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Image of the definition for the word futurePaul Miller, CEO and Founder, Digital Workplace Forum tells us what will happen in the emerging Digital Workplace field globally in 2012.

Agile working, new ways of working, work-shifting – pick a name – this is the new emerging field in work and technology. My own focus is on the DIGITAL in Digital Workplace – investigating, connecting, mapping and measuring in the new world of work and technology.

So what can we expect in the Digital Workplace 2012?

Trend 1 – The Digital Workplace will cause a wave of physical office re-design projects with real estate leading the shift

Perhaps inevitably the driving force in the Digital Workplace is real estate reductions and re-shaping of office environments. The lead times in the physical world are far longer than in the digital so organizations are trying to assess now, what they need on a physical work level in five years from now. Will anyone come to an office? If so who, when and why? The change in the physical workplace is being enabled by the rapid improvements in the Digital Workplace but lots of money is being wasted still on offices that will be virtually empty in 2016.

Trend 2 – The cultural impact – based on fears of isolation and fragmentation – in the Digital Workplace will surface as a key human resource challenge and opportunity

From my own experience (and what I hear from staff at IBM, who have now got a decade of experience of working away from the office) the only downside of the portable nature of the Digital Workplace is a feeling of isolation from colleagues and the organization they work for. The Digital Workplace enables, at its best a consistent experience of work wherever you are which is great for freedom and flexibility but the HR challenge is to overcome the loss of the vital human connections necessary for productive work. Seeing colleagues from time to time each month in different locations makes a huge impact when set against having no physical contact at all for months at a time.

Trend 3 – The tragic state of the usability of the Digital Workplace will start to be noticed as an obstacle to efficiency

What is often ignored is that the digital world of work persists just as much when are in company owned locations – offices, warehouses or plants – just as it does when we are everywhere else. We will probably need to design Digital Workplaces that flex based on where we are: what we need when in office is different from when on a train or at a café or at our home office. Either way, the Digital Workplaces needs to offer a consistent and appropriate experience of work and currently the state of the user experience of the fragmented, multiple identity requiring and chaotic digital worlds of most organizations is a major challenge. Yes we love to have our work wherever we are and we are mightily impressed by the speed and portability today versus three years ago but it is still poor on a usability level. What we tolerate today will seem as antiquated as “dial up” does now, looking back a few years.

Trend 4 – The “digital examples” to follow will be the way Facebook, Google and Twitter are organized as companies – with very few people producing huge amounts of financial value – with major traditional corporates trying to re-shape how work happens

The current financial crisis is two-fold in my mind: one is economic due to debt, banking and liquidity – eventually that will be resolved. Perhaps the larger crisis will never be fully resolved with a new economic model where technology allows a new relationship between people and productivity. If we look at the new technology giants such as Facebook and Google, they employ very small staffs and produced massive financial value. Such companies are models of a new economy where technology replaces people at frightening levels. Already if you visit a modern factory today and you will see small number human beings in a very large space! More traditional organizations will increasingly try and emulate the Google model or people to value as digital work drive down the cost of production. What will this mean for jobs? Who knows but certainly entirely new industries will emerge out of the radical restructuring.

Trend 5 – Governments will lead the drive at policy levels for a fundamental shift to digital working and mobility with organizations struggling to match the pace of change

London in 2012 hosts the Olympics and at a Government level there is a drive to promote flexible working for three weeks around the Games. Organizations are being required by Government to change their policies because the Digital Workplace can take the strain and these organizations will never look back after the Olympics as habits will have been changed. In Holland, Finland, US and UK government policy loves the Digital Workplace – less traffic, less sickness, reduced carbon, fewer accidents on the roads, business as usual when bad weather trikes, happier home lives – and this top down push will accelerate corporate wide shifts in how and where work happens.

Trend 6 – The Digital Workplace will grow and develop as a more general world of work and technology and not as a “bigger, better intranet”

Telephones, mobile devices, video and audio conferencing, micro-blogging, HR systems, email, customer social media and the wider range of work and technology makes up the Digital Workplace. Intranets will remain essential core services but the Digital Workplace is not a bigger, better intranet and never will be. For example, we will always have trains, better, faster but the train will never be all transportation – both trains and transport matter – but we must not confuse the two. We will drive forward intranets in 2012 and also enrich the Digital Workplaces but let’s make sure we know which is which.

Trend 7 – Working across geography and time-zones will increase and power the expansion of the Digital Workplace with new innovation and collaboration opportunities

When you cast off the shackles of the physical world, you can fly. Activities, collaborations and projects are possible in a digital working world that are impossible in the physical space. Organizations will exploit the Digital Workplace to assemble new teams, projects and processes that span time zones and regions. This will show the Digital Workplace not just a way to work from home (the least imaginative use of the Digital Workplace really!) but as a means to innovate and collaborate in fresh, surprising ways leading to new services, products and efficiencies.

Trend 8 – “Bring Your Own Device” trends will drive the Digital Workplace towards mobile services accessed via single log-in details secured at the point of entry

A senior manager I know tells the story of his grandfather who was given clothes when he began work in Italy a century ago, then this manager’s father was given a driving licence when he started work and the manager himself was given a PC. What will new hires get when they join? Probably nothing but a secure identity and log on to a set of cloud based services. People will just use their existing tablets, phones, laptops and be happy to just “hook into the corporate system” from them. “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) will become the new normal and this gradual trend will just tick along in 2012.

Question is when they log on, what is the quality of what they access?

Trend 9 – The Digital Workplace field will create increased anxiety and risk management concerns at senior levels leading to more strategic controls

Big change always comes with problems and aside from isolation mentioned earlier, the other huge obstacle is security and risk management. If people are increasingly “anywhere” how can they work they do remain secure and not expose the organization to unknown risks and legal dangers? The large technology firms are ploughing investments into security in the Digital Workplace but anxiety levels at the CEO and other C levels will rise as problems surface and gain attention in the media. Remember getting these things wrong can land a CEO in prison – that danger focuses minds.

Trend 10 – The Digital Workplace will start to be regarded as a major business opportunity – rather than simply a replacement for physical offices

The Digital Workplace is currently seen as cheaper, more flexible way to work than physical workplaces – something of a replacement. What will start to develop is a belief that the Digital Workplace is not only a huge area of business in its own right with new B2B services and sectors but also that it offers a better, more productive and innovative space to work in than do physical offices. It will take on a shape and stature of its own and this journey into work/technology that began really with the telephone will become an ever more rich, diverse and potent place to do business.


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