The Future of Work: The Digital Workplace
The Rise of Hybrid Work
The last few years have transformed the way we work, and one of the most significant changes has been the rise of hybrid work. As many employees return to physical offices, others have opted to continue working remotely. This shift has prompted companies to re-evaluate their approach to work, and many are considering ways to create a more flexible and productive work environment.
More recently, however, a number of large organizations such as the Royal Bank of Canada have reportedly started reversing their hybrid work adoption, instead insisting that employees return to the physical offices 3-4 days per week. Hybrid work was even cited as a possible contributing factor to the fall of Silicon Valley Bank.
The Rise of Back To Office
The belief is that employees who are co-located are, in the words of the RBC memo, “solving complex problems faster, learning and growing more effectively, and ultimately building deeper connections with one another”. It is seen as a competitive imperative. I’m willing to bet that most employers would prefer to see employees returning to an office environment on a full-time basis.
I’m not going to question this wisdom. In fact, I personally agree with it. HOWEVER… I wondered if there was a way to have employees co-located full-time, and also let employees continue to work remotely full time? It turns out, there is.
The Rise of Digital Workplace
One solution to address the future of work, particularly in the context of hybrid work, is to establish a virtual presence for employees within a virtual office space, known as a "digital workplace."
While the first digital workplaces were really a collection of collaboration tools and business applications that were accessible remotely, they didn’t provide a sense of presence and co-location - those ingredients employers say are a competitive imperative. In response, what is emerging is the addition of a virtual office context - a metaverse-based office space - that adds that element of presence to the work environment.
The Rise of Virtual Presence
Today, a digital workplace is a cloud-based platform that integrates collaboration tools, communication channels, and business applications to enable employees to work remotely while maintaining productivity, collaboration, and a sense of presence. By creating a virtual office space, employees can work from anywhere while still having a sense of connection to their colleagues and the organization.
It is like being in two places at once. Employees can continue to work remotely from their homes, cafes, and even the physical offices, while also being co-located with their colleagues in their virtual offices, at their virtual desks. It is the best of (literally) both worlds, for employers and employees.
The Rise of the Water Cooler
The digital workplace can enhance productivity by enabling employees to access information and collaborate with colleagues in real-time. In terms of communication, the digital workplace can offer multiple channels for employees to connect with one another. With a virtual office, workers establish a virtual presence. They can then utilize a variety of collaboration techniques analogous to being situated in a physical office, including screen sharing, whiteboards, and even just walking up to someone and starting a conversation!
While a number of first-generation collaboration tools emerged during the pandemic - video conferencing, chat, and file sharing being chief among them - employees found them cumbersome to use, as well as counter-productive to their daily workflows. Employers discovered how costly they were, and even risky as new cyber security threat vectors.
In a digital workplace, employees can now communicate with colleagues spontaneously, in the same way the used to in a physical office. Digital workplaces create a sense of community, despite employees being in different locations. It restores those “water cooler” conversations - those informal interactions that give context and background, and even inspiration, to those formal interactions during the day.
The Rise of Virtual On-Boarding and Training
Moreover, the digital workplace can also offer a range of opportunities for learning and development. By providing access to e-learning resources and virtual training sessions, employees can develop new skills, increase their knowledge base, and stay up-to-date with industry trends. Organizations can also make on-boarding and training consistent across the organization, even if they span geographies, and giving the new hires a sense of team on connectedness.
The Future of Work
From an employer’s perspective, the digital workplace is an innovative and flexible approach that can provide businesses with a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent, while laying the foundation for their future of work journey that starts with hybrid work.
A digital workplace is an excellent solution to address the future of work, particularly in the context of hybrid work. By establishing a virtual presence for employees within a virtual office space, businesses can enhance productivity, collaboration, and a sense of presence while providing an alternative to management dictating everyone return to a physical office. Win-Win-Win.