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2017 Future Workplace Summit - The Future is Now

Sebastian Chia Research Alerts

What is Happening?

Earlier last week ISG hosted the 2017 Future Workplace Summit in Sydney, Australia. The event was an opportunity for clients and providers to share their experiences in building the workplace of the future, and to envisage where the industry is headed as the rate of change increases.

Our net takeaways: Employees today expect a workplace that allows the ability to work anywhere, on any device, at any time, and to receive seamless support from a range of channels. This is no longer a workplace perk; this is table stakes.  That being said, not enough enterprises are - yet - in position to enable this, let alone live up to expectations. This challenges too many in attracting and retaining employees at a time when a wider range of employee skills and knowledge are being required to compete in rapidly-evolving, digital-led markets.

Why is it Happening?

The workplace of the future is a rapidly evolving area. From more humble beginnings as a niche area of discussion almost a decade ago, the workplace of the future is now a major consideration for technology providers and organizations. This comes at a time where large organizations have gone from leaders in workplace technology adoption, to now be encumbered by lengthy procurement and contracting processes, as well as competing stakeholders. Highly-positive consumer technology experiences are shaping new benchmarks for the workplace of the future.

The user experience (UX) is coming into focus. As organizations strive to become more customer-centric, the user experience has increased in importance. Despite this, it is still taking time for UX to be formalized into recognized incentive frameworks. As a result, benchmark levels of user satisfaction are in some cases being built into SLAs in a bid to refocus on user outcomes. These outcome based measures aim to avoid the tendency of what one speaker termed as the “watermelon effect,” where standard SLAs are flashing green, while the user experience is flashing red. This misalignment of incentives can too often result in a wide divergence between the reality and expectations of a workplace environment from the users’ perspective.

More flexible, personalised arrangements are required. Employees are demanding more personal experiences in line with consumer advancements. Similarly, organizations are realizing that the workplace can be a key differentiator affecting the ability to attract and maintain talent. Where workplaces previously operated in a one-size-fits-all arrangement, more organizations now must cater to different users and job roles. In line with this development, the use of personas has progressed from being at the vanguard of workplace of the future conversations a decade ago to being a commonly-used tool in building flexible workplace environments.

Much more was presented and discussed during the event, including the evolution of procurement processes with more personalized, collaborative workplaces, the development and advantages of browser-based tools (especially with regard to workplace environment replication using mobile devices), and self-healing tools that allow employees to run automated fixed steps to resolve common issues, at the click of a button. This allows users to feel more enabled, provides more options to resolve the issue, and can potentially reduce traffic to service desk resources.

Net Impact

Overall, all of the above developments represent part of a broader shift by organizations towards a digital framework. The adoption of more agile, cloud based digital platforms has allowed organizations to sift through vast amounts of data, generate detailed insights on customers, and then implement them quickly. In several examples, this process has enabled providers to identify workplace user personas that had been previously unidentified by the client organization.  

Organizational change management is critical to the success of each transformation. Perhaps the most common theme discussed throughout the day was the need for organizational change management as a tool to drive and embed change. Organizations that had embarked on transformation programs repeatedly emphasised the need for change management, firstly to adopt new workplace arrangement, but also to prepare for an ‘evergreen’ workplace into the future. More than ever, the rate of change is quickening and ongoing evolution is now the reality, rather than big once off transformations. This will require a culture of change that emphasises a journey of constant learning, flexibility and evolving skillsets.

Several speakers at the event highlighted the success of organizations building new digital businesses when faced with a burning platform. In each case, the burning platform was often a driving factor behind building an appetite for change. These environments have enabled organizations to reshape the culture to adopt a digital framework.

Finally, more than ever, collaboration will be needed to navigate the influx of new technologies. While the vast productivity improvements for AI adoption have been well publicised, attendants voiced concern about the second order impacts of this trend. There was robust discussion regarding the viability of implementing AI in small to medium enterprises, the effect on the workforce, as well as governance, legal and regulatory risks. What was clear from discussions was that given the scale and complexity of these new technologies, collaboration between clients and suppliers will be key to navigating optimal outcomes.