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Designing the future of work: 3 steps to improve the digital workspace experience

Organizations that design digital workspace experiences with employees at the forefront will outpace those who simply allow for remote or hybrid work. Here’s how your organization can get ahead.

The workplace of the future will create experiences that ensure that every employee – wherever they’re working – feels safe, productive, engaged, and included. To do so, organizations must design a digital workspace experience based on what employees say they need, not just what leaders think they need.

IT and digital workspace leaders should understand the potential of designing and optimizing experiences around employee expectations and not just enabling, but empowering hybrid or remote work teams. To that end, we’ve taken a closer look at the future of technology in the workplace, remote work trends, the tools employees need to be successful working from anywhere, and the solutions leaders can use to design a great employee experience.

What is the future of technology in the workplace?

Employees have proven to themselves and their employers that they can be as effective at home as they are in the office. According to our recent Future of Work study, 51% of employees believe they have been more productive working remotely. And their managers agree: 55% of managers think their direct reports have been more productive since the pivot to remote work.

Because of this, the next iteration of the workplace will be highly personalized to individuals’ needs and what will make them successful in their roles. Employees will expect to choose how they interact with workplace technology, as well as their organizations overall. They’ll want a digital workspace experience that fits their lifestyle, not the other way around.

“Any kind of gap that causes an employee to feel there is something not optimized for them to do their best work signals that they work for an old-fashioned and outdated organization. The experience really matters,” says Brad Anderson, Head of Product and Services at Qualtrics.

For those workplaces that decide to still offer physical workplace locations, there is likely to be a hybrid mix of teams – with some in-office hoteling or flex spaces, and others working remotely. Your people will expect to have an equivalent experience to the employees that are on-site. In turn, IT leaders will need to design an experience that flexes with the needs of the individual and their circumstances.

This means not only designing digital workspace experiences for more employee types, but also navigating the complexity of supporting employees who have varying needs, requirements, and expectations.

Learn more: How to kick-start an experience management program for IT teams

Remote work and workplace technology trends

While the progression toward digital workspace experiences was well underway, COVID-19 accelerated most organizations’ plans to digitize their workplace to ensure employees were fully enabled with the tools they needed to stay productive. This transformation has solidified the employee IT and technology experience as a critical part of the holistic employee experience.

So, what will make an employee feel empowered to do his or her best work? Here are some of the remote work and workplace technology trends that are shaping the digital workspace experience:

  • Organizations will pare down collaboration tools. To support collaboration, organizations will work to remove noise from employees’ workdays. Rather than increasing the tools, processes, and systems an individual has to navigate to collaborate, the focus will be on optimizing the digital workspace experience by getting the most out of fewer systems and platforms.
  • A la carte policies (enabled by technology) for agile workforces. It’s become increasingly clear that organizations cannot simply offer standard, one-size-fits-all offerings and policies for their entire workforces. Instead, organizations will begin to introduce significant agility and flexibility into their workplace policies and processes – many of which will be enabled by technology – to fit the individual needs of employees.
  • A greater emphasis on belonging in a remote or hybrid working world. Organizations will develop programs to help remote and hybrid workers seeking a greater sense of belonging – especially those individuals in an organization who live alone and rely on the sense of belonging at work. The fix will not lie in returning to pre-pandemic working practices. Instead, there will be heightened focus on how to enhance productivity and collaboration, and drive culture and innovation to accommodate individual styles and personalities – as well as team dynamics. These factors will become a consideration when assigning individuals to remote or hybrid teams.
  • Automation and AI will free up employees’ time to focus on meaningful work. By infusing digital workspaces with automation and artificial intelligence (AI), IT is laying the groundwork to liberate employees from mundane tasks, and empowering them to focus on work that is meaningful and engaging – which can have lasting impacts on work quality, job satisfaction, motivation, and intent to stay with an organization.
  • Employees will not only need to be listened to, they’ll also need to be part of the process. By leveraging continuous employee listening, analysis, and actioning on the tech experience, IT leaders can proactively design great digital workplace experiences before they become gaps in the first place. The C-Suite must have an ongoing mechanism in place to truly understand how employees are feeling so they can regularly adapt.

What tools are needed to enable hybrid or remote or work?

It’s critical that you ensure your people feel good about the relationship they have with IT – and that the tools and technology you’re providing are meeting their needs and expectations.

To start, the foundational necessities of any job include:

  • Laptop, smartphone, and other hardware
  • Communication/collaboration tools (such as Slack and email)
  • Intelligence and analytics tools
  • Workflow and automation tools
  • Meeting and presentation tools (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams)
  • Basic security hygiene (SSO, identity/access management)

There are also job function-specific tools. For example, an HR professional needs access to HRIS platforms. Likewise, a project manager in IT needs access to JIRA for monitoring ongoing projects. And so on.

Employees also interact with technology at myriad touchpoints during their lifecycle with an organization. This includes:

Our study of 200+ CIOs, CTOs, and IT executives conducted in partnership with PwC revealed that more than 65% of the IT executives said after COVID-19 they expect at least a quarter of their workforce to work from home permanently. In light of this, we anticipate that additional tools and technology will be needed to provide sufficient support to remote and hybrid teams, including:

  • Whiteboarding tools (to enable both fully remote team collaboration and onsite/remote teams)
  • Security and privacy
  • Cloud-based infrastructure
  • Employee experience tools, especially those focused on collecting feedback on employees' digital workspace
  • Business intelligence, artificial intelligence, and analytics

Read more: Future-proofing the workforce’s technology experience

In addition to these tools, employees expect to get help from support teams on their everyday digital workspace experiences. This support experience is especially critical when employees are working remotely and can’t pop down the hall to chat with IT, HR, or other internal support function – or have never set foot in the office in the first place. To that end, additional IT support staff may be needed to meet the evolving needs of employees’ digital workspace experience, as well.

Read more: Welcome-from-home: HR’s guide to onboarding employees remotely

What employees really want from their workplace technology

One of the greatest challenges to improving the digital workspace experience is the gap between what employees need and what organizations offer. 93% of today’s largest workforce segment (millennials) say having modern, up-to-date technology is one of the most important aspects of a workplace. And yet, according to a trends report published by Deloitte, only 38% of employees are satisfied with work-related technology and tools.

There’s also a gap in what organizations believe is happening versus what’s actually happening when new technology is introduced: 90% of executives say they pay attention to employee needs when introducing new tech, but only 53% of employees agree.

Ready for the good news? When a digital workplace experience is done right, it works. According to a study conducted by Microsoft and Qualtrics, when people’s foundational tech set up works well, they’re more engaged, more productive, and happier at work. The study found employees were 121% more likely to feel valued by their company as a result of their modern digital workplace experience.

Read more: How to introduce new technology to an organization: 3 critical steps to take

3 steps to designing the digital workplace experience

IT departments often play a balancing role between providing employees with the tools they need to do their job, and supporting, securing, and maintaining those tools. Experience gaps emerge, however, when leaders don’t understand what their employees really want – either because they’re not gathering the right feedback, not listening often enough, or not looking holistically at their data.

Most technology leaders are making critical technology decisions and investments with only half of the picture. Adapting and accelerating investments to support “work from anywhere” requires continuous experience insights (X-data) on top of operational metrics (O-data) and telemetry (i.e. technology usage, downtime, performance) to truly understand what employees or end-users need.

This simple three-step framework is all it takes to elevate your digital workspace experience to ensure it truly meets employees’ needs – and proactively design great technology experiences before gaps emerge in the first place:

Step 1: Listen. Gather continuous feedback. It’s important to collect feedback and data inputs from everyone, including your technology support teams, business leaders, implementation project teams, and most importantly, your employees who are using your tools and services on a daily basis.

Step 2: Understand. Consume and analyze employee data, pulling out actionable insights and learnings. This step allows IT teams to pinpoint where critical digital workplace experience gaps lie and identify those that have the most impact on productivity and motivation.

Step 3: Act. Plan and take action on employee insights. Once you have the data, the most important step is to take action – and communicate plans and results to the organization so everyone can see and feel the progress.

Listening to every voice and understanding what people are saying enables organizations to create a culture of action; one where every interaction with an employee is an opportunity to deliver on the digital workspace he or she needs.

Get our comprehensive guide to designing a digital workspace that works for every employee

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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