The Escalating Expectations of the Digital Workplace: Transforming How We Work and Learn

8 minute read

The modern workplace is shifting. Employees from all industries work across multiple locations—remotely and on-site—with varying degrees of skill and participation. For most organizations, having a combination of local, on-site and remote workgroups continues to be productive, however, when the scale of projects widens, productivity often wanes.

Are you empowering your employees with the right tools to support an innovative workplace, helping them stay productive and happy? There are various options to achieve this, but these are three of the most prevalent:

1) Intranets and email

Several years ago, intranets were deemed to be the answer to enterprise communication woes. The promise of a more informed workforce was met, but people continued to use email as their primary communication and collaboration tool. Why? Because people did not want to undergo a complicated search for information. Intranets can be cumbersome; they're not intuitive enough to overcome the convenience and familiarity of email.

2) Instant messaging and social networks

Companies continued to look for ways to help groups of people work together virtually. The next partial answer to come along was social sharing and instant messaging platforms. These tools increased employees’ ability to communicate in real time (or near real time), but working in groups continued to elude most organizations.

3) Online meetings and screen-sharing

Then came video conferencing and online meetings with screen sharing. These methods increase real-time group collaboration and work great for demos, training, and presentations. But, they aren’t holistic collaborative communication tools.

This is where most corporations are today: using a myriad of communication and collaboration tools with varying degrees of usage, adoption and proficiency.

Sirius recently surveyed a cross-section of clients across different industry segments on where they stand in their transformation strategies. In one question, we asked how often their employees use workforce collaboration tools (e.g. portals, email, file sharing, etc.) as a vital part of getting work done. The majority of those surveyed answered “always.”

2019: The Year of Workforce Integration

Today’s challenge is not only the integration of these tools but also how to foster their use with greater efficiency across companies and within (or between) teams. An integrated workforce requires an enterprise-wide digital workplace strategy capable of driving adoption and cultural change comprising the following components:

  1. Workforce collaboration
  2. Artificial intelligence and IoT
  3. Continuous learning
  4. Measurement and insight

Four Pillars of Successful Transformation

In our graphic below, we outline four pillars of a successful transformation. However, in this article, we will be focusing on empowering employees, which is arguably the most important part of successful workforce innovation. That’s because most transformations fail when the people involved are not enabled, prepared or able to change.

 

Power to the People

The mission of innovative companies is to harness digital assets and ecosystems to improve operational excellence. Here are a couple of examples that you’ve probably already seen, which all have one aim: innovation.

Working from the Outside-in

Digital innovators work from an outside-in perspective, continuously evolving their products and services to deliver the outcomes customers and employees expect. For example, Sirius and FiveOut recently implemented an employee intranet chatbot platform for a global retailer. The Microsoft Azure platform allowed the client to create multiple bots in a repeatable, robust manner for internal constituents. These bots augment tasks like scheduling a meeting or finding information. Automating these enables higher levels of efficiency and indirect savings for this large retailer, where payroll equates to $60,000 per second. Speeding up processes and shaving seconds to minutes off a task translates into millions of dollars in savings. In addition to savings, making jobs easier creates higher employee satisfaction, which helps maximize employee retention.

Execution is Everything

The need for speed and an exponential increase in information has created work environments fraught with themes like, “I can’t find what I need fast enough.” Not being able to find what you need to do your job is just one part of a bigger issue. Some companies fail at fostering the coordination that is essential to execution.

Fostering Coordination

In a recent Harvard Business Review study, 84 percent of managers say they can rely on their boss and their direct reports all or most of the time. But only 9 percent of managers say they can rely on colleagues in other functions and business units. When this happens, managers compensate with a host of dysfunctional behaviors that undermine execution, which results in customer promises slipping, employees doing their own thing, and deliverables being delayed.

Lack of Coordination Causes Delay

The failure to coordinate also leads to conflicts between functions and units, and these are handled badly two times out of three. According to the same study, conflicts are:

  • resolved after a significant delay 38 percent of the time
  • resolved quickly but poorly 14 percent of the time, or
  • simply left to fester 12 percent of the time.

In the end, it’s about coordination between departments and trust among people. To make execution work, all people, processes, and technologies have to be coordinated across every department. All employees need to feel empowered to do their jobs.

Answering the Call for Coordination

The digital workplace is only one part of the picture, but it’s an important one. Keeping employees connected through always-on mobile access has become essential. People expect 24x7 email/text responses, on-the-go order entry, and/or payment confirmation. The digital workplace is about an employee’s ability to do their job by collaborating, communicating and connecting with others.

Now there is a new wrinkle: collaboration between humans and machines. Many artificial intelligence (AI) systems are not fully autonomous, and they require considerable input and adjustment from humans. To succeed, leaders must reimagine how work gets done in this new paradigm. Each organization will require a different toolbox, depending on how work gets done today and how it could be done in the future. 

Constant Learning Leads to Innovation

Success can happen when collaboration, communication and applications are integrated. Furthermore, continuous learning programs are tightly connected to customer and workgroup needs.

80% of organizations are fully prepared to innovate, according to our recent survey.

Intense Competition and Constant Disruption

Workers are faced with having to know a new, highly complex skill in a matter of minutes. But more than ever it seems as though there’s a new mentality: “Don’t know how to do it? Ask somebody. Figure it out fast and do it perfectly or I will find someone else who can.”

Equipping the Workforce

To succeed, companies are looking at employees’ daily work journeys and making learning a part of everyday workflows. Asking employees to find what they need on the corporate intranet is counterintuitive. With tools like Google, YouTube and Microsoft Teams, people learn through experience rather than simply looking for answers.

In our survey, we asked employers about the hardest skills to master and find. Here are the results:

Hardest skills to master:

  • More than half said data interpretation
  • Job-applied creativity

Hardest skills to find:

  • People management
  • Sales leadership

The Advent of New Learning Models

Micro-learning involves reading, viewing or consuming information in 10 minutes or less. Examples include videos, blogs, or a set of instructional questions that help us understand a subject better than we did before. As consumers, we seek out this kind of material every day—following people we want to learn from on social media, for instance. Twitter is a prime example of micro-learning.

Macro-learning involves learning a whole new domain. Google Academy is a great example of macro-learning because it offers specific learning in various subjects such as digital marketing and analytics. The content may be a series of small videos or an instructor-led program that includes simulations, group discussions and exercises. These courses are generally not as comprehensive as a full online course, and the content is snackable but designed for specific skills.

Learning in Today’s Workaday World

When starting a new job, we need macro-learning in order to understand the job, the people and the systems. As we continue in our jobs, we all need continuous injections of new skills, information and human connections to proceedat least until we become an expert. 

Today’s learning environment requires us to think about journeys for every role, how roles interconnect, and the required cross-functional training. With the introduction of AI, employees will determine what tactical or task-oriented parts of their job could be automated or augmented so they can focus on higher-value work. As hierarchies collapse and cross-functional teams assemble and disassemble, leaders become co-creators and collaborators with their teams, rather than just performing oversight.

Their evolving roles can be narrowed down to four roles that reflect today’s need for more insight-driven, multi-skilled collaboration:

 

Driving Measurable Business Value

Building communities of interest and innovation is key to successful culture transformation. The digital workplace promises to empower employees if the solution is customer-focused and culture-connected. Ultimately, the solution should create communities of interest that drive collaboration, innovation and business value.

Having rich, collaborative working sessions across multiple departments requires planning and participation. Without proper planning, training, participation and support, digital workplaces may not be adopted or used as expected.

If companies expect the benefits of faster speed-to-market and higher levels of productivity, they must couple enterprisewide unified communications with the support and learning people need. When people understand how these platforms are intended to work and they experience their benefits, communities of interest will naturally spring up, and practice will drive a culture of innovation.

In our survey, we also asked employers to identify their business value outcomes. More than half agreed that reduced travel, enhanced innovation and improved customer experiences are important to their business’ evolution. That was followed by 40 percent who say that accelerating time-to-market is imperative.

A Good First Move

Every company’s survival depends on its ability to throw away old habits and cultivate new ones. This means understanding the current digital place and developing a workplace strategy.

The following steps can help you gain that understanding:

  1. Assess your current-state maturity
  2. Develop your digital workplace strategy
  3. Select your tools and technologies
  4. Execute change management
  5. Measure for success

Sirius and FiveOut help companies develop digital workplace strategies that drive digital dexterity by creating engaging and transformative experiences that improve productivity, collaboration and communication for their employees, partners and customers.

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