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Some Trends in the Digital Workspace

There is a lot going on in the digital work place, driven by new technologies, by evolving work patterns, by external challenges (notably climate change and COVID-19) and a realisation that what seemed to work before may not work for us future (if it ever really did).

A recent ITT for a major intranet project requested our thoughts on trends in the (intranet or digital workplace) market. It seemed useful to repurpose those thoughts into somethings everyone could reflect on (since we weren’t being paid to share our expertise), so here goes… my thoughts, in no particular order. It’s by no means comprehensive, but someone might find something to note.

Take the intranet to the users and remove friction

There is increasing concern about the degree of fragmentation of systems staff are expected to use and the corrosive effect this has on productivity. Many organisations are exploring the need for a true, unified digital workplace that place the applications, content, polices and relevant links in one consistent location accessible to staff. Rather than employees traversing from app to app, system to system, productivity is enhanced by bringing the business tools to the users in the digital ‘place’ they prefer to work. This might mean on a mobile phone when they are not in the office, and either an integrated client application or equivalently powerful browser environment. The intranet is transitioning form a place where people go to a place where content, communication and collaboration is managed, and then delivered to our users.

The intranet is transitioning form a place where people go to a place where content, communication and collaboration is managed, and then delivered to our users.

Users expect to be able to access the things they need with as little friction as possible and in their context rather than placing a system-centric model. They also expect the different activities needed to complete tasks to be integrated around the task; this includes accessing content, collaboration with colleagues, accessing systems, analysing data and more in a single environment. We see corporate communications being actively injected into these intelligent workspaces in preference to expecting users to leave their workspace to visit other systems for important but not ‘on-task’ information.

Let staff focus

In a world where it is easier than ever to be contacted, people are becoming increasingly protective of their focus time. There is an active move to minimise interruptions, including notifications, often constraining these to specific times of day, leaving the rest for concentrated focus work. As we adjust to a COVID-impacted world, this need to protect time extends to protect personal as well as professional time. Smart diary management, new models of interaction, more fluid use of time and respect for Busy and Unavailable presence status are important for organisational cultures to assimilate.

Who watches the ‘AI’ watchers?

We are tracking careful use of AI, not just as artificial intelligence but also as augmented intelligence, where the AI supports rather than replaces human judgement, whilst alleviating unproductive activities. Cortana Scheduling Assistant is an example, however bespoke solutions for tagging content, automating processes and more are becoming commonplace. Interestingly, many of these are simple to implement and remove the ‘grit in the machine’ of personal productivity at minimal cost. However, we are not seeing significant take up of ‘’bots’ in most environments at this point; except where they are fully integrated into an existing experience such as a web chat.

Many of these are simple to implement and remove the ‘grit in the machine’ of personal productivity

Overall, the rapid rise in capability of AI is having subtle but important impacts. For the first time in our history, it is becoming possible to automate the role of knowledge workers and professionals. This creates opportunities for disruption of existing markets and businesses, but also for forward thinking organisations to unlock new areas of differentiation and competitive advantage. Intelligent Agents that aid with content categorisation, Q&A and common processes are useful. Robotic Process Automation as a means of adding legacy format content (such as letters, forms and archived documents) is increasingly important.

Simplicity vs comprehensiveness

At the same time as there is a move towards broad capabilities in a single workspace, there is also an apparently contradictory upswing in dedicated, narrow focus apps for delivering specific needs, esp. on mobile. This is partly a consequence of the form factor/environment and partly a reaction to information overload and especially notification overload.

Beyond social

There remains much hype around ‘social’ intranets. However, most vendors and approaches focus on allowing (and expecting) staff to elect to provide comments, feedback and interaction. We have seen limited success in this. Our observation is that staff are generally too busy or focused to engage in this way, with the more valuable staff being the least likely to participate. As noted above, this is largely because social interaction takes place outside the context and workflow of their role. There is clearly value in a social digital workplace, but first generation approaches to this have not delivered the promised engagement in most cases. It is less about finding new ways of ‘tricking’ users into going to the intranet and more about the intranet going to them.

We’re also seeing a greater need for collaboration with community pages, team workspaces and knowledge sharing playing an important role in employee engagement, staff retention and workforce productivity. The recent explosion in demand for Microsoft Teams is also an interesting trend as companies continue to invest in the O365 suite. We are seeing businesses use Teams for chat, collaboration and also content management. Accessibility, particularly via mobile and mobile app, are crucial factors in choosing an intranet solution. This is especially pertinent in the wake of Covid19 as more employees work from home and on the move.

The key takeaway is that there is a lot going on, driven by new technologies, by evolving work patterns, by external challenges (notably climate change and COVID-19) and a realisation that what seemed to work before may not work for us future (if it ever really did). As always, change in inevitable and smart organisations roll with it. I very much doubt the intranet of 2029 will be much like the one of 2019.

May you live in interesting times…

By Simon Hudson

Interests: Knowledge management; Information Architecture; Flexible working technologies

Passions: Physics, music, classic cars

Aspirations: To drive a V8 Vantage to the Amalfi Coast; to play guitar to a crowd of 1000+; to ski more than once a year; to make a difference

Background: From teaching to quality assurance, technical development to international marketing and from business development to business start-ups, Simon has flitted, butterfly like, learning from each experience and bringing that breadth to his client facing and business development activities. Simon is articulate, opinionated, understanding and suffers from an insatiable curiosity.

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