The Digital Workplace of the Future: What to Expect
There’s no question that one of the side effects of the COVID 19 pandemic was the rapid, widespread deployment and adoption of the digital workplace. At this point, it also seems safe to say that the digital workplace is going to be one of the longest-lasting side effects, with the general consensus being that it is here to stay. But because most businesses turned to the digital workplace in a moment of panic, as opposed to a well-thought-out transition, it is currently far from perfect. Now that we’ve (for the most part) acclimated to working remotely, it’s time to consider what we want the future of the digital workplace to look like. What is it missing, and how can we make it work for us?
Prioritize Digital Wellbeing and Mental Health
The thing that sets digital work apart from other types of work is the fact that it doesn’t really have spatial or temporal boundaries. Research conducted during the pandemic showed that workers who moved to remote work were spending, on average, 2 extra hours a day on their computers. With longer work hours associated with increased stress and burnout, it’s clear that the need to focus on ensuring mental wellness is crucial to the sustainability of the digital workplace.
A big part of prioritizing digital wellbeing and mental health is acknowledging that there could be issues, and shaping your company culture to address and mitigate those issues. For example, encourage your employees to fully switch off. Set specific hours that your employees are expected to be online or reachable, so they know when there is no expectation for them to be responsive and can relax. Make sending after-hours messages or emails a faux pas, and encourage people to turn their notifications off during downtime.
One main issue is the sheer volume of communication we’re all bombarded with daily. Luckily, there are already technological solutions we can use to address this. Ensure all employees have a strong grasp on what communication method should be used when. For example, what might be a 5-minute video call could take hours over chat. Or a company-wide announcement could be posted on the intranet as opposed to sent out via email. Another way to limit the onslaught of unnecessary and distracting communication is by using your status message. In Microsoft Teams you can set your status to “busy”, “do not disturb”, or “out of office”, plus you have the option to add a status message for more detail for your coworkers. You can even schedule when the status changes. This allows you to avoid the distraction of constantly hearing your message notification, and it lets your coworkers know you’re not ignoring them.
Improved Social Communication in the Digital Workplace of the Future
For many of us, much of our socialization pre-pandemic was done in the office. Not even necessarily organized or planned events – casual conversations while waiting for coffee to brew, quick chats while walking to pick up lunch, even small talk as we were waiting for meetings to start. While we’ve been somewhat able to replace these kinds of interactions with Teams chats and video conferencing, it’s a little like replacing your broken car window by taping plastic over the hole. It sort of works, but it’s not a viable permanent solution.
In the digital workplace of the future, technologies like AR and holograms can make it feel like people are in the same room, but we admit
it may be a while before the average company is holding hologram meetings. In the meantime – make an effort to formalize this informal communication. Here are some ideas:
- Schedule Team Coffee Breaks
Set an optional meeting daily where your team can take a break to enjoy their coffee or lunch and drop in for a casual chat with their colleagues.
- Use Yammer as a Virtual Water Cooler
Yammer is essentially a social media platform specifically for your organization. Post interesting or funny articles, discuss the shows, books, music you’re loving, share personal updates – anything you would generally chit chat about in the office.
- Do Something Fun Together!
Maybe virtual happy hours got old fast for your team, but there are lots of other ways to socialize online that are a bit more engaging. Try playing pub quiz-style trivia or other games, or offer an online webinar or lesson on something non-work-related, like a cooking class.
Embrace New Tech, But Ensure No One is Left Behind
Obviously, the digital workplace relies on technology, and as the digital workplace evolves, the technology we use in it will also change. Making sure your team is on board and comfortable with tech changes is key to succeeding in the digital workplace of the future. Sounds simple, but it can be more complicated than it seems. It’s unreasonable to assume the rate at which all employees understand and are willing to adopt these technologies will be standard, but, having widespread buy-in is key to a successful deployment. This means you need to deploy new technological solutions in ways designed to not stress people out – stress is counterproductive to both adoption of the technology and productivity in general. And we’re all dealing with enough stress as is!
Typically when it comes to new technology, employees fall along a spectrum, from innovators, who can’t wait to use the latest tools and platforms, to laggards who will do everything in their power to avoid it. The majority will be somewhere in the middle. Employees with different attitudes toward technology will require different approaches, so it’s important to develop different deployment strategies as needed. In general, you’ll do well to explain exactly why the change is being made, demonstrate how the new technology will make their life easier (being as specific as possible), and provide a detailed timeline so everyone knows what to expect when. Employing innovators and other early adopters as evangelists for the new technology can also be very successful in convincing more hesitant employees to get on board.
Streamline to Minimize Distractions
Too many different technological solutions designed to improve productivity can actually have the exact opposite impact. In the digital workplace of the future, virtual assistants and AI solutions may help us work distraction-free, but until that becomes widespread, there are other ways to help keep focus.
- Know What Tools You Need – And Get Rid Of What You Don’t Need.
Sure, technology can help us be productive, but there’s no faster way to be unproductive than trying to fight with technology. Knowing what you need, finding the right technological tool to fit that need, and eliminating platforms that don’t, will go a long way to helping your team stay distraction-free.
- Encourage Off-Line Work
Have your employees set aside a couple of hours each day to turn off Teams, email, and whatever other platforms might ping them, and focus solely on getting work done.
- Try Time Blocking
Instead of aiming for consecutive hours of focused work, try a time blocking approach, like the Pomodoro Technique. This means that you only need to commit to focusing on a task for a realistic amount of time, and you’re building little breaks into your workflow so distractions (hopefully) won’t take over your day. Some people find this structure very helpful for staying focused.
Learn How to Measure Employee Success
Managing employees in the digital workplace is a whole new challenge on its own. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so the first step needs to be figuring out what success looks like now, and deciding how to evaluate that success. Currently, many companies use a task or project management platform that includes the ability for employees to track hours logged and tasks completed, but increasingly those metrics seem like a fairly superficial measure of success. But new tools are being developed all the time.
In the future of the digital workplace, not only will businesses be able to measure individual employee output and experience in new ways, they’ll be able to track team productivity and even company culture. This will lead to richer, more meaningful, data-driven insights, and will allow businesses to identify and address potential issues before they arise – for example, highlighting employees who are becoming disengaged and making efforts to re-energize them. On the other hand, they’ll also be able to tailor incentives and rewards specific to each team member, increasing employee satisfaction and boosting retention.
Of course, as sophisticated as these technological solutions are, there is still no replacement for open and honest communication. Making sure you carve out time to connect with your team one-on-one and as a group will never be obsolete.
Klarinet Solutions Can Help Your Get Ready for the Digital Workplace of the Future
Make sure your digital workplace is future-ready! Choosing the right technological solutions to take you into the future will be a big part of your organization’s success, and you don’t have to do it alone. Klarinet Solutions can help your team build the digital workplace that will take you into the future. Get in touch today to learn more!