Mobility, flexibility, and networked cooperation play an essential role in today’s world of work. Companies can better meet these challenges by introducing the digital workplace. The digital workplace is a central work environment that employees can access from any location and at any time. It comprises all sets of access infrastructures, applications, and device platforms required by information or knowledge workers to perform their work and collaborate. All data is in one place and is quickly and easily accessible. At the digital workplace, employees are more self-determined, freer, and therefore more efficient. That is the company view. Employees may see things differently. What are the consequences?
A central working environment that inspires collaboration and teamwork intelligently links knowledge and know-how, and provides integrated data and information in a smart way. What sounds like music to entrepreneurs and process optimizers would be formulated in an entirely different way by some employees: “I have to be available at all times” – “I have less free time” – “Sooner or later I will get cut off”. To put it clearly: the skepticism towards the digital workplace is prevalent among the working population. In May 2019, the German opinion research portal Civey asked about the expectations of employees regarding the development of the workload due to digitization. 44.2 percent of respondents believe it would increase significantly or rather. Just as many participants said that people were not at the center of the development of digital technologies; only 20.7 percent believed this. After all, many recognized the advantages of a digital workplace. All in all, however, despite all fears, the acceptance of digitization in professional life is increasing. In an online survey conducted by market researchers at EARSandEYES in May 2019, 60 percent regarded digital change as a gain.
Digital workplace: 24/7 collaboration increases productivity
Concerns about the digital workplace, as well as hopes of improving work processes, are justified. The former is based on the recognition that the digital workplace intervenes massively in the work processes of every employee. A digital workplace requires quick reactions, willing sharing of knowledge and also means that in a team, for example, everyone can see whether someone is available online. Mutual control and transparency can also reduce silo thinking, domination, and intrigue. In addition, the digital workplace makes classic departmental and hierarchical structures obsolete because applications are all on one platform, isolated solutions can be resolved, data management becomes more consistent, collaboration functions support cross-departmental project structures and promote rapid reaction to changing market and customer requirements. Old power and responsibility relationships are a thing of the past.
With mobile access to business applications, time- and location-dependent working time models are lost. This means that employees can be reached around the clock, especially in virtual teams distributed around the globe. Even if this facilitates collaboration with colleagues, customers, suppliers, and partners and increases productivity, the real-time flow of communication can become a burden. Dedicated employees, in particular, run the risk of losing their work-life balance if they can be reached at all times and are under constant internal pressure.
Technology also needs a digital cultural change
In addition to the burnout risks, companies should also pick up employees who are skeptical or hostile to new technologies. To ensure that the digital workplace actually supports agile work leads to improved collaboration across existing silo structures and increases productivity, users must also adapt their work processes and self-management. The introduction of technology in itself is not yet digitalization, and no employee changes his or her working method by work instructions, becoming more open and accessible for collaborative sharing of knowledge. Nor can a willingness to help or commitment to new challenges in other departments be ordered. Therefore, with the introduction of digital workplaces, companies should also initiate a digital cultural change. The “rules of the game” can help to promote acceptance of the technology and the new work processes, and simultaneously prevent a complete dissolution of boundaries between work and private life. A company must be present 24/7, but not its employees. E-mails at night or on weekends should be taboo in a digital culture. Downtime should not be frowned upon but encouraged. In such a culture, employees must also develop their own digital skills. It is helpful, for example, if HR departments offer systematic competency management for employees. The result is to support employees in expanding their learning abilities to expand their competencies through further training, follows the content and technical requirements. This is the only way to create a new mindset with which digital processes can be lived successfully, without sending employees from one overload to the next.
Conclusion: Digitalization must put people at the center of attention
There is no alternative to accelerated digitization of all areas of work. But dealing with technology and people will probably decide how successful companies will be in global digital competition. In addition to technology, this also requires the commitment of employees.
Human-Centered Workplace: The digital workplace is more than the introduction of innovative technology; it must consider the needs and requirements of all employees. Ideally, the digital workplace places the employee at the center and examines his or her working methods and processes, while the digital workplace becomes the Human-Centered Workplace. Daily recurring processes and complex tasks should be automated in a way that they become really easier for the user. The HR and IT departments ideally work hand in hand in the development and implementation of the digital workplace.
Employee development: Changes will hardly be possible without competent employees. They need to be trained in applications, be able to recognize connections and develop awareness for the advantages of the new way of working. Important: IT employees should also be involved here. Active competence management is based, among other things, on a systematic GAP analysis of employees and compensates for possible weaknesses in the use of tools and new structures.
Promoting employee satisfaction: Freedoms such as flexible, self-determined, and locally self-determined work such as home office and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) promote the acceptance of the digital workplace, the commitment, and satisfaction of employees can increase. However, higher productivity and better performance should not be cannibalized by increased pressure on employees.
Workplace Support: There is no need for information overload. Technology today allows us to provide employees with the information they need to do their jobs, in the right form, at the right time. Every company has to find its way.