We’ve seen dramatic shifts in work in the past 30 years.
Take, for example, how we store information. We’ve moved from physical file folders to floppy discs to thumb drives and then to secure cloud computing in just a few decades.
The pandemic then greatly accelerated the pace of change. Now, with hybrid workplace policies in place — where employees choose when to come to the office or not, enabling a digitally-defined workplace is important.
Digital workplace transformation is the ongoing process of integrating digital tools and strategies to support teamwork and enhance the customer experience. Post-pandemic, the practice has gained increasing relevance and prominence in organizations of all types and sizes across industries. The digital workplace leaders’ seat at the table is secured for the foreseeable future.
The emerging role of a digital workplace manager or digital transformation lead involves a range of responsibilities:
- Assessing the organization's existing digital landscape
- Identifying areas for improvement
- Understanding the broader tech landscape, including tools and capabilities
- Developing a strategic roadmap for digital transformation initiatives
- Training employees
- Managing roll-outs of new capabilities
Digital workplace transformation managers have a diverse set of backgrounds. They collaborate with various stakeholders, including IT teams, HR departments, and senior management, to drive change and ensure the smooth adoption of digital workplace solutions.
To be sure, the field is still quite IT and tech-centric. Many moved over from software and management roles. But the field is broadening to include perspectives from HR and even learning and development. It’s safe to say that digital workplace leadership crosses many boundaries inside any organization and is potentially relevant to all departments.
This renewed focus on digital workplace transformation also means that leaders are under more pressure than ever before. Expectations are often unrealistic: transformation takes a commitment often longer than organizations would like it.
I was just at the Gartner digital workplace transformation summit to better under the goals and needs of practitioners in the field. Here are some of the top trends I noticed.
Top trends in digital workplace transformation
1. Employee experience and engagement
A growing emphasis is on enhancing employee experience and engagement through digital workplace initiatives. This includes providing intuitive and user-friendly digital tools, fostering a sense of belonging and connection through virtual communication platforms, and prioritizing employee well-being.
Just as companies invested in the experience around their physical offices pre-pandemic — with foosball tables, bean bag chairs, and free lunches — now they are shifting to the digitally-defined work experience post-pandemic. And so the so-called Digital Employee Experience (DEX) has emerged for optimizing workspaces, improving employee productivity, and driving business outcomes.
I was encouraged to hear many of the conference goers stress the importance of employee experience in their decision-making. One person even told me that trying to reconnect members of distributed teams was a key challenge they had. Disconnection, isolation, and even loneliness are factors in their decision-making and strategies. Many of the people I talked to had engagement surveys to measure the impact of their efforts on the employee experience.
2. Hybrid work models
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work, leading to a rise in hybrid work models. “Hybrid” refers to a flexible work model in which employees are required to be in the office at least one day per week while being permitted to work from a remote location for the rest of their week.
Organizations are now focusing on creating digital workplaces that support seamless collaboration and productivity across in-office and remote teams. To some degree, hybrid work models are driving the demand for digital workplace transformation.
But hybrid is not that clear cut — there are many factors involved. While many attendees told me they have an onsite presence requirement, i.e., employees must be in the office 2-3 days a week, many also expressed that “it depends” on a lot of factors. For instance, different roles in a company have different policies. Also, some employees who were hired remote from the start may not be able to get to the office at all. As a result, the hybrid condition is more complex than it may appear on the surface — in terms of policy, supporting technology, and how teams collaborate.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI-powered technologies are increasingly integrated into digital workplaces. These technologies improve efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, providing personalized assistance, and enabling data-driven decision making. We're seeing AI powering existing apps and experiences. Take MS 365, for example. Soon, AI will not be a separate option you go to for reference but underlie digital work experiences without us even realizing it.
We saw several presentations at the event focused on AI. Luckily, we had just announced some exciting new AI capabilities of the Microsoft Build event a few weeks earlier.
4. Security and privacy
With the increasing reliance on digital technologies, organizations are prioritizing cybersecurity and data privacy within the digital workplace. This includes implementing robust security measures, raising employee awareness about cybersecurity best practices, and complying with data protection regulations.
Ultimately, security and privacy come down to trust. For one, the introduction of AI-enabled functionality to both newly forming as well as long-established teams will change the status quo and influence the team dynamics as much as any new human team member might. The impact to trust might be experienced in terms of the accuracy of AI-generated content included in a team’s deliverables and the unintentional introduction of bias inherent in the models being used to formulate AI-generated content. Digital workplace transformation managers must acknowledge the need for human oversight to maintain trust and commit to policies that support an informed and discerning use of AI-enabled functionality and content.
5. Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR)
AR/VR technologies are being explored to enhance training programs, virtual meetings, and remote collaboration experiences within the digital workplace. These immersive technologies enable realistic simulations, virtual tours, and interactive training modules. But AR/VR still remains on the long-term horizon for the digital workplace community. At the Gartner event, there was only a passive interest — more out of curiosity than a need to form a strategy.
I have been involved in several of our experiments around AR/VR here at Mural, so I was able to speak to the subject a little. The technology isn’t yet front and center in the digital workplace conversations. But there are interesting things coming, such as enhanced corporate training and team-building activities — two promising applications of VR we’ve developed here at Mural.
6. Skills are becoming a necessity
Digital workplace transformation necessitates ongoing learning and upskilling efforts. Organizations are investing in learning management systems, online training platforms, and digital skill development programs to ensure employees are equipped with the necessary digital literacy and expertise.
Tools alone won’t fix the challenge hybrid teams face today. The truth is, many hybrid teams operate with outdated expectations and ways of working that no longer serve them. As the field of digital workplace transformation matures, we expect that there will be an increasing amount of attention given to HOW teams collaborate — the norms, techniques, and methods team use to achieve their goals.
To demonstrate the importance of collaboration skills, I lead a roundtable discussion with a group of about 20 digital workplace professionals at the Gartner event. In it, I highlighted a few of the norms and conventions that teams need across modes of collaboration. For instance, when an in-person group can take turns simply by going around the table from left to right or vice versa. But during a remote meeting or in a hybrid session, how would you regulate turn taking in a similar way? It turns out that new approaches are needed, like “popcorning,” where the last person to go picks the next.
I also demonstrated the technique of “1, 2, 4, all,” from liberating structures to the group. We had a challenge to solve — onboarding a new teammate who is 12 time zones away — and in about 11 minutes came up with several good solutions using that micro-structure. More importantly, everyone got to contribute, we iterated on ideas, and the quality of answers was high. Simply by introducing an intentional approach — 1, 2, 4, all — we were able to do what many teams couldn’t have accomplished using more improvised or old-fashioned meeting techniques.
I also shared a new way to do team stand-up using the LUMA technique of “What’s on Your Radar” with this template. By visualizing the team’s work, you can compress the time it takes to take turns speaking and provide a clear record of what’s most important to the group. Several people took a photo of the technique to run afterward with their teams. Sometimes a simple addition of 1-2 intentional rituals is all it takes to supercharge your teamwork and save time.
The response to my focus on the “how” was eye-opening for many. One person even told me that it was their favorite session. I suspect the reason was that I wasn’t just talking about tools and technology, but about human interaction and relationships. These things, too, have to be part of the digital workplace leader’s vocabulary and top of mind as they define future work experiences.
Tools alone are not enough
Transforming our workplaces into rich, digitally-enabled spaces isn’t just a burden to overcome, it’s an opportunity to improve teamwork across the board. Tools play a role, but real human transformation begins by focusing on collaboration as a skill that can be taught and learned by everyone in an organization.
First, we need to reimagine the norms and conduct of teams, or how they operate and interact. The various modes of the hybrid settings — from in-person, to remote, to a mix of both — come with their own set of practices and conventions. Making this explicit in the form of a team agreement, for instance, prevents misunderstandings and helps the team stay on track without debating the rules of engagement.
Second, we need to increase our ability to work asynchronously. Async collaboration wasn’t a theme that emerged at the Gartner conference, but perhaps it should have been. It’s the key to unlocking the potential of hybrid work styles in general.
Finally, focusing on the human work experience remains paramount. For sure there is more emphasis on the employee experience at the moment, but the field of digital workplace transformation must go further to uncover the needs and struggles of modern workers and design workplace experiences around them. If the employee experience directly impacts the customer experience, which in turn drives revenue, the success and resilience of any company depend on getting collaboration right and fixing teamwork regardless of the setting, toolset, or mode of work.
Check out our 2023 Collaboration Trends report for latest findings around digital transformation.