Lately it’s fashionable to blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the mass emigration of workers from the traditional office. While the relationship between the pandemic and remote digital work can’t be ignored, the transformation of the workplace from the physical to the digital was inevitable. While we may still be working out the kinks, the digital workplace revolution is in full swing, and, in many ways, for the better, as it promises many exciting improvements to the future of work. With tech-focused jobs expected to become fully remote within the next decade, the digital workplace will only become more comprehensive, more essential, and more ubiquitous.
There will always be physical jobs, at least for the long-foreseeable future, but many more jobs will transition into the remote, digital workplace in the years to come. So, what is the digital workplace, and how exactly will said workplace change work in the future to come?
What do we mean by a “digital” workplace?
When we think of the term digital workplace, we probably start making visual symbols for it in our minds. Do you immediately envision a real workplace — a location? Or perhaps it’s something more abstract?
Everybody might have different ideas in their head about it; it could be a super diverse network full of three dimensional neon grid patterns, or rather, just an endless array of cubicles and desktop computers. But really, there are two digital workplaces. There are the personal digital workplace and the shared digital workplace.
The personal digital workplace is more often than not intertwined with the other personal digital “spaces” we enjoy, such as when we consume media and entertainment, manage our personal finances, and make economic moves like purchasing new appliances and services digitally. The personal digital workplace is tailored to the individual. It is, more or less, private, which is basically what makes it “personal”. Its structure is ultimately plastic, because it is constantly changed and modified based on the whims of the user. Historically, computer work in a team context has consisted of many individual, personal digital workplaces operating in tandem with varying levels of success and efficiency.
Now that remote work is more common than ever, work is finding its way into peoples’ homes, within their digital infrastructure, which is blurring the lines between work and leisure. That’s why the personal digital workplace is important to understand and distinguish. As work becomes more connected to leisure, we will need to be able to differentiate, and communicate those differences, between the different kinds of digital workplaces.
The shared digital workplace. This is where we work collaboratively with colleagues and teammates with the help of digital infrastructure made expressly for this purpose. The modern firm or company dealing in digital work will almost always make use of a shared, cloud-based workplace platform of some kind. If it doesn’t, then it should. The shared digital workplace is meant to limit wasted time and increase efficiency. It streamlines every sub-process of a team work effort.
Because the typical employee requires the use of several different computer applications in order to fulfill their job duties, they find themselves constantly switching between different apps, with no guarantee these apps will be directly compatible with each other. How much time have you wasted as an employee when managing several apps at once? As an employer, how much time have your employees wasted? Two-thirds of employees have reported up to 60 minutes of wasted time due to having to juggle simultaneous software platforms. A complete digital workplace will usually boast a self contained suite of work applications that work flawlessly together in a consistent graphical environment. This standardizes not only the individual work experience, but also the shared experience.
How entangled is the digital workplace with new tech?
It’s almost funny to praise automation in a post-computer world, since computers themselves are such a revolutionary form of labor automation, but at the end of the day, so many of the things we do with computers are repetitive, simple, and time consuming. It’s annoying at best — demoralizing at worst. Automation has now taken on renewed importance, and that’s reflected in the development of digital workplace platforms, which often will include automation functions which reduce the time we spend on things like data entry. As an example, Gareth Parkin at GoPromotional leveraged technology as an early adopter of automated software in the promotional products industry. “We developed a CRM/CMS combination that combines website automation with customer management all in a single platform. The cost of developing custom software paid for itself in employee productivity, efficiency and improved sales.”
Improving business practices and efficiency
The shared digital workplace is also ideal when transparency is a priority. We’ve become somewhat addicted to email. It’s so easy to send one, isn’t it? But it’s not so easy having to keep up with your mountain of emails, a testament to the limitations of that medium. As organizations continue to adopt shared digital workplace platforms, they’ll enjoy the ability to track project progress, assign and accept tasks, and make and view feedback in a “publicly” viewable setting. This cuts down on confusion at work and diminishes the production-dampening games of telephone that plague collaborative, team-based work. Everyone feels more responsible and determined when their own work, like their peers’ work, is on display in real time.
Shared workplace platforms large and small have the same general goal: reducing the time wasted on mundane non-tasks and freeing up time, and mental capacity, for the important things. As employees, we want to be happy and to feel unconstricted by our tools. As employers, we want our employees to be able to think on their feet and work with agility, not get bogged down by the mundanity of traditional computer work.