My 10 digital workplace predictions for 2020

November 25, 2019 by

I’ll start with a story that for me reveals how profound the changes currently encircling the world of work (both digital and physical) are.

In September 2019, I gave an address at the Washington, DC headquarters of DWG member and client, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to what I had expected would be a mainly “techy and communications” audience, organized by my host Martin Mühleisen, Director of the IMF’s Strategy, Policy, and Review Department.

But no, the auditorium was filled with leaders from across the IMF, whose “day jobs” have no direct relationship with the digital workplace. My talk was called “Working Between Stories” and covered the deeper-lying patterns and developments reshaping how work is happening.

What struck me from this burgeoning leadership appetite for insights into work (both physical and digital) is that the digital workplace is moving from a focus mostly on “better services and technology” to a much broader reorganizing and reenergizing of actual organizations. What could happen if we stop “pouring” new technology into existing buckets and instead start to reshape the organizations themselves to enable innovative tools and applications to realize their true potential?

I have spent almost 35 years talking to, investigating and supporting a now broad array of mainly large corporate and public/government organizations, and I have never known an era when these entities were so much in flux as they are today – uncertain and perhaps consequently receptive to ever-more radical ways of structuring, organizing and operating. The IMF is but one example.

In fact, the concept that has evolved into my “Super Prediction” for 2020 was seeded 12 months ago as a somewhat experimental prediction for 2019 (Organizations start to restructure themselves – spurred on through digital workplace innovation). But what I have heard and seen in the last year has catapulted this embryonic notion of “restructuring/redesign’’ from fringe concept to centre-stage.

This systemic shift in work is encapsulated in a new DWG report: “Nature of Work: Designing at the interface of the physical and digital workplace”, and will be explored in far more depth in my forthcoming book, “Nature of Work”, which Shimrit Janes, Director of Knowledge for DWG, and I are currently co-authoring for publication in 2020.

So, how did I perform in the 2019 predictions?

Let’s preface the 2020 predictions with the now traditional process of scoring how I did this year. You know the logic – why listen to anyone attempting to predict the future if they have not demonstrated to you how accurate they have been in the past?

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:

2014: 7/10

2015: 7/10

2016: 8/10

2017: 7/10

2018: 8.5/10


So how did I do in 2019?
Prediction 1Modern advanced intranets remain central to any high-grade digital workplace”
Prediction 2Organizations start to restructure themselves – spurred on through digital workplace innovation
Prediction 3Machine learning will be the focus area for organizations (rather than general AI), with some impressive examples emerging
Prediction 4‘Aggregator’ services rise to help people manage information, tasks, connections and events
Prediction 5(External) customer success is increasingly seen as grounded in (internal) digital workplace success
Prediction 6Knowledge Management’s renaissance will continue to accelerate, exposing outmoded performance management approaches that reward individual versus team contribution
Prediction 7The ‘mobile workforce’ is seen as central to work, irrespective of where people work physically
Prediction 8Raising the ‘digital IQ’ of every person in work turns from ‘nice idea’ to ‘business imperative’
Prediction 9An ethical, sustainable and healthy digital workplace becomes a powerful recruitment and retention tool
Prediction 10The digital workplace evolves to include partners, contractors, supply chain and even (for some) customers

2019: 7/10

A tough year for me. While six of my predictions got firm ticks, I could only muster a half point on two others and a clear no on a further two. After my, frankly, stellar performance in 2018 I had such high hopes for myself in 2019, only to be brought down to earth. Down but not out.

Prediction 5 about the relationship between internal strength and external success is definitely advancing but I still feel there is a way to go. Evidence led by MIT Sloan School of Management has progressed this, and other data is flowing, but when I sit down with C-suite executives there are still challenges and questions for them to answer.

Was Prediction 6 that “Knowledge Management’s renaissance will continue to accelerate, exposing outmoded performance management approaches that reward individual versus team contribution” more of a hope than a forecast, I wonder? That said, I did recently hear a story from a global travel giant, which demonstrated how the need for a radical overhaul of the ways in which people are incentivized for good performance remains urgent, so this will happen – in time.

On Prediction 9, that an ethical digital workplace becomes a recruitment and retention asset: I just haven’t seen this in the last year. Again, I do firmly believe that having an “ethical, sustainable and healthy digital workplace” will in time be essential but it may just take several years.

All that said, where I have predicted correctly, this has been backed up with clear evidence and substantial examples of the ideas in action, so I am encouraged by that.

As before, my draft predictions and ratings for this year have been tested in front of a live and discerning audience of DWG members, including MetLife, Travelport, European Central Bank, UNHCR and JPMorgan Chase – so, many thanks to them for the feedback and for the essential course corrections induced.


The still quite new ingredient in these annual predictions is to accompany each one with a “Bigger picture” vision. The predictions are what I believe will happen in the 12 months ahead, while the “Bigger pictures” describe a longer-term trajectory.

And I have for a second year included a “Super Prediction”, which picks out one overarching change that I feel will be felt most significantly in the year ahead.


My 10 digital workplace predictions for 2020

2020 Super Prediction

Organizations continue to restructure themselves – spurred on (in part) through digital workplace innovation

This notion has been elevated from its spot as Prediction 2 in 2019 – to my Super Prediction for 2020. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, I had wondered whether early examples of radical restructuring, inspired by the likes of Dutch bank ING, were just intriguing outliers or the start of a pattern. However, based on what I have now seen at KMPG and other organizations across several sectors, this movement to fundamentally redesign the structure of organizations is rapidly building in importance.

Secondly, the implications of changing the shape, power and design of a company so profoundly affects that company at a core level, this development deserves to be front and centre for my 2020 predictions.

The drivers behind restructuring reflect a view that we have been (and still are) pouring new technologies into old (often no longer fit-for-purpose) structures, so limiting the ability for those innovations to be fully utilized. We need new designs, power systems and structures in order to liberate work in a period of digital acceleration.

Prediction 1: ‘Accessibility’ rises in importance as part of a new ‘inclusive workplace’ focus

The topic of making digital workplaces usable for all age groups and abilities/disabilities was being talked about a decade ago but has emerged again strongly this year in conversations with Barclays (who see accessibility as a key requirement, with all new channels/tools going through an accessibility review), Scottish Government, Adobe and Charles Schwab.

This is often framed as being primarily about delivering services externally that are accessible to all variations of customer – irrespective of age or visual, hearing and other impairments – but it should apply equally to all staff and contractors too. The wider vision here is about creating “inclusive workplaces” that work for all people of all ages and abilities.

Bigger picture

Over time, multigenerational workplaces will be routinely designed for all workers – and technologies – as the blending of human and technology advances.

Prediction 2: Humans are winning – the ‘bots will replace us’ dystopia is not unfolding in line with predictions, so organizations can invest in their people with confidence

Choose your year. Anytime in the past 20 years we have been told (and still are mostly) that the machines are coming for us and that we mere humans need either to watch out or just step aside as we become what author Yuval Noah Harari calls “the useless class” in his best-selling book “Homo Deus”. But it’s 2019 and there is still a huge amount of “human work”. Who would have thought it? The humans are winning!

It turns out that two trends have progressed. The digital world has advanced (as expected) but also, we have developed a greater appreciation of the value of ourselves as humans. It turns out that what we are and do is far more extraordinary as humans than we gave ourselves credit for. Take Sky or DHL or Unilever, and we see humans working with advanced technology. As the World Economic Forum said in its “Future of Jobs Report 2018”, huge amounts of work disappear – but even greater volumes appear.

Organizations can and will invest in humans – with confidence. 

Bigger picture

Organizations develop natural collaborative relationships between humans and our evolving tool-based inventions – and we cease to notice the difference.

Prediction 3: Microsoft Teams rapidly affects ways of working through integration and innovation – outflanking its competitors

Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has changed a great deal. It’s more outward, integrated and open – and more innovative at the enterprise level. One powerful demonstration of this has been the arrival of Teams, which emerged from a sort of start-up unit in the company and has since been changing the way work happens at a deep level.

The scale of take-up has been intense, with more than 500,000 organizations worldwide adopting it, but what is most notable to me is how unique this service is. Part real-time communication tool with superb audio, part file sharing, part IM – and new features are constantly being added. It isn’t “like” anything else and that is what makes this a significant disruptive force in the enterprise.

Teams has left Slack floundering, with the latter having moved from its position as the collaboration tool that was going to devour all a couple of years ago to no longer being needed at the large organizational level – and questions are now surfacing around Workplace by Facebook too, which perhaps looks less secure in its market position as it tries to navigate its association with Facebook. And Yammer – having been unloved by Microsoft in recent years, will regain some momentum after its refresh.

Teams screenshotMicrosoft Teams is transforming the collaboration landscape

Bigger picture

Entirely distinct, private, secure digital workplace systems will redesign the world of work in ways that no longer just adapt the external world but are created from scratch for the workplace.

Prediction 4: Digital literacy and work flexibility/mobility join forces as ‘fellow travellers’ on the same journey – as we become both digitally smarter and more mobile

This prediction brings together two persistent trends of recent years: the rising importance of digital skills and literacy (as seen intensely at the likes of Burberry and ING) combined with the movement towards mobile working (whether while in the office or working remotely, with stellar examples such as Accenture and GSK). One is about skills and the other about location; here the two limbs of the digital workplace come together as both are needed to enable truly digital ways of working.

By raising the general “digital IQ” of an organization and combining this with the ability to “work anywhere we want”, there is a multiplier effect in value. Sky TV, Volvo Cars and BNY Mellon are strong examples where the two elements work well together – and we will see more of this “magic elixir” of digital health emerging.

The University of Leicester’s digital literacy framework 

Bigger picture

Work fully “relocates” to everywhere and anywhere, while digital literacy gets embedded into education systems allowing organizations to enhance skills through progressive learning and development.

Prediction 5: The youngest workers raise the digital bar ever higher – stimulating more distinctive, innovative and experimental digital workplaces

At American Express, younger workers are motivating digital workplace teams to innovate faster. This results in an expectation that new services must be deployed quicker even if they then need to be later refined. In companies (like Amex) – where attracting and retaining the highest quality people is essential – this younger, more demanding workforce has to be kept satisfied.

At EY, a similar younger demographic is enabling new collaborative, more mobile tools to be designed. In this global consulting firm with an average workforce age that is steadily falling, the focus of attention is firmly on retaining the best young talent, meaning highly digital, networked, mobile working is paramount. Others will follow as the digital workplace bar is raised.

Ubisoft’s award-winning digital workplace not only feels like Ubisoft but is also optimised for a strong mobile experience 

Bigger picture

With at least five generations in work, the need not only to provide what the youngest group needs is matched by a similarly attentive approach to older workers in order to optimize work for all ages.

Prediction 6: Environmental ambitions start to affect how and where work happens. Air travel declines (slightly) and virtual meetings (with video) continue their steady rise in usage

The mobilization of young people in rolling protests on climate change, along with enhanced environmental policies within organizations, propel leadership to examine habitual patterns of work. If we can reduce air travel by even 5%, the climate and economic gains are clear. If work can happen closer to where people live, similar gains are achieved.

Large organizational examples will begin to emerge but this new “localization” of work and the replacing of air travel with virtual meetings is already happening at some scale within smaller companies. DWG is a good example: for six years we have had no offices; we use virtual collaboration and meetings as the default setting; and we critically examine all air travel through an environmental and economic lens.

At Stagecoach the digitization of some processes via its mobile employee app is replacing the use of paper forms 

Bigger picture

Within five years this pattern will move from fringe to centre-stage as the climate emergency (and shifting demographics) produce highly immersive real-time collaboration tools, and work becomes both more local and more virtual.

Prediction 7: Hiring dedicated enterprise search experts gains ground – while intelligent search technology continually improves

Will there ever be a day when enterprise search actually works? Yes, there will – and one encouraging sign is that more organizations are finally committing dedicated resource to concentrating purely on finding people and knowledge. Prudential, ConocoPhillips and Ubisoft are part of this trend as we begin to understand that relying on technology alone is inadequate to fix search – it requires experts who can help improve the search experience.

That said, the technology is improving a lot. Instead of expecting individuals to tag their own content, the systems are reading content and attaching tags based on what they find – just as LinkedIn already does automatically.

Adobe’s new intranet homepage puts findability at the centre of the experience with a prominent search box 

Bigger picture

The field of “search” moves from being a challenge requiring fixing to a cross-enterprise service with substantial teams and resources that navigate the complex web of people, robotics, intelligence, knowledge and systems – so that what you need finds you without your having to ask.

Prediction 8: Analytics, measurement and insights reveal hidden patterns in how work happens – as new dashboards start to be enabled

Isn’t it strange that for so many years “culture” has been seen in equal measures as both crucial to success and impossible to measure and perceive? How does work actually happen in your company? Who knows who? Where is the flow of knowledge and where are the blockages?

This is all starting to change. Many enterprise technologies are evolving their own metrics and analysis. In American Express, elements of behavioural analytics are predicting needs in order to evolve a better workplace. We are learning who we talk to most and least, and where the real flow of communication happens. Once we can see the bigger picture through meta data, we can start to influence and design culture better.

The Royal Bank of Canada show clusters and people in its data visualizations 

Bigger picture

In time we will start to view organizations not as machines but as “organisms” or living systems – leading to broad insights into “organizational health” as the new concept of “Nature of Work” gains momentum.

Prediction 9: Increased budgets are allocated to behaviour and culture change, as these areas become recognized as key factors in digital workplace success

Jewellery retailer Pandora has been unusual in allocating a large majority of its overall digital workplace budget to change management and behaviour change. This is far from what has been the norm. In conversations I have, the most often cited digital workplace challenge I hear is around changing habits, patterns of work, gaining adoption and handling culture.

This is shifting now as many organizations start to treat change management as an essential – if not the essential – area to get right for success. The Pandora story has proved the model, as has that of ING. Instead of rolling out the latest technology and “hoping it sticks”, there is a movement towards planning and making sure that people are properly supported during the change process. This is even more important given that updates are increasingly switched by vendors without any warning, leaving hapless users struggling to navigate a constantly changing digital world.

Microsoft’s Envisioning Center shows future ways of working (shared with permission from the Microsoft Envisioning team)

Bigger picture

Accurate measurement of organizational behaviour and culture will enable true dexterity when designing worlds of work. Once we can see a series of real-time dashboards that show the organization’s culture, behaviour, patterns, networks and flows, the better we will be able to understand how to positively affect these areas.

Prediction 10: Importance and resourcing of ‘Digital HR’ accelerate as the digitization of the employee experience and ‘people factors’ get real attention after years of neglect

Travelport, Charles Schwab and Barclays are just three major organizations driving programmes of Digital HR – with teams, technology and resourcing invested in the crucial area of human talent and resources.

HR has a central role in attracting and retaining the best people to organizations and, through the lens of employee experience, this movement is now happening after too long a wait. This will allow the “people factors” of the digital workplace to find a true home in HR, enabled by better technologies, strategies and focus – with American Express having been a leader in this area for several years.

Duke Energy’s Employee Connections feature celebrates employee achievements and milestones 

Bigger picture

HR will be transformed into an entirely different service for distributed organizations, with advanced technologies at the heart of the “human” and “human/technology symbiotic” relationships. HR is in for a turbulent, exhilarating and surprising journey.

In summary, my 10 predictions for 2020 are:

    1. “Accessibility” rises in importance as part of a new “inclusive workplace” focus.
    2. Humans are winning – the “bots will replace us” dystopia is not unfolding in line with predictions, so organizations can invest in their people with confidence.
    3. Microsoft Teams rapidly affects ways of working through integration and innovation – outflanking its competitors.
    4. Digital literacy and work flexibility/mobility join forces as “fellow travellers” on the same journey – as we become both digitally smarter and more mobile.
    5. The youngest workers raise the digital bar ever higher – stimulating more distinctive, innovative and experimental digital workplaces.
    6. Environmental ambitions start to affect how and where work happens. Air travel declines (slightly) and virtual meetings (with video) continue their steady rise in usage.
    7. Hiring dedicated enterprise search experts gains ground – while intelligent search technology continually improves.
    8. Analytics, measurement and insights reveal hidden patterns in how work happens – as new dashboards start to be enabled.
    9. Increased budgets are allocated to behaviour and culture change, as these areas become recognized as key factors in digital workplace success.
    10. Importance and resourcing of ‘Digital HR’ accelerate as the digitization of the employee experience and ‘people factors’ get real attention after years of neglect.

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Categorised in: Collaboration, Digital literacy, Digital workplace, Future of work, HR intranets, Metrics & measurement, Mobile sites & apps, Search & findability

Paul Miller

Paul Miller is Chief Creative Officer and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG), rated by the Financial Times in 2020, 2021 and 2022 as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation. He is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book is ‘Nature of Work – The new Story of Work for a Living Age’ (co-authored with Shimrit Janes). His previous book, ‘The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future’ (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s previous book, ‘The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work’, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University.

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