The increasing impact of the digital workplace

From remote working and cloud computing to AI and automation, how people interact with their colleagues and clients is changing.

Over most people’s careers, they now spend more than a third of their waking hours at work. Estimates have the average person spending more than 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, which is a huge proportion of one’s life.

Statistics such as this show that the way in which people work is ever more important. It affects happiness, health and prosperity. The way people work is also changing, constantly, and technology is the driving force.

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The concept of the digital workplace is having an effect across the spectrum of industry, and within the way that businesses tailor their approach to processes, recruitment and output.

The way people work

Even our starting point, ‘the workplace’, has a multitude of meanings. Flexible working means that the workplace can often mean the kitchen table rather than the office desk. Research released by the TUC last year found that the number of people working from home has increased by a fifth in the last ten years – but what has triggered this rise? While there are social influences for the trend, such as more flexible approaches to childcare, for example, it is digital advancement that has been the enabler.

The increased autonomy that this allows for the workforce is known to provide additional happiness among employees, but it can be tricky for leaders too. How can they be certain that their teams are taking on the responsibility and actually fulfilling their roles at home?

Companies have needed to develop more mature targets for their workforce which enables them to work in their own time, but ensures that they are driving their company forward too.

Increases in smartphone usage and capability have meant that employees can now access emails and important documents easily and on the move. Better solutions have also been snapped up in the virtual workplace; the use of smartphone apps for business has doubled over the past five years.

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Social platforms such as WhatsApp have recognised that their services are increasingly being used for commercial purposes, and moved to launch their own business solutions. These services operate outside of national parameters (forget roaming charges) which prove attractive for businesses who operate across multiple markets and jurisdictions.

The main players in conferencing also recognise this trend, with much of the market moving from hardware (phones) to video and cloud solutions instead. Flexible working means that, more and more often, teams are fragmented across multiple locations, required flexible digital solutions which suit this new breed of consumer.

This period of digital transformation is an incredibly exciting time for the innovators of our world. People are already seeing those companies succeed which think not just three or five years ahead, but which have a vision for the future and where they will sit in tomorrow’s world.

Cloud collaboration

Cloud computing also has a role to play in the sharing of documents across this new, digital workspace. Research has found that spending on cloud computing has, since 2009, been growing at a rate that is 4.5 times faster than the rate of IT spending.

When it comes to document solutions, the industry’s success in the future lies not just in the availability of the software, but in the understanding of how customers will use documents, physical or digital, and what pressures businesses face both now and up ahead. This is true of any industry; the development of a true digital workplace is as much in the understanding of people as it is the technology.

Outsourcing of infrastructure from servers to the cloud has enabled agile companies to provide easier access to their documentation from all locations. Cloud-based applications for email, online banking, social media and more are allowing for better collaboration, more streamlined use of data and to improved performance. According to many sources, it’s growing productivity, especially within smaller businesses.

An automated future

Automation in the digital workplace is also making a huge impact. Businesses of all sizes have sought to develop or implement automated processes which reduce the effect of human error or fatigue.

One of the interesting observations of automation is that it is, in general, looked on in a positive light. No longer is this the dystopian future where robots render humans redundant. Automation is enhancing the human existence, rather than taking its place.

>See also: Office’s may be digital, but are they paperless?

Automation has meant that less people, worldwide, are working in dangerous and sometimes fatal conditions. Mobile automation is making it easier for global collaboration, with instant translation services, for example, allowing for faster decisions across multi-language teams.

A myth to be busted around technology is that it has created more jobs than it has destroyed. The digital workplace has simply created different roles. Deloitte research found that, in the UK since 2001, around 800,000 jobs have been automated – but 3.5 million have been created. Creative, technology and professional services roles have exploded. Travel agents may have diminished, but programmers and software developers who power the travel websites have emerged.

Areas such as security are growing exponentially. In 2004, the global cyber security industry was worth $3.5 billion. By 2017, it will be worth $120 billion.

Motivation and morale

Digitalisation of the workplace has provided business leaders with a balancing act when it comes to employee morale and stress. While on one hand, technology has allowed for more flexible access to workplace tools and communication, on the other, it has drawn some businesses into an endless cycle of work without respite. A report in 2016 found that ‘always on’ managers are now working 29 days extra a year, unable to switch off from their mobiles and suffering a rise in levels of stress.

However, businesses are taking steps to manage this, with artificial intelligence and automation potentially providing the answers. How about a time when AI can manage your ‘on’ time for you, making sure you don’t overdo yourself? The likes of Google and Microsoft are already using AI to prioritise email for their users.

>See also: 95% of large companies woefully unprepared for ‘digital business’

With more time out of the office and limited face-to-face interaction, there may become opportunities for advances such as VR and AR to provide ways in which colleagues can communicate in an engaging and rewarding way, too.

Today, leaders are often looking for the balance. While offices still provide a valuable hub of ideas, productivity and identity, using technology to work from home on a flexible basis is both creating a happier workforce, as well as saving enterprises valuable cash.

Staying safe

As technology becomes more integral to our businesses practices, having the appropriate level of information security becomes crucial.

Governments are constantly moving to legislate to protect data. In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force, affecting the way that all EU citizens’ data is handled (whether within the territory or outside), and business across the world are working hard to ensure that they meet all of the regulations requirements.

For businesses working with customer data, it has become imperative to work towards appropriate international standards in information security, such as ISO 27001, a framework which lays out how personal records and commercially sensitive information is kept safe.

The digital workforce

At the same time that the digital workplace is creating more roles, it is evolving the way that businesses recruit for them.

Much in the way that video and streaming, plus improvements in superfast broadband, has allowed for better conferencing and remote meetings, those same technologies are transforming the interview process.

Many big businesses already use digital questionnaires or psychometric tests, as a first touchpoint with potential candidates while webcam interviews are also becoming much more common.

Education is being geared towards preparing candidates for the modern workplace, but challenges remain. Technology is now affecting all areas of our lives, meaning that digital skills are a must have; however, according to government statistics more than 12.6 million UK adults lack the basic digital skills required for modern-day business.

The race is on for schools to provide the cutting-edge tools which will prepare our digital native generations for their own, innovative, digital future. The same government report found that 22% of IT equipment in school is ineffective, while only 35% of IT teachers have a relevant qualification for the subject.

People are all digital

From hi-tech manufacturers to high street hairdressers, businesses will need to embrace the digital workplace. Whether it’s managing customer data or bookings, maintaining a happy, flexible workforce or ensuring that employees have the technological tools to succeed, digital will reach into every area, industry and mentality in the modern world.

As companies innovate, automation will increase, technologies such as artificial intelligence will improve, and connectivity across video, virtual reality or augmented reality will change the way that people communicate. Beyond this, technologies we have not even yet considered will create new companies and jobs.

An exciting, digital future lies ahead of everyone.


Sourced by Oscar Sanchez, executive vice president at Kyocera Document Solutions Europe

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...