This point in history combines a unique set of circumstances. It’s Moore’s Law meets the internet — a concoction of velocity and connectedness we’ve never had before.
Umpteen years ago, we could have said something similar about the steam engine and the industrial revolution — new possibilities abound.
The possibilities today come from our connectedness and the acceleration of technology, powered by continuous innovation. And while we’re on a trajectory that continues to gather speed, something else is changing — our demographics, and our reactions to all these new possibilities.
How is digital transformation changing our workplace? Simple: it’s changing the nature of the way we work, from technology- or process-led to experience-led.
The millennial workforce
By 2020, 50 per cent of the workforce will be millennials (those born after 1980). They have a particular set of workplace behaviours, including openness, collaboration, a freewheeling style, an affinity with change. They’ve been born digital.
They will demand new and different things of our institutions and enterprises. You will need certain things to attract and retain the right talent to your organisation – in particular, the culture and digital tools to enable their style of work.
This makes the digital workplace a new frontier for business. We must learn how to embrace digital enablement and integrate it with strategies from HR. This convergence of IT and HR can create a workplace that’s agile, flexible and productive; a workplace that can fuel its own continuous innovation.
The digital workplace
Creating the right workplace for the emerging generation of workers requires a dynamic and intelligent digital platform that will allow each business to create its own ecosystem of composable services.
Think of an iPhone app. I see an app I want and I install it. The mechanism, access, service and security are all there; I just hit the download button and, moments later, I’m using the app. We have the same expectations for our workplace tools.
The mantra of old — anywhere, any time and any device — has been elusive for most organisations. PCs have been at the centre of our workplace ecosystems.
The digital workplace flips this and puts the user at the centre – a place where we consume and interact with the services that allow us to do our jobs, to collaborate and to be productive.
It’s also true that many of our tasks involve us collaborating beyond the workplace’s traditional boundaries. The different elements and style of working are changing in activity-based working, in flexible working and the gig economy.
This means we need a dynamic ability to communicate, collaborate and to get things done. The PC-centric approach we’ve had – managing and locking devices down – has been restrictive rather than flexible.
So, how do we create a user-centric ecosystem?
Think like a consumer
The answer is to have a consumer’s attitude to how we use services in the workplace.
A great example is providing a context of a workspace, where employees, partners and even contractors can access a curated selection of workplace tools – from the basics, like word processors and spreadsheets, to custom-built apps specific to your industry – and download them freely.
The other thing we need is security and governance. In the app store example above, every app has been vetted to ensure it’s compatible with the organisation’s workflow and security policies.
And being secure is not something you just add on. It must be woven into the fabric of the services we create. All the shifts to cloud and mobile-first enablement must have security as part of their DNA.
That’s a great challenge for organisations, many of which have a long tail of legacy applications. It appears a daunting task to grasp these opportunities, especially where the investment and effort required to modernise are significant.
Change the mindset, not just the toolset
Ultimately, the greatest impediment to digital transformation in the workplace isn’t the toolset – the tools we use, it’s the culture, expectations and attitude we bring to them – the mindset.
We’re moving from a closed environment to an open environment, from a structured workplace to a far more dynamic one. And the workplace is becoming more informal.
You can see that in the outfits, as well as in the way people collaborate. Look at the ad hoc and unstructured nature of work; for many people, nine to five is not the structure of their job. As the saying goes, work is becoming something I do, not a place I go to.
The inflexible must become flexible and the hierarchical must become interdependent as we flatten our organisational structures. The boundaries of a traditional enterprise are getting blurred because we’re doing our work in a far more interconnected ecosystem of employees, contractors, partners and tools.
Why shouldn’t someone use the latest technology if it helps them do a better job? Previously, IT has focused on standardising the workplace. Controlling the environment was seen as important, but now the dynamics of the enterprise are changing.
With the great advancements in mobile connectivity and things like 5G — and other advancements that will come — speed, coverage and capability will only increase. This allows us to have more freedom, flexibility and agility.
Match the tool to the task (not the other way around)
Technology helps us to enable far more flexible working scenarios. We’ve also seen a great change in the attitude of organisations that no longer feel they need to see people to manage them.
Our workplace and HR practices have matured, now acknowledging that people don’t need to be in the office to be at work. Mobile bankers and sales peoples’ jobs are to be in front of customers. Now we have the tools to fully support the way they should always have worked.
There are more people in management now who grew up as digital natives. They are more technologically savvy and more oriented towards a flexible, results-based work culture.
Being digital means creating personalised experiences – for workers, partners and customers alike. I want to be in control of when and how and where I experience a service or a product, whether I’m an end user or a team member. I want information to be available for me, not just published at me.
For years, organisations followed the same ideology that failed in IT – pushing the information out. That’s the wrong way.
We must take an outside-in perspective and develop compelling experiences to support what people need to do in their work.
Just giving me a mobile app on a device doesn’t enhance my experience. It’s not personalised to me. It doesn’t support the decisions that I need to make, because it has no contextual awareness for me.
The notion of ‘me’ – how something works for me and how you understand what my attributes and needs are – is vital.
Welcome to the future of work and the new workplace centred on ‘me.’