The digital workplace has forced us to rethink how and where we work and has far outgrown the collection of tools and apps we use to enhance our online productivity. The ongoing digitisation of the office towards a truly paperless and collaborative space that we can access anytime and from anywhere is still evolving but the direction of travel is becoming clear.
As the digital workplace enters its next phase, the user experience will become paramount and that means deeper integration of AI and machine learning into the fabric of the social intranet. Bots will increasingly automate and perform everyday tasks, providing relevant content that enhances efficiency. Integration should also embrace the physical with the digital workplace, so our concept of ‘work’ deepens and widens to format a new work ethic.
A nuanced relationship
The popularity of voice-activated search will continue to gain in momentum, with technology crossing over from home and leisure into the workplace. Long tail search queries are also on the rise with the ubiquity of screens in our daily lives. This relationship with our voice-activated assistants will spill over into the digital workplace, where AI is predicted to become almost invisible. In fact, some analysts believe that by as early as 2028, artificial and human intelligence will begin to merge thanks to our interdependence.
This integration will be driven by AI and machine learning, interfaced through bot assistants, that will streamline search and give employees the quickest route to the information they seek. Invisible integration is critical because, without it, AI cannot learn or predict. As we come to rely on our clever home assistants, so we expect our digital workplace to reflect these intuitive and easy to use interfaces.
So will AI replace humans as the dystopian cliche has it? It seems certain that a far more nuanced relationship will develop where AI blends take over routine work tasks while assisting us to streamline the non-routine tasks that only humans are capable of doing.
The digital revolution has just begun
It seems therefore that the very nature of work will be radically different by 2030. By triggering a revolution in the workplace, technology has uncoupled productivity, communication and collaboration from a physical space or even time zone. But the digital revolution has also beaten down barriers to communication, meaning that we create networks and relationships more easily than ever before and can now collaborate anytime, anywhere.
Currently, the digital workplace focuses on infrastructure, using the social intranet to do the heavy lifting for collaboration and networking. But the full integration of AI into the digital workplace will mean that worker outcomes including capability and productivity can all be enhanced to better meet the demands of an industry or profession.
By providing integrated experience and seamless connections, the AI embedded in the digital workplace will create a more consistent experience for workers, whatever device they’re using. And that gives employees the opportunity to step back from the fast-paced flow of user communications and focus on the detail in their work.
A new work ethic?
The idea of a job for life has all but disappeared in favour of more flexible working arrangements. Work itself is being redesigned and is moving away from drudgery and duty towards an idea of work as being something that has real meaning and fulfilment. This new work ethic is predicated on creativity, rather than focused on the tools to be used to achieve that creativity many of which are a poor fit for a digitised workplace. Poor enterprise software presents a barrier to a fully collaborative digital workplace, prompting a move towards almost invisible apps.
We may also need to rethink the concept of ‘remote working’, either by fully integrating all physical workplaces into the digital workplace or by creating an entirely new third space where all workers – remote and office-based – log on to work. Imagine a dynamic workspace with a personalised bot as your digital assistant, acting as everything from gofer to analyst, while you focus on the human and non-routine aspects of work? This may be the future of the digital workplace.
What the digital workplace allows is for a kind of distributed connectedness, where workers can uncouple from the physical office while remaining hyperconnected through the cloud. By doing so, it reinforces the idea that it is not a place of work, but a new way of working that allows humans to transcend both tools and technology.
What next for the digital workplace?
The influence of consumer behaviour on office behaviour will continue to drive the shape of the digital workplace. If we can ask a digital assistant in our homes to execute data-driven tasks, then we expect the same functionality from our digital workplace. And while it’s clear that the future of work is digital, the digital workplace itself needs to look to invisible AI and seamless enterprise apps to meet our expectations.