The last few years have been very exciting for digital workplaces and communication technology solutions. More organizations have recognized the importance of internal communications, collaboration, and the significance of employee engagement. Broad acceptance of work-from-home and hybrid work has dramatically increased the importance of strong communications technology systems.
The direction of communications technology is guided by the needs of stakeholders and employee end-users. In an interview with Integral, Engaged Leadership founder and principal Grant McLaughlin noted,
– Grant McLaughlin
“Communication Technology should eliminate barriers to access and level the playing field for everybody. New tools and new technologies enable simplicity for employee communications – and are useful to run our operations and help us gain new employee insights.”
I completely agree. The innovations and technology direction I outline below align with this. The strategic needs of the organization should drive the adoption of new technologies.
What’s exciting is that stakeholders’ strategic objectives and goals and the needs of end-users continue to grow. This pushes us to find new ways of supporting digital workplace solutions.
Fortunately, platforms supporting these developing strategies are keeping pace with, and frequently are ahead of, client and company needs. A number of new and exciting capabilities are coming to market or seeing significant development. New opportunities will provide communicators, HR teams, and other stakeholders with new ideas and approaches. These will facilitate ways to creatively achieve strategic objectives with their digital workplace solutions.
What to Look For
We’ve heard it over and over. Companies are still pushing for better methods of keeping their work-from-home and hybrid workers tightly connected to the organization. Some relatively new technologies help support those goals.
This has been a slowly developing trend for digital workplaces over the last few years but is rapidly gaining momentum. Over the next year, I expect to see more projects heading in this direction. This may be new installs or upgrades to current platforms. Mobile-first means that the platform is designed specifically for mobile, not just available on mobile devices. By 2025, 72.5% people will access the internet from their smartphone only. As Justin Morales from Adobe stated, “If you are not designing for mobile, your users are more likely to have a less than amazing experience.”
Chiefly, the design and user experience are focused directly on mobile as the primary launching point for employees. Mobile-first growth has a number of drivers. First, comprehensive employee engagement is becoming a strategic imperative. Therefore, companies are looking at methods to ensure every employee in the company is reachable:
- front line workers
- employees working from home
- everyone in-between
A well-developed mobile-first approach helps ensure all employees have immediate and complete access to communication and workplace tools. A mobile-first user experience provides employees with seamless access to the messaging and tools they need to get work done.
Deeper analytics and reporting
Measurement is a critical component of any effective digital workplace solution. To understand how well execution meets strategy, we need to measure a broad set of data points. The results will help confirm our tactical steps are returning expected results. Over the past few years, analytics tools for digital workplace solutions have improved. Some applications more commonly found in the marketing world are making their way to intranets and other communications technology tools. Heatmaps are a great example.
While these have been popular with public websites for some time, these tools have generally not gained much traction for intranets and digital workplace platforms. Now, my clients are increasingly interested in this type of data. I’m seeing clear interest in having us help them improve the measurement of their portal platforms. For instance, tools like Swoop provide platform owners with a comprehensive look at how the entire communications technology environment is performing. These measurement tools allow us to provide stakeholders with an understanding of how employees are engaging.
Increased and improved integration
Sharing information between systems has always been important for effective adoption of digital platforms. Portal users want to receive notifications and act on them without having to jump from system to system. This benefits digital workplace stakeholders as well. Employees who stay on the platform keeps them more engaged with intranet content. Further, this improves collaboration and communication. Allowing users to approve vacation requests, travel and expense submissions, and other routine notifications from the intranet stops them from becoming a lost audience.
I am starting to see two trends regarding integrations.
First, more organizations are including this capability in their digital workplace solutions. Until recently, integrating with third-party systems required a significant investment — essentially requiring either developers or third party software to integrate this type of information into the intranet. Yet, systems that “speak” to each other will improve. New no/low code integration tools will continue being developed. The rate at which digital workplaces include information from third-party systems should grow significantly over the next few years.
Second, we’ll see dramatic improvements in how integrations are deployed. Most modern digital workplace solutions are now providing some level of integration with popular ancillary systems straight out of the box. Need to include notifications from your CRM, HRIS or financial system? Your intranet and/or collaboration platforms probably include a basic level of integration with that software. I’m also excited about the growing popularity of providers like Workgrid, whose application can add stronger touch points between most popular intranet platforms and a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other systems.
Digital workplace innovations to follow
Thinking about digital workplace technology innovations and the opportunities for employee engagement and development is exciting. Some new technologies have real opportunities for communications technology solutions that I am watching with anticipation. Most will likely take some time to get mainstream acceptance as part of a firm’s platform strategy.
Below are the innovations I think have a good chance of success.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Chatbots, a form of AI, have been available for intranets for some time. Due to implementation costs associated with deploying and maintaining them, they have not been in wide use. But they are growing in popularity. Over the last few years, a number of low code/no code AI tools have become available and are starting to make their way into company portals. Recently, ChatGPT has been receiving a great deal of press. ChatGPT was built using OpenAI. It is a good example of a low code AI platform being used broadly. Likely, beyond the original scope of the developers.
With similar AI tools, we will be able to broaden and strengthen our communications technology systems for employees. Currently, chat bots being deployed help employees with search and simple tasks. Undoubtedly, newer AI tools will go beyond this. We will see tools that match employees with other colleagues for knowledge sharing. There will be tools to push new content to employees. Also, I know that AI tools will help promote more open ways of communicating across the enterprise. Some of this is happening now. But these new tools will smooth the process and help deepen stakeholder experience with content.
Some key trends to watch over the next few years are:
- easier deployments and integrations into communication technology platforms
- simplified tool management
- broader acceptance of AI as a basic tool for digital workplace solutions
Artificial Intelligence should make intranets more valuable to both employees and stakeholders.
Virtual worlds, especially Meta’s Metaverse, are experiencing growing popularity in the consumer world. Over time, I expect to see some opportunities for digital workplace solutions and stakeholders. Already, some firms are experimenting with meetings in Virtual Reality (VR) with some limited success. The technology is expensive to run. Headsets cost well over $1,000 per unit. In order to participate, every meeting attendee must have their own equipment. Undeniably, this makes it challenging to meet with users outside of an organization. Additionally, there are also currently a number of different VR environments. Metaverse is the largest and most publicized. Users talk of challenges having important and meaningful conversations with avatars.
Despite all of the challenges, this new technology has great promise. There is power in collaboration and discussion by bringing team members together. Imagine people from different locations, time zones, and different primary languages in one virtual space. As the technology matures, when costs come down, and standards develop, I expect more firms to test and eventually adopt VR for the workplace for specific use cases.
The Future is Full of Opportunity
Every year, new ideas and opportunities focus on communications technology. Not all of them make it into mainstream use by the majority of clients. But the best ones are eventually adopted.
I expect, over the coming year and into the near term, we should see some exciting changes as stakeholders adopt innovations in the digital workplace to increase employee engagement.
Will it be a better understanding of how employees are engaging with content by improving analytics? Maybe it will be exploring AI to increase employee engagement. Could it be new and creative ways to hold meetings using VR?
All of these new ideas and innovations have the opportunity to help users get more from the digital workplace.
Questions? Let’s Talk!
If you have any questions on any of these trends or other changes happening with intranets or other communications technology tools, please reach out. I would love to have a discussion about your questions, needs, and ways we might work together to reach your goals.