A lot of recent focus on the digital workplace has been on how enterprises are managing the effects of COVID-19.

Many of the technologies introduced into the enterprise over the past six months have responded to immediate and urgent needs – like the introduction of Slack or Teams for communication and collaboration – but these technologies are also precipitating the rise of new, permanent ways of working. 

According to analyst firm Gartner's recently released "HypeCycle for the Digital Workplace" (behind paywall), enterprises have discovered during the crisis that they need to develop digital resiliency across the workforce after COVID-19 as well as during it. In fact, it was this scramble to build up technology stacks during the pandemic that led to the development of what Gartner describes as the "smart workplace."

Inside the Digital Workplace Hype

Gartner defines a smart workplace as a workspace that uses the growing digitalization of physical objects to deliver new ways of working and improve workforce efficiency.

But that is only one of six trends shaping the way the digital workplace is being defined. The other five are worth noting as they feed into the global picture of what the workplace is going to look like post-COVID-19. They include:

  1. The “new work nucleus,” a collection of SaaS-based personal productivity, collaboration and communication tools combined into one cloud office product. Examples include Microsoft 365 or Slack.
  2. Individuals are beginning to use more personal Internet of Things (IoT) devices or wearables at work in a trend known as "bring your own thing" (BYOT). 
  3. Desktop-as-a-service, where enterprises provide users with an on-demand, virtualized desktop experience delivered from a remotely hosted location.
  4. The pandemic has resulted in the rapid emergence of the distance economy or business activities that don’t rely on face-to-face activity.
  5. Technology services of the future will be assembled and composed by the people that actually use them.

Related Article: The Digital Workplace Accelerates

The Elements of the Smart Workplace

The result is a digital workplace that is likely to be better equipped and easier to work in than before the pandemic. There are a number of tools that are also emerging as key in this new digital workplace, said Talha Waseem, tech content editor at InvoZone, a Pakistan-based software development company. 

Team communications

"If we are to discuss the field of software and IT," he said, "then perhaps the most important tool should cater to team communication. Video, audio and message chatting should be an important factor in smart workplace technologies. Interestingly, team communication is an important factor in almost all successful businesses and it gets even more highlighted due to the pandemic."

Project management

Project management tools should also be present. Software like Jira and Trello are good for managing workflow and keeping an eye on what’s happening daily. “When you are a project manager, it is important that you are aware of your team’s current work process and such software are your eyes during remote work,” Waseem said.

Employee tracking

For HR departments, keeping track of individual performance is key. Working remotely can be challenging for some so employee tracking applications can foster productivity and help teams stay focused. However, they can also be used to record an employee’s screen, thereby raising issues of privacy and confidentiality. While the notion might seem daunting for employees, it is the usage and intention that matters.

Virtual training and development

COVID-19 shifted the way companies think about employee training and development, said Derek Belch, CEO of San Francisco-based Strivr, a specialist in virtual reality training. He pointed out that at the onset of the outbreak, many training and development programs went on hold because in-person meetings, the main mode of delivery, became impossible to continue safely.

Now, companies are realizing that better digital training options will not only add to the resiliency of their workforce but reduce churn amongst employees. In fact, 58% of young workers are more motivated to switch jobs for access to better learning opportunities and better work/life balance than higher pay. Virtual reality platforms play a part, offering employees the opportunity to be fully immersed in real-world scenarios where they practice hard and soft skills in a safe environment, without risk or consequence.

Learning Opportunities

Related Research: The State of the Digital Workplace 2020

Segregation of Collaboration Tools

Collaboration tools saw a boom in business during COVID-19 as employees moved to remote working. As companies begin to think about investing in resilient, future-proof tech stacks they will be faced with the challenge of satisfying several competing priorities such as convenience vs. security and integration vs. privacy, said Morten Brøgger, CEO of Wire, a San Francisco-based collaboration platform. The likelihood is that the market will see:

  1. Message tiering: Innocuous/fun messages like celebrating a colleagues’ birthday will hold a different classification than serious messages that discuss sensitive information or data, such as company intellectual property and consumer data.
  2. Tech stack variety: Once information types are tiered, companies will invest in tools that are most appropriate even if they are in similar categories. In the communication world, this means having a light, accessible tool like Slack for innocuous conversations alongside a secure tool for conversations with sensitive or private content.

“We have already started to see this trend," Brøgger said. "It will only continue to pick up speed as companies prepare for the long term."

Security Is Central to the Digital Workplace

All of this, like the rest of the technology in the enterprise stack, needs to be secured. More than ever, security has become one of the key enterprise issues in the rapidly evolving digital workplace.

According to Jesse Wojtkowiak, head of information security at New York City-based Pipedrive, data security is a social issue at this point. “There is a good chance you are a digital citizen and are unaware of your responsibilities of citizenship," he said. "In this respect, everyone owns this problem.”

Data management in the emerging digital workplace has not been separated from other aspects of the business. Guidance is informed and directed by the compliance program which is under the information security department.

A digital workplace security strategy, once agreed upon and communicated, is a series of actions that hopefully end in the achievement of a goal. But it's not enough to have a strategy. Culture drives action, said Wojtkowiak. People ultimately ensure the enterprise is resilient and that risks are minimized.

“A strategy is what you hope to achieve, culture is what you do and how you do it,” he said.