Before I get into my 2019 predictions, let’s start with a hopefully illuminating story from 1995 at a GlaxoSmithKline (then SmithKline Beecham) executive office in West London. I was demoing an early “interactive CD” about how to take Aquafresh toothpaste packaging into a global brand. We clicked on photos of people and up came their experience and connection details, and flipped between hyperlinks to different packaging formats.
The executives in the room, captivated by this new technology, said “Wow, incredible!” and in that moment I thought “This is not only going to change how companies communicate but also how they work.”
I recall this experience because it shows that, 23 years on, progress has in some ways been slower than my “HTML Epiphany” suggested, but also that progress has been steady, relentless and is accelerating. When we consider the intersection between humans, technology and work, how will this three-way relationship evolve? And where will be 23 years from now – in 2041?
Insights and answers relating to this question of the future are contained in the recent DWG report “Digital Workplace 2030: Preparing now for the digital worlds of work to come”, but for a nearer-term rich experience of insights, practices and lively conversation, do join us for Digital Workplace 24, our 24-hour online festival featuring an amazing list of live tours, experts, guests, music and the occasional robot.
And, talking of “near-term”, let’s get down to the business of the moment: my digital workplace predictions for 2019.
But first, as is traditional, let’s see how I performed this year… after all, why listen to anyone predicting the future unless they have a track-record of at least decent levels of accuracy. Here is my past performance (all self-rated scores, but they have been cross-checked with a selection of digital workplace practitioners).
Story so far:
So, how did I get on in 2018?
My 2018 scorecard
|Prediction 1||People analytics grows as software begins to monitor and track us all.||✗|
|Prediction 2||Microsoft remains the enterprise platform of choice – despite decent competition.||✓|
|Prediction 3||Employee experience plays a central role in a powerful digital workplace.||✓|
|Prediction 4||Intranets have never been in better health – and (surprisingly) email also remains popular.||✓|
|Prediction 5||Collaborative tools encourage a shift from individual ego to team contribution.||✓|
|Prediction 6||AI and the intelligent workplace produce hype and reality in equal measures.||✓|
|Prediction 7||Leaders lacking excellent digital literacy will struggle to thrive (or even survive) in the workplace.||✓|
|Prediction 8||The digital workplace rises in stature – no longer the poor relation to external digital (a half point here).||✓||✗|
|Prediction 9||Younger workers want a clearer distinction between “work” and “life”.||✓|
|Prediction 10||Workplace by Facebook’s new status spurs better mobile frontline services across the industry.||✓|
The exciting news is that in 2018 I scored 8.5/10. I don’t think the whole “quantified workplace” in Prediction 1 has advanced much yet and I am in two minds over Prediction 8 – yes, the digital workplace is rising in stature, but it does still remain the “poor relation”.
But this is my best score yet! 8.5/10 is a step forward for me and it actually stood at 9/10 until I recently tested these 2018 ratings (as well as the draft predictions for 2019) in front of a live audience at a DWG Member Meeting in Amsterdam, with senior managers from ING, Syngenta, Telenor, Ubisoft, BNY Mellon, Philips and Tata Steel in the room.
Now, onto 2019. This year, there are two tweaks to the normal format. For the first year ever, I have included a “Grand Prediction”, a sort of “super prediction” that picks out one overarching change that I feel will be felt most significantly in the year ahead.
The other new ingredient is to accompany each prediction with a “Bigger picture” vision. This new layer emerged from the test-drive of the predictions – and thanks go to Alex Bevan, Senior Business Architect at American Express, who responded to my question to the meeting “Are the predictions bold enough?” by suggesting that a new aspirational insight could be added.
The predictions are what I believe will happen in the 12 months ahead, while the “Bigger picture” lines describe a longer-term trajectory.
2019 Grand Prediction
Flexible (mobile) ways of working become the foundation for work
Three events in 2018 crystallised what I regard as a fundamental sea-change in where work happens and the requirement for organizations to provide flexible and remote working as a matter of course.
- Eliza Khuner, a senior data scientist, quit her job at Facebook after the social media company refused her request to work remotely and flexibly in order to bond with her new baby. The irony of this refusal by a giant of “always on” digital connection was not missed by observers.
- Consulting firm PWC started allowing new hires to choose their working hours after a study showed that half of ALL younger recruits emphasized work flexibility and work/life balance as the key factors when choosing a job.
- Several new hires to my own company DWG, as well as a range of longer-term employees and contractors, cited that our fully distributed model (otherwise known as “We have no offices”) is treasured by them because of the ways in which it has allowed them to be more physically present in the lives of their kids and/or ageing parents. Put a price on that!
Requesting flexible working has become a legal right in some countries, and even where it isn’t, it’s becoming an essential for modern work and the only way to compete for the best people in an increasingly febrile “war for talent”.
My 10 digital workplace predictions for 2019
Prediction 1: Modern advanced intranets remain central to any high-grade digital workplace
I have lost count of the number of DWG members and consulting clients who have set about radically upgrading their intranet environments in 2018.
This is not happening because of some historic love of intranets held by the likes of Henkel, Kaiser Permanente, Adobe or the World Bank, but because, in the wider digital workplace ecosystem, having a powerful modern intranet is regarded as a core application for a large enterprise. This pattern will not decrease in 2019 and is likely to continue to flourish.
BNY Mellon’s “Digital Front Door” intranet to their digital workplace.
Over time will intranets survive? They keep reshaping to suit the times and experience required but as multiple other powerful applications advance and integrate, the broader trajectory suggests that intranets will get absorbed into richer, more extensive digital worlds of work.
Prediction 2: Organizations start to restructure themselves – spurred on through digital workplace innovation
What Dutch-based global bank ING has implemented in Amsterdam is radical. Yes, the offices of the Dutch division of the bank look funky, fresh and innovative, but what really hits home is how ING has restructured its entire Dutch business to be “agile”.
All senior leaders work at touchdown spaces, dressing as they wish, and operating (as all staff do) as part of “squads” with agile coaches, chapter leaders and a total commitment to working in agile ways. In recent years, the bank has not only upgraded its intranet and digital workplace, but has now completely taken apart its traditional organizational structures, replacing them with a flatter, more fluid and rapid-fire structure.
After so far typically “pouring” digital workplace services and platforms into previously hierarchical formats for business life, this type of “grand restructuring” is the next wave of a change we will start to witness.
Following on from visits to Netflix, Spotify and Facebook, ING has charted its course and will be a pioneer of deep reorganizations of traditional companies and bodies. Better technology and processes remain constantly important, but refreshing and rebooting how we structure our organizations will become essential as we head into the 2020s.
ING’s refreshed offices foster a new open, collaborative and agile culture.
If we extrapolate from this prediction, we will see organizations in the coming decade redesigned to be much flatter, more adaptive and experimental than we have ever seen before. This is as much a cultural as a structural change, and power will be far more broadly distributed.
Prediction 3: Machine learning will be the focus area for organizations (rather than general AI), with some impressive examples emerging
When Liberty Mutual gave a live tour of its highly versatile digital assistant at a DWG Member Meeting at Southwest Airlines in Dallas in September, the peers in the room were “star-struck”. This was a powerful example of what machine learning (as opposed to AI) can deliver – and it is impressive.
After the hype, we will start to see that the real impact area is machine learning, where large troves of data are analysed by machines that can learn and interpret at unbelievable speeds and with accuracy.
My expectation is that the focus will shift from AI in the enterprise, as progress in that area remains a long way off, to the deployment of machines that can sift, analyse and deliver value.
Liberty Mutual’ s powerful digital assistant.
Oddly, given the topic area, the big picture on AI and machine learning is less surprising than in other (supposedly more traditional) areas. In time, the workplace will become saturated in intelligent systems, but this will arrive slowly, steadily and in ways supportive of humans.
Prediction 4: ‘Aggregator’ services rise to help people manage information, tasks, connections and events
We are awash with applications and services – team messaging, collaboration spaces, virtual meetings, tasks, document tracking, diary management, contact information… shall I go on?
And while, for example, in the enterprise messaging space, where we have Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Teams etc., no one tool dominates, what we are craving is a clear single view of “everything”.
Organizations like Wells Fargo and Liberty Mutual are now using microservices as aggregators of these many streams. Global legal firm Linklaters is using Dynamic Signals for this purpose.
These services, which collate and pool what we need, will continue to arrive at pace, helping to improve digital employee experiences.
Mrs Landingham is the AI-powered service used by a US Government department that helps with onboarding.
What we need will find us in a form that suits us. This is far easier said than done, but as the amount of information and data grows, what we will move to is intelligent systems that can deliver what we need, when we need it.
Prediction 5: (External) customer success is increasingly seen as grounded in (internal) digital workplace success
The MIT Sloan School of Management carried out some superb research on the direct link between the world’s best performing companies economically (stock price, profitability and brand) and the quality of their digital workplace.
If you want to deliver externally, you must be strong and effective internally. Yes, some organizations still perform well with customers through “internal heroics” but the pain, stress and durability of these fixes mean they cannot be sustained over time. If you want to be great “out there”, you must be “great inside” too.
This correlation will steadily become more accepted as a business reality, and powerful digital workplace (as well as physical workplace) success will be regarded more and more as the bedrock for external success.
How 3M’s internal digital workplace echoes its external customer experience.
The internal/external debate will evaporate. The continuum between what happens inside and what happens outside will become obsolete as all organizations understand that these are totally connected. To suggest otherwise will be regarded as just as crazy as suggesting you can function well with unskilled and under-performing staff. “Inside” will no longer be the poor relation but an equal to the external-facing experience and service – all part of one continuum.
Prediction 6: Knowledge Management’s renaissance will continue to accelerate, exposing outmoded performance management approaches that reward individual versus team contribution
Across many sectors we have been witnessing the return to power of knowledge management (KM).
KM has had a chequered history, flourishing and waning over a few decades, but the jewel that being “large company x” offers is that the collective knowhow and people and systems will produce extra value and impact.
However, as KM rises again and collaboration at team levels becomes normalized, there remains a glaring mismatch between what we are asking people to do and how we reward and evaluate their efforts.
Performance management is often done through tedious annual individual HR performance reviews. These are no longer designed for the modern organization and this tension means they will be restructured to suit team rather than (only) individual contribution.
Knowledge and collaboration within Verizon.
Work will happen through networks, be collaborative and “out loud”. HR systems will reflect this by providing real-time feedback on your performance as part of the larger system. Individual ego at work will increasingly be replaced by the collective ego within culturally transformed organizations.
Prediction 7: The ‘mobile workforce’ is seen as central to work, irrespective of where people work physically
Within DWG we have no offices. Almost 100 people work from wherever they are. They mostly follow “normal working hours” but they flex as needed, based on deadlines, projects and life beyond work. Work is mobile, portable and fluid.
Walk into any office – no matter how funky – and what you actually see is people working in digital words that are portable and remain with them whether they are at a traditional desk or moving around.
Irrespective of role and business, work has shifted to being mobile. As expressed in my grand prediction, this is a deep change and makes your digital workplace ever more important – with your physical workplace only judged by its convenience of environment and location.
HAVI enables mobile working across a diverse workforce.
The Industrial Revolution was initiated through new technology – the steam engine – but its impact was felt widely across where people lived and worked, with whole new communities and social effects resulting. Cities, offices, suburbs, factories arose and, in time, the current technological revolution will have just as great an effect, making everyone as mobile as they wish to be. New economies will grow away from cities and new social structures will evolve, enabled by this mobile, flexible and adaptive way of working.
Prediction 8: Raising the ‘digital IQ’ of every person in work turns from ‘nice idea’ to ‘business imperative’
Barclays Bank led the way several years ago – bringing in iPads for all retail staff and young “Digital Eagles” to teach skills to (mostly) older colleagues.
The vision was to raise the digital literacy of the bank and this (at the time) pioneering idea is now mission-critical for every organization, irrespective of size and sector. It could be anything from a residential home for the elderly shifting to its staff using online services rather than working with handwritten notes, to retail staff using tablets to help customers – the list is endless.
Every company now wants to raise its digital intelligence and should recognise this as a key to success. What was once a “nice to have” has become both crucial and urgent – meaning the process will accelerate ever faster in 2019.
Barclays pioneered the idea of “Digital Eagles” and digital literacy.
My longer-term view is that this current “skill” will disappear as a distinct “literacy”. Education for children will ensure that we have a suitably skilled population going forward and the real need will be for an ethos and structure for lifelong learning – as pioneered and funded in Singapore for every citizen. We will all have far higher digital IQs right from the very start of our educational journeys.
Prediction 9: An ethical, sustainable and healthy digital workplace becomes a powerful recruitment and retention tool
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU in 2018 was a wake-up call for many people and organizations, but its larger impact was to ask companies a question –
what is your stance on privacy, security and data?
More progressive organizations are now treating their digital workplace as a barometer of the ethics, health and values of the organization.
For example, if you can monitor your staff continually, will you do so or will you choose not to and to use that “respect for privacy” as an example of the way you treat employees?
And how can your digital workplace help maintain the health and well-being of your staff? Rather like fitness-tracking devices can sense your stress levels and support you to take breaks, breathe, drink and generally better manage your well-being, so the digital workplace for some will have a new role in promoting the general health and ethics of the organization.
How one Australian university helps build student well-being digitally.
Digital worlds where we work will develop the equivalent of the “Health and Safety” standards we know so well from physical workplaces. There will be agreed protocols and principles that protect the people who use them, and their quality will attract or deter new hires. They will act as guides, companions and a support for humans in work.
Prediction 10: The digital workplace evolves to include partners, contractors, supply chain and even (for some) customers
The Unilever Foundry is a hybrid collection of people, including Unilever staff, venture capitalists, external research and development, start-ups and experts – and it’s taking a co-working space in Singapore.
Is the Foundry “part” of Unilever or an external organization?
Heathrow Airport regards its own 14,000 staff as just part of the wider digital workplace of 70,000 people who work at this huge airport (including in the shops and restaurants, etc.).
The beauty of the digital workplace is that its boundaries are porous, and the pattern of including in “your digital workplace” those outside the tighter staff and contractor group will grow.
Platforms such as Slack and Office 365 foster this blurring, and major companies and public-sector organizations will seek out external services and people to include in their evolving digital workplaces.
Heathrow Airport: 14,000 staff are part of a wider digital workplace of 70,000 people.
Distinct post-Industrial Age companies will become nodes within economic networks. The separation of organizations has less and less value, and they will evolve into hubs within far larger economic and social networks – still retaining their own value and importance, but embedded in the fabric of integrated networks, systems and processes. Not tomorrow, but over time, networks will replace organizations.
Research and resources
- FREE REPORT: Digital Workplace 2030: Preparing now for the digital worlds of work to come
- BLOG: What digital workplace practitioners can learn from Knowledge Management
- PODCAST: How ‘ethical’ is your digital workplace?