solutions will increasingly become a marriage between bringing business value and increasing employee engagement because these tools are not only a good experience, but they have the power to be transformative, according to James Glasnapp, UX researcher at PARC. “We increasingly want products and services that help us learn, transform, grow and evolve,” Glasnapp said. “In essence, we are not just looking for a pleasant experience; we want a transformational one.”

Companies that provide meaningful transformational experiences for employees are the companies that will increasingly be able to retain high-value employees who are consistently excited about coming to work. The onus is on managers to understand their employee's aspiration. How do they aim to grow, and where are they today? “Then try to understand that gap between what they want in order to mature [going forward] and where they are [now],” Glasnapp said. “Digital workplace solutions will be a fundamental part of this change.”

Digital workplace solutions will need to (1) equal or exceed solutions we have for the home, (2) help us to change, utilize and see physical office space in new ways and (3) change the average employee's mindset, according to Glasnapp.

Related Article: Employee Experience Priorities for 2018 and Beyond

Looking Toward the Voice of the Employee 

In 2019, organizations will shape their “talent management” strategies into something that better resembles “people success,” according to Glint CEO Jim Barnett. Approaches to people success will incorporate intentional engagement conversations. “Organizations will look to embed meaning into the employee experience using the voice of the employee as a guide,” Barnett said.

Companies, he added, will turn the one-way employee engagement survey approach into one focused on holistic, action-oriented dialogue and teaching transparency as a habit to leaders and people managers. “These strategies,” Barnett said, “will lead to an increased sense of connection and purpose for employees, which has tangible positive impacts on the workplace as a whole.” 

Team Collaboration Will Become Mainstream

In 2019, there will be a change in philosophy regarding team collaboration applications, according to Ray Watson, VP of technology at Masergy. Many of these tools were typically brought into the enterprise as “shadow IT,” he said. “But, going forward, we will see enterprises IT departments formally adopting team collaboration applications such as Cisco Webex Teams, Slack and Microsoft Teams. These tools provide virtual project workspaces and will emerge as integrated features, embedded into broader cloud unified communications platforms,” Watson added.

Learning Opportunities

Because of these bundled tool sets, usage rates will surge as the masses increasingly adopt these applications, Watson said. “In the past, small groups, departments or work pods adopted these tools,” he added, “but now team collaboration will permeate the enterprise to become the new norm, enhancing productivity and streamlining workflow.”

Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group, said the technologies in the digital workplace carry their own disruptive force. “Just as enterprise use of WhatsApp has allowed shadow IT to become part of the new normal in organizations, we will see innovations in Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook that allow networks, connections and knowledge to move in ways and with speed never seen before,” Miller said. “Do hope we have our seat belts on in 2019 as the pace in digital workplace innovation — and disruption — is only gathering energy.”

Related Article: What If We Used Collaboration Tools to Rethink How We Work?

Flatter, Fluid, Rapid-Fire Structures

Organizations' digital workplace strategies will also undergo a fair share of disruptions in 2019. Organizations are having to upgrade their mindset and ambitions to make full use of the new tech that has arrived, according to Miller.

Miller cited how the ING Group made its entire Dutch business “agile” —  a strategic move to restructure its operations globally. “Tiers of hierarchy have been slashed and power redistributed to enable a flatter, more fluid and rapid-fire structure,” Miller said. “Their logic — what’s the point of pouring even better digital workplace services into a traditional structure that was designed for the industrial age? If ING proves to be a pioneer and not an outlier, then disruption will seem too weak a term to describe what will be taking place in 2019 and beyond.” 

An Expanded Digital Workplace

The digital workplace will keep evolving to include partners, contractors, supply chain and, for some, customers, Miller predicted. “Inside and outside start to seem less ‘fixed,’” Miller said. He cited the Unilever Foundry, a hybrid collection of people, including Unilever staff, venture capitalists, external research and development, startups and experts. It has rolled out a co-working space in Singapore. “Is the Foundry ‘part’ of Unilever or an external organization?” Miller asked. “We have talked about blurring boundaries for many years, but the technology and marketplace is now making this viable and even essential.”

Related Article: Unlock Your Business Potential in 2019 With Your Digital Workplace

When AI Enters the Digital Workplace

While AI has been around for years, adoption of digital assistants, chatbots and other artificially intelligent services will reach a tipping point in 2019, according to Marcus Dervin, WebVine’s managing director. “Creating and training a bot takes time,” Dervin said. “To deliver value it must be educated in company language: brand names, acronyms and regional differences, as well as two-way interfaces with internal systems."

Allan Andersen, director of enterprise solutions for IPsoft, which produces AI technology like chatbots, said organizations can expect to see the decline of one-dimensional chatbots and see a rise in digital colleagues with cognitive-AI that can understand human context and respond accordingly rather than listening for keywords. “The new wave of digital colleagues will also be able to handle multiple, complex tasks seamlessly while continuously learning from new interactions, allowing businesses to have fix-once-forever-fixed performance,” Andersen said. “Ultimately, AI will enable workers to be more efficient working alongside digital colleagues.”