7 digital workplace trends in 2018

My colleagues and I on the J. Boye team constantly get current and honest insights about what works – and what doesn’t at the many organisations in our network. Our global network of digital workplace professionals generously give us privileged access to insights and best practices.

Consequently, a common question we get asked is: What are the key emerging trends?

Prompted by a visit to our member at Deutsche Post DHL in Bonn, we took the opportunity to review recent agendas and identify what’s really moving in this evolving space.

The basics haven’t changed much; It it is not a new trend, but still:

  • senior management support is a prerequisite
  • a roadmap for the evolution of your digital workplace is very useful (and more so than an elaborate strategy…)

These elements are firmly in place among those we might call digital workplace role models.

Below you’ll find a list (not exhaustive) of 7 digital workplace trends for 2018. Feel free to leave a comment below and share your perspective

1) Focus on design thinking and service design

Both design thinking and service design have become much more mainstream in 2018. It’s actually been around for a while; there are conferences on the topics and both areas encompass well-established practices: agile approach to development, customer journey mapping, personas and a more integrated approach to user experience.

It matters what we call things and these terms have a fair share of management appeal. Clearly, it is more than just management jargon and at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference, Maren Christin Hübl from SAP shared more on scaling design thinking and from their 14-years journey with design thinking.

As the numbers from Google Trends show, in particular, design thinking has been taking off for the past 5 years:

service-design-design-thinking

When it comes to the digital workplace, both concepts are becoming key ingredients in creating a superior employee experience. Recent discussions in our peer groups show how they are really delivering value and driving change.

2) Community management is taken [really] seriously

Community management has been talked about for years, but not prioritised; it has been talked up in many organisations, but the resources required to actually do a good job; mandate, time and training have been in sparse supply. Consequently, the real potential of online collaboration and communities has not been leveraged in most organisations; despite the often considerable investment in platform implementation, licensing costs etc. The current trend is towards the discipline being increasingly valued and understood. Just as is the currently the case with data privacy, community management has taken centre stage. When you take community management seriously, with dedicated resources and a plan, it can be a tremendous catalyst for change, knowledge sharing – and also foster a sense of belonging.

We’ve seen with social intranets how simple features like commenting and liking can act as a game changer for employee engagement. More than being about technology, community management is about people and can impact how we think about power and hierarchies in organisations.

Our partners at The Community Roundtable (TheCR) are thought-leaders on the topic. Do take a look at their research and helpful articles.

PS: You can meet Rachel Happe from TheCR at the J. Boye Conference in Denmark in November.

3) The best consider the physical workplace as well

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Philips in Hamburg several times. To me, this is an example of how a large, complex and global organisation acts as role model when it comes to implementing the modern workplace.

selfp
around the innovative Philips regional headquarter in Hamburg

Another global organisation is IBM, which has started using co-working spaces instead of their own offices. In one case study, Big Blue teamed with WeWork to fuel collaboration and innovation.

Contrary to popular belief co-working spaces is no longer reserved for the start-ups and have become popular among many of our members. In fact, WeWork has become so popular, that they are now central London’s biggest occupier according to the Financial Times.

When the physical workspace changes and with remote working on the up, it also adds new requirements to the digital workplace. Technology needs to be able to support the new requirements and there’s a journey ahead of us for all.

Fabio Zilberstein from the European Commission recently shared a very interesting article provocatively titled: “The Workplace Is Killing People and Nobody Cares“. The article is from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and well worth a read on how the work environment also connects to our health and wellbeing.

4) Artificial intelligence and robotics have entered the building

AI and robotics are not really new. But technology has matured so fast that organisations are deploying AI and bots at an amazing rate and delivering real value and cost savings.

As with most technology Amara’s law applies here:

amaras-law

The use cases are plenty fold:

  • Voice used to provide answers to common employee questions
  • AI used to recommend search results
  • Robotics (RPA) to automate processes, where tasks performed by humans can be performed better and cheaper by bots
  • Chatbots to help onboarding new employees

5) Reaching out across the aisle; bringing HR, communication and IT closer together

Perhaps harsh to say that all those 3 departments have been marred by silo-thinking for the many years, but a clear tendency is that all now move closer together in order to improve the digital workplace – or whatever it is called inside the enterprise.

Who “owns”; or holds the overall responsibility foe the digital workplace is a common discussion among peers; yet there is typically wide agreement that no department should go alone.

The analysts at Gartner have the following definition of the digital workplace:

The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies

This wide scope calls for cross-functional collaboration and while intranets were mostly a comms vehicle, the digital workplace is built by teams from across the organisation.

6) Beyond desk and office

While employee apps were an innovative thing in 2016, today there’s a plethora of offerings and plenty of experience with using them. Large organisations like Siemens have had multiple apps for several years.

Key values in being able to reach employees on smartphones and other non-desktop devices include engagement and being able to communicate with all employees.

This is also an area impacted by rapid technology improvements:

  • With the advent of Progressive Web Apps the entire app journey is changing and we can potentially strive for even higher adoption rates
  • Soon 5G mobile networks will be a reality and this will radically change Internet connection speeds and likely remove the need for Wifi

7) Amazing storytellers

Irrespective of technology decisions, there’s an increasing focus on corporate storytelling.

“Stories are engagement machines per excellence” said Robert Minton at a US peer group meeting a few years ago.

Uncovering and communicating the good stories from the many corners of any large organisation is a key function of a vibrant digital workplace. Stories help us identify, put things into perspective and help us decide between different options and ultimately make better decisions.

Video and sound (podcasts, for example) play a role here as sound and visuals help bring the stories to life; make them easier and more interesting to consume and bring authenticity to the stories.

As mentioned initially, this is not an exhaustive list; merely some of the prominent current trends in digital workplace evolution as we see it. What are you experiencing in your organisation? Any key trends not included here?

Use Cases: The enemy of collaboration?

Today’s modern workplace offers a plethora of collaboration tools, as we shift away from face-to-face interactions and increasingly towards digital connections. But making these work has always been complicated by:

  • Too many tools to choose from
  • Choosing between social or document-based collaboration
  • Having overlapping collaboration functionality within suites such as Office 365   
  • Low collaboration maturity in organisations to begin with

When deploying collaboration tools or determining the best way to use existing ones, we often draw upon standard IT project management practice and develop use cases for them. A well-worn route for connecting tools to users, for giving those tools a business goal, a purpose.

And that’s great, we always need a clear goal. And here is where we encounter the problem with use cases and collaboration: forced to try and reconcile two very different types of goal.
what-is-a-use-case

1. Tool biased goals

Use cases are biased towards the tool. They represent transactional needs and are viewed from the perspective of the tool and not of the user. We can refer to these as functional use cases, based on the function of the tool. But isn’t this just putting the cart before the horse?

We are unwittingly pre-determining how people should use the tools based on what the tools say they can do, and of course tools speak in a very different, very functional language. For example:

  • To share files with anyone in the organisation
  • To work on files at any location

bot-not-userMakes sense, but if we are after collaboration, this simply isn’t good enough. We have to ask ‘why’ to these questions. Why do we need to share documents? Why do we need to work on them at any location?

What are our ‘users’ doing? In fact, they are not users, they are people. They might not even need documents at all. The problem is we look at everything as an incremental solution. We used Excel to capture project data, so therefore we should continue to use Excel, only now we should do it in the cloud! That way we can work on the one file, anywhere! Is this a better way of managing a document? Possibly. Is it a force for collaboration? No.

It doesn’t ask any of the deeper, more fundamental questions we need to ask. Why are we capturing data? Who do we need to share it with? What happens at the end? For a moment, let’s forget we ever had an Excel file, forget how we’ve historically worked, and start again. If we actually mapped out people’s interactions based on answers to those questions, we’d have an entirely different use case.

Collaboration as a goal

Another approach would see us having collaboration as a goal in its own right. However noble this is, it still won’t help. Collaboration is never an end goal in itself, it’s a means of achieving an end. Basing a use case purely around what we think collaboration is (or would like it to be) will still drive us towards incremental changes, such as:

  • To have multiple authorship at one time on a file
  • To target content to selected groups
  • To be able to comment on anything at any time just because we can

Again, we have to look a little deeper and understand why we are collaborating. What are we collaborating for? What is the end result for the customer? More important than trying to roll out the broadest, smartest tools that allow us to collaborate better is trying to understand how as people we collaborate. What will motivate us, what will stop us. Where is the link to business outcomes?

What about user stories?

User stories at least acknowledge the perspective of the end-user. However, we still constrain our thinking by the capabilities of the tool and what we expect of it rather than what the problem is that we are actually trying to solve. For example: “As a remote site worker I need to be able to access data logged by the previous shift to identify my tasks”. All sounds reasonable, but all we do is find ways to connect the user with the previous shift’s data. We’re not looking into the actual process of collaboration: who are these people, why do they need to access their data and what does this data tell them? It may be that we’re actually trying to facilitate a conversation between two shifts, but instead only capture data because that’s what we’ve always done.

Use cases and user stories both still drive us to look at previous habits, building on functional capability rather than looking for real opportunities to collaborate based on deeper, fundamental business needs.

It’s about the people

Collaboration is never going to be built on a set of use cases and user stories which too often allow the tools to be the driver of the outcomes. It’s a people thing. It’s what we do when we need to work together to solve a problem or create new solutions and fresh thinking. Understanding what our people are doing, and who they need to collaborate with to improve our work is where we should start. I have absolutely nothing against collaboration tools, in fact they are capable of awesome things when properly used. But we need to challenge our assumptions on why we are using them, on why we are using documents as our vehicle and not conversations, on why we are collaborating in the first place.

A great way to start is to imagine you don’t have any IT tools – to forget about how we’ve historically done things. All we have instead are some people, a place of work, some roles and some customers. Then apply the same projects. What can we do to exceed our clients’ expectations? What can we do to do things better than last time? How would we work? Who do we need to work with? Answering these questions will give us the real use cases we need for our collaboration tools.

Flattening hierarchies, creating more visibility to our work are what collaboration tools are capable of. The question is, how can we leverage this in our own unique situations, what will it achieve and what do we need to do to engage our people in this? If we jump to this more openly communicative world, we need to understand what it means to the way we work, and crucially how we feel.

What if our use cases addressed emotions rather than functions? “I feel confident to highlight a failure on our enterprise social tool”. Now we can actually start to address some of the issues that hold us up truly collaborating.

How to form trust in the digital workplace

When people ask me what in my experience is the biggest barrier to innovation in our workplaces, it almost always falls back to workplace fears: Fears about expectations, fears of being seen, fears about making a mistake. Dig a little deeper and we can see that they are all ultimately based on a lack of trust. A lack of trust from management in our workforce and a lack of trust from our workforce in the environment that they work.

To build innovation as a culture, as a way of work, it’s fundamental that we have a workplace built on trust. Innovation flourishes with openness: experiences and insights shared, creative energy surfacing and a diversity of views. Conversely, innovation is killed by a workforce that keeps their heads down and just focuses on the task, staying within the boundaries of the cubicle.

Today, much of our work is done on digital platforms. The digital workplace is no longer just for connecting distant teams, it’s part and parcel of everyday work. In fact, we’re just as likely to have online conversations with people in our building than face-to-face ones. So if our work is more virtual than in-person, it becomes more and more important to focus on the behaviours we exhibit in the digital domain.  Without this, we significantly reduce the ability to connect and converse, solve problems and establish shared understandings, like we do when we catch someone for a real conversation.

So let’s unpack some of the human factors that build trust and see how we can apply them in the digital workplace. Building trust based on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

Listening and mirroring emotions

Eye contact and responding with similar gestures. These reactions make us relax a little: we’ve got someone’s attention and they seem to like us. But in virtual conversations, who is even listening to us? And even during video conversations, such as Skype and WebEx, it’s nigh on impossible to see the reaction of the audience, and that’s before they’ve dropped out!

In our digital worlds, we need to respond in a way that establishes a similar reaction. A ‘like’ is a good start. It helps to build some semblance of acknowledgement. But to start to form a trusting relationship, a more proactive response is needed. When reacting to a post, add some context: why did you find it useful? How does it connect to what you do? Do you have similar experiences? This opens a positive channel of communications, a thread. Initially, this gives us more confidence to be active in digital conversations and ultimately, building new and productive relationships in the workplace. As a bonus, it also enriches the knowledge in the conversation.

Having things in common

Shared experiences, interests and odd hobbies is a well-proven means of building trust. Immediately it creates empathy with the other person. After all, they are a little bit like me! When we first hold conversations with strangers, we usually go for safe common ground such as the weather. But digging a little deeper usually helps find some common interests like sport, television shows and pets.

What this means is that the often disapproved but tolerated posting of your pet cat doing something almost amusing becomes an important workplace trust building activity. We start to build emotional connections to colleagues. The social network platform starts to become a safe place to talk. This builds us towards an environment where we’re more likely to connect with people who can help us, who need our help or with whom conversations can start to build new and exciting outcomes.

Posting things that mean something to us, or responding to somebody with a similar experience or interest. These are small but very effective ways to build trust and develop a network. Just don’t forget to build business issues and process into your social channels otherwise you’ll be stuck with those bloody cats.

We’re not perfect

The high achiever – always seems to thrive, always perfect. Don’t we just hate them! Jealousy is an innate human trait and for good or bad, it’s just there. It often clouds our judgement under a blanket of emotion. Conversely, we connect more easily with people who aren’t perfect. People who make mistakes, who are fallible. It’s not schadenfreude, it’s just good old fashioned empathy again. It’s hard to have empathy for the person we see (rightly or wrongly) as perfect. After all, that’s just not human, is it?

This one is the hardest of the lot, but thoroughly effective: admitting mistakes, out in the open of our digital ecosystem. In the workplace we’ve always been rewarded for displaying strength, not vulnerability – and so vulnerability is not something we’re comfortable displaying. But innovation is built on mistakes. Human nature is built on mistakes. It’s how we’ve evolved to the top of the food chain – by trying new things, learning from what works and what doesn’t, and adapting our behaviours to suit. So leaders, show strength and admit where you went wrong, What would you do differently next time? You’ll find your teams will trust you much more for it.

Equal favouritism

It’s great to be the head of the pack, surrounded by close colleagues. But what about those who aren’t in the club? If you feel left out, you’re less likely to trust those in the pack. And research by Google on building the perfect team shows that team performance is enhanced when meeting culture allows everyone to have a say, that someone is actually listening to you, rather than just the dominant voices in a room.

In a digital environment, the same applies. Don’t just respond to your mates, showing favouritism to those you know. Break out, and make connections with new people. If someone you don’t know has stuck their neck out to post something, to share what they’ve learned, then respond in kind. Showing that people, especially management, are open to new ideas from those who may not have a seat at the table, is fundamental in bringing the quiet voices out, and offering a vital contribution. How many good ideas have been kept in the locker because they were never shared in the first place?

A smile

Finally, let’s finish with the simplest, most effective way to build trust with someone you don’t know. A smile. It opens us up, suddenly changing the dynamic of an interaction. But how do we convey a smile in a digital world?

It’s actually easy: have a warm smile in your company profile picture. According to research from New York University, people with a positive profile picture on professional networking sites are more likely to appear as trustworthy. And are we really more likely to start a provocative conversation thread with someone with a terrifying face? So put the pout face away and give a good cheesy grin.

 

Trust is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s digital workplaces. As we’re rolling out new tools and changing the rules of how we interact, it’s vital that we change how we help our workforce. Focus on them as people. Bringing in to play some of the measures above will gain their trust. It will increase adoption. It will increase productivity as our digital conversations become more mature and, ultimately, justify the high business value we place on them.

What’s the Point of Your Digital Investment?

Congratulations on your investment in the digital workplace. It’s how we do business. Big hitters like Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook, numerous cloud-based collaboration and networking tools. These are now largely the norm for medium and large businesses. But before we get too excited about all this new technology, let’s first ask ourselves a fundamental question: what are we deploying these tools for?

Robot IQ Cartoon

Are we really procuring something as powerful as Office 365 just to create and store documents? Common reasons for deploying digital tools include ‘to be able to work anywhere’, ‘to connect with my colleagues’ and ‘to find the resources I need to do my job’. And is that really the point? To do our jobs? After all, we’ve always needed tools to perform jobs, from crude wooden implements through industrial machinery to the latest in artificial intelligence. These are all tools, yet they all need a purpose. What is the job we need to do with them?

Shovels and pick axes weren’t procured solely to dig holes for the sake of it. They were used to extract minerals, to build railway lines, to plant orchards. And email wasn’t introduced to replace conversations, it was actually intended to leave messages for colleagues to retrieve when they arrived at work.

So why do we see lavish roll-out of digital tools rolled out without a clear purpose beyond a task? When we say we need to find colleagues, we need to ask why do we need to find colleagues? what’s the necessity that makes us want to talk to people outside of our office?

Digital workplace confusion

It’s actually very simple to see why we struggle to find a clear purpose for our digital tools, as the graphic below shows. We try and band everything together as the digital workplace yet our expectations of it change pretty much annually. It’s actually rather unhelpful to try and group all of these disparate things together.

Expectations of digital working

An example of confused purpose is enterprise social platforms commonly being used as communications tools, to disseminate top-down messages. Sure, they are more than capable of doing it but is that the reason they exist? Is that why we should be on there every day? To see our CEO proudly talking about some shareholders we have no connection with?

Communications, networking, finding content, working on documents collaboratively. These are all ‘what’s’. These are what we do to do a job. And with so many ‘what’s’ in play, it’s increasingly difficult to focus on the needs of our workforce and our customers. So let’s dig a little deeper and see what digital tools can really do by thinking beyond the ‘what’. By thinking about the true capability – the ‘why’. Why do we really need these potentially powerful tools? Here are some suggestions that provide a higher purpose.

Empowering the workforce

‘We need these tools to give our workforce a voice.’ Not an occasional opportunity via surveys, but a voice across everything that we do to improve everything that we do. Typically new projects look backwards, following convention, experience and ‘best practice’. Fine. But if we want to change, to raise the bar, we need fresh input, new ideas, candid learnings. Consider digital tools as empowering tools: throw away the shackles of the cubicle and have these discussions out in the open, ‘working out loud’.

Tools alone, of course, won’t fully deliver this. Left alone, people will continue with their existing habits. But using these same tools we can unearth the blockers to collaboration and challenge them. Out in the open, in candid discussions. With these two simple, empowering motivators we can realise the maximum potential of these tools.

And that’s why it’s critical to determine the ‘why’. The high level driver. Once we see and understand that, we can determine the tactics to deliver it. Digital tools will be an important part of this mix, but we may also need other tactics: training, engagement, leading by example. The digital workplace tools become the place where we can safely and honestly put it all out there. To offer a view or to feed in a problem – not a passive workforce, but a workforce with a voice, influencing decision making and delivery.

Network-driven innovation

The quest for innovation often bypasses the collaborative power of digital workplaces in a focus solely for new ideas. Innovation thrives in environments where seemingly unconnected elements combine into new thinking. The organic, spontaneous realisation that we’ve stumbled across something. Digital networks are excellent innovation engines, connecting people with people, allowing half-formed ideas to intersect with other half-formed ideas, opening the door to insights, trends and problems.

Deploying digital collaboration tools to support an innovative workforce is a truly powerful purpose. And again, like any broader business purpose, we use the tools as part of the mix. An innovation strategy needs engagement, training, catalysts and communities powering the way. But then how amazing that we have such great tools to deliver all of these things: enterprise social networks for innovation communities and engagement, team spaces, spaces for disruption, content and collaboration spaces for training.

To be more innovative is a clear high-level purpose. It gives us permission to disrupt, it links bottom-up thinking via the various tools that comprise the digital workplace. This is an environment in which innovation thrives.

Find it yourself

Digital workplace tools open the door to many possibilities. But whichever way we go, we’ve got to get that clear purpose out there. Once we know that, we can plan. Providing hands-on and bottom-up engagement to make us thrive. Getting us to think of how best to make the digital workplace a safe place to work out loud, to be open and honest, to disrupt. As long as we’ve thought about why and how we will work, the digital workplace is an exciting place. Without this, digital tools become a mess of overlapping, under-used and sometimes counter-productive tools.

Don’t leave the tools to it. A spade won’t dig a hole by itself, likewise SharePoint won’t deliver collaboration by itself. What are we collaborating for? Uploading documents is one tiny piece of a digital future. With a bold vision, we can unleash the power of our workforce to achieve so, so much more.

 

How to measure the value of your digital workplace

The intranet has long been about internal enterprise collaboration. However, this is only a part of the story. According to Martin White, UK-based intranet expert and founder of Intranet Focus, the value of an organization’s digital workplace is dependent on the extent to which the organization can work with suppliers and customers in an overall delivery of products and services.

In advance of his J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference session on the digital workplace conference track, we have asked him to explain how he connects the value of a digital workplace to the ability to cooperate with suppliers and customers, what makes a successful digital workplace strategy, and what are the challenges of executing a digital workplace strategy. Also, we asked Martin to comment on what we need to know about the digital workplace for 2018 and beyond.

Why is the value of an organization’s digital workplace dependent on outsiders?

If the focus of a digital workplace is only on achieving internal objectives then the organisation will gain no benefit. Every organisation purchases products and services from suppliers, adds value through a range of processes and delivers to clients and customers.

To achieve business objectives the digital workplace has to reflect the way in which clients and customers want to do business. That is why IT should never be driving a digital workplace initiative.

What characterizes a successful digital workplace strategy?

In 2000 Jeffrey Beir, the Founder of eRoom Technology said that digital workplaces should be comprehensible, complete, contagious, connected and cross-enterprise. eRoom was later acquired by Documentum, which in turn was acquired by EMC.

The quote by Jeffrey was almost 20 years ago and we are still struggling to achieve these in first-generation digital workplaces.

What are the most common challenges you see organizations facing when they execute their digital workplace strategy?

If only organisations had strategies! Where there are strategies they are often bottom-up, starting from a given technology platform, and not top-down AND bottom-up led by the Board and Chief Executive. If a digital workplace programme is going to make a significant impact on business performance then it has to be led by the Board. If there seems to be no potential impact then why bother?

I see the biggest challenge as not being ready to work with the entire supply/customer chain. Law firms for example are facing a substantial change in the way they do business.

What should digital professionals dealing with the digital workplace in one way or another know for 2018 and beyond?

Know the business well enough, and in particular how decisions are made and tasks are undertaken, to spot where thinking digitally will have both the greatest benefits and the greatest risks.  It is not just about ‘collaboration’ or ‘enterprise social networking’. By definition enterprise social networks are internal – the conversations and collaboration with organisations and people outside of a business are equally, and maybe even more, important.

A vendor-neutral evaluation of Intranet Dashboard

intranet-dashboard-product-evaluation-aug17

“Now in version 8 released in late 2016, Intranet Dashboard has come a long way to help you deliver not only an internal communication channel, but also a digital workplace, with built in document management, Enterprise Social Network, process automation and integration capabilities.”

To help our growing member community make better technology decisions, we’ve just released a new and detailed review of Intranet Dashboard,

The marketplace for out-of-the-box intranet solutions has been growing in recent years offering you more options and Intranet Dashboard (iD) has been around since 2004 and gained widespread adoption beyond the Australian home market.

To quote from the executive summary in the review:

While lacking a dedicated mobile app, the solution is responsive and works on tablets and mobile phones, where you can access, engage and edit content. The technology is available either on-premise or as a cloud solution.

You can read much more about how iD could power your new intranet, key benefits and plenty of customer feedback in the 14-page review which can be freely downloaded here:

iD Evaluation Report (PDF)

PS: Intranet Dashboard will be attending the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference in Denmark this November.

About the Intranet Dashboard review

This J. Boye paper is written on the basis of the experience and knowledge of members of the J.Boye expert team, interviews with customers of Intranet Dashboard, members of the J. Boye community and analyst briefings by Intranet Dashboard. The intention of the evaluation is to give you, as a buyer or an existing customer, an easily accessible tool to evaluate whether Intranet Dashboard would be the right intranet vendor for your initiatives and objectives.

In order to provide you with a high level overview of Intranet Dashboard, we have provided a fact sheet and analysis. The product is also evaluated against the top requirements for a new intranet provider seen from the point of view of J. Boye members. Finally, we look at technology, vendor intangibles, and market trends, and provide an overall evaluation.

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-philips-manchester
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-grundfos
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.

10 Employee Experience Professionals to Watch in 2017

10best2017`collageMost organisations are undergoing radical changes on many fronts. Rapid evolution on the digital and technological fronts and changing demographics within the workforce are challenging conventions across sectors and industries. The combination of a new generation entering the workplace with fresh skills, approaches and expectations and experienced seniors staying on for longer means that we need to fundamentally rethink the workplace – and how we design the employee experience to make the best of this new reality.

Creating a harmonious workplace is not a new discipline, but it takes more focus and cross-departmental effort and coordination than ever before to get it right – given the rapid pace of change. Creating good customer experiences and mapping smooth customer journeys have been ways of gaining market share across sectors and industries  for ages. Many organisations are becoming acutely aware of the importance of creating equally good experiences for their workforce if they are to attract and retain the best talent now and in the future. This growing focus on the employee experience requires skilled and experienced professionals to take the lead, bring together the may strands and pave the way ahead.

At J. Boye we have identified 10 pioneers who in their respective ways are making waves in terms of improving employee experiences. Some lead software start-ups, some are independents and some work for complex global organisations – privates as well as NGOs – where they are making a notable difference.

We’ll be watching these bright individuals:
Elina Reinholtz

  1. Elina Reinholtz, Philips (DE)
    Working at the regional Philips headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, Elina has been instrumental in redefining the workplace. Philips has globally rolled out new corporate meeting spaces, which fuse productivity and wellbeing. They have totally redesigned the workplace for an improved employee experience.Frank Wolf
  2. Frank Wolf, Staffbase (DE)
    Frank is one of the co-founders of Staffbase, an employee communications app start-up spun out of T-Systems MMS in Dresden, Germany. If you’ve worked with an employee app, you’ve likely experienced how push notifications changes the game. Now with investor funding and a NYC base, Staffbase has been able to secure an impressive client list, including adidas, Daimler and Siemens.Hanna Karppi
  3. Hanna Karppi, Skanska (SE)
    Hanna has almost ten years’ experience in communications and change management positions on both a Nordic and a global level. Currently she leads the development of Skanska’s global digital workplace. Hanna is an energetic “never giver upper” who enjoys driving change and engaging people around the organization. Meet Hanna Karppi in November for the J. Boye Aarhus 18 conference.
    Jason Jacobs
  4. Jason Jacobs, RBC (CA)
    Jason is director of strategic and online communications and heads up the internal communications efforts at Canada’s largest bank. He constantly pushes the envelope and tries and tests new ways of utilising existing and emerging platforms and channels to engage RBC’s global workforce and improve the employee experience. 
    Jonathan Phillips
  5. Jonathan Phillips, ClarityDW (UK)
    Jonathan is a power house in the field of employee communication. He has extensive experience of leading both internal and external digital communications efforts in a large enterprise. He spent almost two decades at Coca-Cola Enterprises in the UK and has constantly pushed the boundaries and tried new things. He has generously shared his experiences through blogging, speaking etc. A true thought leader. He now flies solo with ClarityDWSara Glick
  6. Sara Glick, Discovery Communications (US)
    Sara and her team deploy a wide range of tactics to enable cross-pollination of ideas, talent and inspiration across the multi-faceted organisation. Storytelling, culture-building, talent meet and greets, experiential events, campaigns, outreach and much more; all used to recognise and highlight the creativity and excellence of the talented employees at Discovery.Sharon Dea
  7. Sharon O’Dea (UK)
    Sharon has held numerous internal communications posts – including as intranet manager at Parliament in the UK, Head of Digital Comms at Standard Chartered Bank and Digital Engagement Lead at the Department for International Trade in the UK. She is constantly exploring new territory and assessing the value of emerging tools and technologies and ways of deploying them successfully in the enterprise. And she is great at sharing her findings and thinking with the World – through blogging, tweets and other outlets. She is currently freelancing around the World. Wictor Wilén
  8. Wictor Wilén, Avanade (SE)
    Office 365 from Microsoft is hard to avoid as a key technology and game changer for most employees. Few manage to combine deep technical understanding and business acumen like Wictor who is also acknowledged in the Microsoft eco-system as a Most Valuable PlayerSarah Livingston
  9. Sarah Livingston, Oxfam America (US)
    Sarah is a highly dedicated connector, facilitator and communicator. She highlights and promotes many of the extraordinary achievements of Oxfam’s activists, campaigners and front line staff to stakeholders and supporters everywhere. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she manages to make impact and facilitate meaningful collaboration and conversations – and introduce innovative and empowering new initiatives despite having very limited resources at her disposal.
    Shaun Randol
  10. Shaun Randol, Bloomberg (US)
    Shaun and his colleagues on Bloomberg’s Employee Innovation and Communications Team navigate and use a plethora of tools and channels to inform, engage, enable and inspire their global workforce. He is constantly exploring new styles and formats and is obsessive about measuring the impact and effectiveness of the team’s endeavours; he has an inspiring approach to using data and insights to constantly improve, adjust and make better informed decisions.