5 key trends shaping the digital workplace in 2017

What are the key trends that shapes the digital workplace? The previous month has taken me around Europe to meet with practitioners and take an active part in the discussions that are having a big impact for everyone in the workplace.

Where many industry events are led by vendors or agencies, the below input is almost exclusively based on conversations with customers, typically large, global and complex organisations.

Dealing with change was a common theme across all organisations of all sizes, but that’s hardly a new trend. Let’s turn to 5 key digital workplace trends for 2017:

1. A wider focus on the employee experience

Employee engagement has been all the buzz in the past years and is typically related to internal social media initiatives. Some more successful than others. Agencies have told several J. Boye members that getting likes and comments on internal posts and articles equals engagement; but so what?

According to J. Boye Head of Groups, Lau Andreasen, employee experience is the next step:

“Employee experience is much wider and entails all facets of being an employee – and this is where internal communicators have an opening for both grabbing new territory and really making a difference”

It was only in late 2016 that Harvard Business Review encouraged readers to design your employee experience as thoughtfully as you design your customer experience. Lau has recently published a list of 10 employee experience leaders to watch in 2017.

Jonathan Phillips talking about how Microsoft Office hurts productivity and negatively impacts the employee experience

Among the top 10 was UK-based Jonathan Phillips, who runs a digital workplace consultancy called ClarityDW.

At a J. Boye event in Manchester, Jonathan highlighted that while many have been overly focused on welcoming and attracting millennials, we have been missing an important point: The employee experience now also needs to cater to older employees who stays longer and this leads to a widening gap between the youngest and the oldest employee. Different requirements, expectations and needs to make for a good employee experience. 

A final point where many organisations have a long way to go: We need to shape the future digital workplace beyond the desktop. Creating apps has already made a key difference on the the employee experience for J. Boye member organisations like Siemens, T-Systems and many others.

2. Increased usage of visual communications

Depending on who you ask, this one has been long coming. Just like with apps or social business initiatives, there are early adopters who have reaped the benefit of visual communications as a part of their digital workplace for years.

jonas-bladt-hansen-internal-comms-futureIn a presentation by Jonas Bladt Hansen, Director of Internal Communications at dairy giant Arla Foods, he talked about how visual communications can be used for numerous scenarios, whether it be complex messages or to deal with the shortened attention span.

Visual communications means video to many, which do require a sizable investment in time and resources to do right. Improved usage of visuals, including infographics, is an easier and cheaper way to get started, but clearly the time has come to not only rely on text.

3.  Email is back

This one have been contentious as many J. Boye members have a love-hate relationship with email. Whether you like email or not, email is fact of life and getting email right holds tremendous potential to improve the digital workplace.

Examples include smarter ways to work with tasks, notifications as known from social media and even internal newsletters which similar to email has been announced dead by industry pundits time and time again.

When email is done right, it hugely improves productivity, by providing probably the lowest common denominator for knowledge sharing and with a tool that is universally adopted.

This does not mean that you should stop pushing certain email conversation onto internal social channels, like many collaboration initiatives have done, it means having a new conversation about email and the crucial part it plays and will continue the play in the digital workplace.

4. Chatbots and artificial intelligence

Multipe trends are driving this into the digital workplace. Chatbots are no longer as bad as they were when they initially became a thing and simultaneously Amazon Alexa are arriving in households around the world as a charming personal assistant.

A key function for the digital workplace is to help me get things done. With legacy intranets, employees usually had to navigate difficult to understand information architectures. Now chatbots can assist you to the form you need and to getting to the answer you are looking for.

How quickly trend reshapes your digital workplace may vary, but as has become usual, expectations are going up and employees bring the consumer behaviour with them to work. If your stakeholders can say “Ok Google” or “Alexa” followed by their question and have been doing it for a while, it will take much more than a design refresh to impress them.

5. Towards the future of work

The future is digital, but clearly there is more to the future of work than just a digital workplace. We need to take a broader look at how we organize our everyday working lives.

Guilla Ridgewell from Grundfos sharing her experiences on learning by doing

At Danish Grundfos they’ve focused on how to work as a global network and how the digital workplace can enable this. Guilla Ridgewell from Grundfos recently shared what this actually means in daily practices and how they strive to make learning a part of their global working culture. 

As covered in my posting from our Amsterdam event titled Workplace of the Future, IBM is also leading the way with experimental learning and cross-company collaboration. At the event in Amsterdam, IBM’s social business expert Monique van Maare shared their story of igniting cultural transformation for the future of work.

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