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- Paul Miller, DWG
2021 brought a period of accelerated friction and unexpected plot twists. Throughout, many organizations grappled with returning to the physical office, new approaches to hybrid work and changing cultural expectations. So far, 2022 is bringing a whole new set of challenges that nobody could have expected at the time of putting together the predictions.
Since 2014, DWG CEO Paul Miller has been sharing emerging and maturing trends in the evolving digital workplace, helping to inform decision-makers as they navigate the year(s) ahead. This year, for the first time, Paul has teamed up with Deputy CEO and Digital Workplace Impact host, Nancy Goebel, in predicting what’s to come.
Will 2022 be the year when hybrid leadership comes of age? Is digital working moving into a new phase of growth and creation? Must advanced digital workplaces further connect large workforces to ensure resilience against the unexpected? As iterations of change continue, Paul and Nancy share insights to help digital workplace practitioners in their now everyday role as change agents.
In this episode of Digital Workplace Impact, Paul Miller chats with Nancy Goebel at the end of last year. Together they take stock of the rollercoaster ride that was 2021, and look ahead with predictions for the digital workplace this year.
Blog article: Paul and Nancy’s 2022 predictions for the digital workplace
Download the full report: Decade of Courage Manifesto. Season 2: The year of change that matters
[00:00:01.390] – Paul Miller
Use the predictions as a way of helping your self and your organization think through the changes that we face and also don’t what we we’re going through. None of us have lived through a pandemic before. On the other hand, everybody’s lived through periods of intense change. What we’re experiencing is iterations of change. But within the world of work, you do have skills and capabilities. Use the predictions as a way of helping you think through the issues and challenges and opportunities that you’re facing at the moment.
[00:00:49.530] – Nancy Goebel
In this episode of Digital Workplace Impact, I had a chance to sit down with Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group and longtime author of DWG’s Predictions for the Digital Workplace. It’s hard to believe that the predictions are now in their 8th year. As with previous generations, the 2022 edition is grounded in spotting patterns, both emerging and maturing. But what separates this year’s predictions from previous ones is twofold. For one thing, Paul and I teamed up to co-write these predictions together for the first time. And of course, that was both a fascinating and fun collaboration with Paul. And secondly, it was both surprising and interesting to see how effortlessly those predictions flowed and how for the first time, they were actually grounded in a much more holistic view of what’s needed generally, but also what’s needed, particularly at a time when there is so much uncertainty. And when you step back and look at the predictions, they are really a cross section of capability driven and behavioral trends or patterns that articulate the combination of the what and the how now that the Digital Workplace is the essential workplace inside of many organizations.
[00:02:18.400] – Nancy Goebel
Join me now for a conversation with Paul about DWG’s 2022 predictions for the Digital Workplace. Happy listening.
[00:02:27.450] – Nancy Goebel
So Paul, I just can’t believe that your predictions are now in their 8th year. And for those who are just coming into our circles, maybe we should just step back a little bit and talk about what the Genesis was behind your predictions dating back to 2014.
[00:02:48.680] – Paul Miller
Yeah, well, thanks for having the conversation, Nancy. And the Genesis for making these annual as they started off as intranet and digital workplace predictions and then digital workplace predictions was what I discovered was that in conversations that I was having throughout the year, I was sort of making all these notes of things that were happening in generally large organizations and the challenges that are happening and the opportunities that were happening and inevitably extracting patterns themes. If somebody says to you, we’re struggling with collaboration, once you think that’s interesting, if six or seven people say something similar, then you start to realize that’s actually a pattern. And what I thought was that things don’t evolve at the same time for every organization because life and work is not like that. Things happen at different stages. And so what actually I was absorbing were different patterns or occurrences that actually would affect the year ahead. So if somebody’s got a challenge in one particular year, you know that it’s something that they’re going to want to address in the year to come. So, for example, improving the quality of real time communication. I remember in 2013, that was something that was coming up as a theme for a lot of different organizations.
[00:04:24.170] – Paul Miller
So I then started to put those I tried the idea of putting those things together into a series of predictions. And then the beautiful thing about having all of the members and clients in DWG is that you’ve got this sort of available focus group at any time. So what I decided to do was to test out here’s my ten predictions for the year to come. What do you think? And actually what I heard back from people at one of the meetings in 2013 was, well, actually, this is really interesting and it provoked conversation and so on. So I thought, let’s give this a go, let’s have some predictions and let’s start from there.
[00:05:06.740] – Nancy Goebel
Well, that’s the prospective side of the predictions. There’s also a retrospective side, at least post 2014. So starting in year two, you added another layer to the prediction season, as I’ll call it for this conversation, you started a score card to basically go back and look at your previous year’s predictions in addition to introducing the next segment. And of course, this year and last, we’ve been surrounded by a level of uncertainty that’s unprecedented in our lifetimes. And I’m really curious to see how your predictions from last year turned out.
[00:05:54.990] – Paul Miller
Yeah, well, one of the reasons why, when I started the predictions, I also wanted to retrospectively look at the year that had then passed. Obviously, I had to have a year under my belt to do that was that I thought, what’s the point of listening to somebody’s predictions if they haven’t at least got a sort of track record of reasonable success? Because I think often people predict things and then they never really go back and say this. Here’s how I did. So I wanted that to be part of it. I’ve done that sort of year on year. And what’s interesting looking at the predictions from 2021 is it was a pretty sort of standard year of prediction in that I scored. Admittedly, it’s a self assessed score. I got seven and a half out of ten, which, looking back from 2014, I started off at seven out of ten in 2014, seven out of ten in 2015, eight out of ten in 2016. My worst year was 2020, where I only got six out of ten, which we could come back to. And I think seven and a half out of ten is pretty decent. The places where I scored myself at zero was that I predicted that virtual augmented and mixed reality online meetings would enable new experiences of emotional connection, mainly because we’ve talked about it for 20 years.
[00:07:26.240] – Paul Miller
And I was thinking since so much of the world of work has been meeting virtually that the quality of these alternative forms of reality in online meetings would ramp up. Actually, it didn’t happen last year. I do wonder whether some of the technology coming from Meta, as was Facebook, whether looking at, for example, the rollout of that technology across huge numbers of people and say Accenture might actually mean that it does start to come more into fruition in 2022, though we haven’t predicted it, but I scored myself a zero on that one. I also scored a half mark for saying that frontline and customer facing workers, including key workers, would finally enjoy the digital acceleration they always deserve. So I always felt that that was a group, the front line delivery side, the people at the kind of cutting edge of where work happens, often with the least well served by technology, and that that would improve. It has improved, but it hasn’t transformed. And the other one was that large organizations would open digital headquarters where we’re all welcome. I think there has been an increased focus around digital headquarters. The idea of the Nth floor, which was a concept that Microsoft came up with, has definitely ramped up.
[00:08:51.400] – Paul Miller
But I haven’t seen what I would call digital headquarters with some of the personality, quality and texture that you get in a physical headquarters. So I think seven and a half out of ten was pretty solid. And I think, Nancy, the six out of ten in 2020, which was my worst score since 2014, I thought was respectable, in that obviously. I predicted all of the 2020 predictions, minus the pandemic and the disruptive effect, the cataclysmic effect that it had on the world of work I hadn’t forecast. And so I thought six out of ten was not bad, given the thunderbolt that arrived early in 2020.
[00:09:40.690] – Nancy Goebel
Thunderbolt, yeah, that’s quite an interesting way to put it, to say the least. But let’s roll the clock forward. Let’s go back to the future then, and concentrate the rest of our time together talking about the 22 predictions. So let’s start a little bit with the creative process I’ll call it. What was new and different in crafting the 2022 predictions?
[00:10:06.460] – Paul Miller
Well, nothing really. One of the interesting things with almost whatever happens is that it’s just input in a way, it’s just information, it’s just activity. So you’ve got the world of work, you’ve got the technology that surrounds the world of work, and you’ve got human beings. And in the interactions between those three components, humans, things that human beings invent generally technology, probably in the future, biology and the world of work, there’s always a kind of melding together, a clashing. And obviously we’ve had a period of accelerated friction, if you like, but the process of me extracting trends and patterns hasn’t fundamentally changed. And I like things that are almost impervious to circumstance. So in the past, we’ve had work deeply disrupted through climate events, terrorism, acceleration of technology, sector collapses, 2008 financial collapse, et cetera, et cetera. But the process wasn’t, I would say, fundamentally any different.
[00:11:28.070] – Nancy Goebel
I’m actually going to challenge you on that one, Paul.
[00:11:30.340] – Paul Miller
[00:11:31.040] – Nancy Goebel
So for the first time, the predictions were created by collaboration, because you and I sat down to write those predictions together. And so you’re no stranger to co-publishing in the book arena. You’ve had co-authors for your second and third books, respectively. But this was the first time that you shared the stage on the predictions because we developed them together. So I think it would be interesting to share why that came about this year. So why now?
[00:12:07.160] – Paul Miller
Well, actually, obviously, Nancy, since you were the co-author of the predictions for 2022, yet the process was different. I was sort of talking about my way of approaching it. Why do this as a collaborative exercise? I think for me, they’re not done in isolation. You had kindly agreed to take over the hosting of the Digital Workplace Impact podcast, which I set up in 2016. We hosted for a few months together, and then you took that on, and it just seemed to me a natural process to then start looking at the if you’re going to be hosting Digital Workplace Impacts the podcast, why not have the predictions become a joint collaborative effort? And then, of course, our collaboration has sort of seamlessly moved into the succession planning without keeping this too much internally focused to the structure and organization of the Digital Workplace Group, where I’m standing down as CEO at the end of the year and you’re taking over CEO. So I’ll become creative director and you’ll be doing the job that I’m currently doing. So I think it’s all part of a process of evolution for what I would see the consulting company that you and I lead to exhibit, which is the qualities of a living system.
[00:13:46.150] – Paul Miller
We often talk about organizations as not organizations, but organisms, not machines, but living systems, more like forests and factories. And so this is a process of evolution, and I think that feels completely coherent to do that around the predictions because they’re not really my predictions. These are patterns that are rippling through work that then get codified. And I certainly found going through that collaboratively with you together to be a really rewarding process. I was going to say, Nancy, sorry to cut in. I mean, tell me, how did you find it producing the predictions? Well, for you for the first time, but also doing it collaboratively?
[00:14:38.120] – Nancy Goebel
Well, I’d say, of course, not surprisingly, there’s a level of collaboration that we experience day to day in running Digital Workplace Group. So for me, it felt like this was just a natural extension of what we do day to day, and there was just a level of flow. And I think that’s probably the thing that surprised me the most.
[00:14:59.670] – Nancy Goebel
Because for me, it was uncharted territory.
[00:15:01.940] – Nancy Goebel
For you, it was your eighth plus cycle of working through crystallizing patterns and because we’re so much in touch with not only our members but also our wider industry circles. I think that’s part of why there is such flow in that process. So that was kind of my, aha, looking back on that process. And certainly I felt like it was an intellectually stimulating process to go through as well, and has certainly flowed into lots of interesting conversations since.
[00:15:43.390] – Nancy Goebel
As you pointed out.
[00:15:44.900] – Nancy Goebel
Feeding the strategic conversations that our members and our wider circles are having, visa, Visa, digital workplace day to day. So it felt like it was an amplifier. There was more texture behind my ability to talk about the predictions because I was invested in a different way. I guess I’m curious as to whether there was anything that surprised you about the predictions this year, just given that we are starting to shift from pandemic to endemic.
[00:16:16.870] – Paul Miller
Yeah, well, I think COVID has been a seismic transformational moment in the world of work. I mean, I’m struggling to think of a time where work has been so much the focus of attention. Work itself has been the focus of attention, as it has been and continues to be – that’s equivalent to what happened through the pandemic. I mean, there’s obviously the industrial revolution, which happened over decades, the movement from an agrarian way of working to an urban and then suburban way of working, the rise of the industrial age. And I think we’re still in that transformation. So obviously, work itself has been headline news. I mean, it was headline news in the UK yesterday when the idea of people working from home was basically over yesterday. And now it’s everybody back to the office sort of six weeks after people were told to go and work at home again. And so work itself is under kind of analysis constantly. Everybody’s talking about it, parties, dinners, conversations, meetings and so on. So there’s that. What I would say is the diversity of topics that I think are in the predictions through our collaboration is I think there’s a kind of granularity in a variety that I’ve not seen before.
[00:17:58.050] – Paul Miller
So we’ve got the first prediction. Dynamic working will pave the way for a new breed of hybrid leaders. So if we’re going to have hybrid working, we need hybrid leadership. What are the qualities of hybrid leadership? Authenticity, empathy, ambiguity, decisiveness, agility. And then the physical world of work will remain in a midlife crisis, which is where I think it is. Things about citizen developers, the idea of fostering belonging, the rise of business intelligence, the importance of Microsoft Viva in the hybrid culture wars. Wow. These predictions are really each one is almost like a kind of essay in itself and a point of discussion and debate. So I feel the kind of breadth of insight that comes from predicting in the digital workplace is what I’ve not seen before. Somebody said to me over at one of the organizations in Silicon Valley. The digital workplace itself has moved into a new phase of growth and evolution and is so hot as a topic and will be for ten years. And I think that’s probably true. Again, Nancy, what for you has surprised you through the predictions.
[00:19:20.850] – Nancy Goebel
I have to say that we’re very complementary in our thinking. I would couch it slightly differently in the sense that I think digital workplace practitioners, whether it’s the leadership side or the wider teams involved, are seeing a shift in their roles, where they have been tacticians. They are now agents of change. And the digital workplace is as much about the what and the how now, because these teams need to be thinking about not only the capabilities but also the behavioral side at multiple levels, not just the stakeholder side and bringing together HR and technology and communications and others that need to make this strategic asset deliver its best in a very uncertain world, but also give thought to how to give people confidence, to know the right tools, to do the right jobs, to make the right business impact, and to grow professionally at a time when there are a lot of uncertainties that pull on things like well being and some of the softer elements that we bring to work and recognize now. And so thinking within the digital workplace has to be more strategic, has to be more holistic. And if you look at the predictions, they reflect that.
[00:20:59.390] – Nancy Goebel
They mirror that quite strongly now. And so that was kind of my, AHA, moment coming out of that question.
[00:21:10.410] – Paul Miller
Yeah. And I don’t know why it’s coming to my mind, but one of the things that I posted up on social media this week was a manifesto that I put in the book that I wrote a decade ago, mainly because it is an anniversary of it The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work. And I put in things from the manifesto just to see whether these things stood the test of time. What I didn’t put in was that the top ten future impacts of the digital workplace, which I posted in the book ten years ago and I’ll just read you from the top. Large office buildings will disappear and become relics of a bygone age. Most people will work from a range of new facilities, such as co-working hubs, flexible bases close to where they live. The countryside in major colonies will be repopulated, creating communities that are neither city nor countryside. The blurring of work life, along with connection, addiction, will become serious health issues akin to obesity and levels of attention. I won’t go on. Physical meetings will become special, rare and highly valued. And it makes me think that actually what we’re starting to realize.
[00:22:27.630] – Paul Miller
And I think the predictions are a sort of annual snapshot of this is that the word left the office years ago. The culture of work didn’t leave the office, but work left the office. And now what we saw through the pandemic was that because you could work in large swathes of the economy wherever you wanted, we were able to adapt to this different way of working really very, very well. I think one of the untold stories of the pandemic is the way that technology delivered and performed. I mean, imagine if the pandemic had happened 15 years ago when the technology was not nearly as capable as it was in 2020. So I do feel that that has brought into our predictions some of the kind of capability that has been in the digital workplace for quite a while.
[00:23:24.990] – Nancy Goebel
And when you think about the fact that so many organizations, including DWG member companies, were able to pivot large groups of people to work from home in a matter of weeks, as opposed to the cycle of things some years ago, really reflects the fact that there has been a coming of age for the digital workplace. And in fact, just to echo the point that I made earlier, that the more challenging side of things during the pandemic has been the impact on people more than the technology change per se. And so nurturing how people get things done when they are working from home. But suddenly now there are more layers because there were either parents in the home environment, children in the home environment. Adding a level of complexity and new stressors that never existed in quite this way before was really part of the fabric of what digital workplace practitioners and of course, HR professionals too, were navigating in new and different ways as part of the last year. I’m going to do a 180, Paul, and just I always love to bring in the member perspective on things. And so of course, we had a chance to chat with our members and preview the predictions as part of one of our online sessions last quarter.
[00:24:57.730] – Nancy Goebel
And I’m curious as to what your biggest takeaways were from the discussion. You mentioned that there’s a level of collaboration that’s been involved in informing predictions over the years, and the member of voice has been part of that.
[00:25:12.750] – Paul Miller
Yeah. I think this is one of the most rewarding parts of the predictions, is being able to iterate in conversation with people, if you like doing this work inside major organizations, because all I’m sort of doing is sort of synthesizing things that I’m hearing and seeing, feeding that back, and then people are kind of reacting to it. I think the interesting one was there’s always something that there’s refinements that happen to them. So the one that stayed with me from this year’s kind of member focus was prediction number ten, which changed from being around anthropology, analytics and behavior, providing real time insights into how work happens, which didn’t kind of it wasn’t that people said that’s wrong, it just didn’t get a lot of attention. But the one that people referred to that was actually not featured and now does feature was that knowledge management takes centre stage again, combating the exodus of insight caused by the great resignation, great migration, great reshuffle, and actually yet again, knowledge management being called to the fore as organizations deal in real time with this dissipation of know how of insight, of intelligence, of capability. I heard a really sort of sad story from one organization, and this individual was talking about how they were progressively going to meetings where there is sort of fewer and fewer people in the team there, and there’s almost a level of grief and kind of bereavement going on at a human level.
[00:27:12.050] – Paul Miller
But there’s also just that knowledge of so and so knew lots about X and who knows about that now. And organizations cannot in a way suffer that risk ongoingly. If there is going to be a level of great migration, great resignation for the next few years, then starting to provide some knowledge management resilience, I think that’s the one that’s come back and basically replace the one around analytics and behavior.
[00:27:49.110] – Nancy Goebel
Yeah, it sounds like that was quite a powerful pivot off the back of that member session. The other thing that struck me as part of that conversation was the fact that in previous years it felt like a lot of the conversation centered around trying to understand where things were going. Whereas this year, in large part when we were talking with our members, it was more about a conversation of amplifying the themes, a yes and conversation so that people were with us about these patterns and already starting to recognize how those kernels were germinating within their own organization. So that’s why I’m using the yes and so yes, I understand. Yes, I see it. Yes, I feel it. And let’s talk about what the implications are.
[00:28:44.250] – Paul Miller
Yeah. I think there’s less openness to the idea of I call it kind of grand speculation, and there’s more of a desire to focus on what can I practically be doing and applying now that can be really useful because I think the digital workplace is performing well in the changes forced on it by the pandemic. But I think the physical world of work, as we’ve said in our predictions, is in a state I’ve called it midlife crisis. We’ve called it midlife crisis, but it’s actually in a state of deep confusion and uncertainty. Nobody really knows where people are going to work at the moment. There are some industries where people have to work in certain situations. That’s simple. It’s almost like if you’re trying to predict the future of physical work in a hospital, it’s not that difficult to predict how work is going to happen in ten years time. But if you’re trying to predict that for an insurance firm with multiple different offices in multiple different places and said where and how is what going to happen in ten years time, I don’t think anybody could really say with any certainty what that’s going to look like, and consequently something that people can focus on that’s actionable now, I think, as you said, is really important for people.
[00:30:25.320] – Nancy Goebel
You talked about grand speculation, and of course, my brain went to the idea of the super prediction that you use to cap off that conversation. And so maybe we can spend a moment or two unpacking that. So let’s start with unveiling it for those who haven’t yet read the predictions, what was it and what informed it?
[00:30:48.930] – Paul Miller
Well, the super prediction, which is my sort of grand prediction prediction for 2022 was advanced digital workplaces connect large workforces, ensuring resilience against the unexpected. It’s not really a prediction that’s that strange or hard to recognize. Digital workplaces become more advanced, they provide greater resilience for the unexpected. But I think why that is a super prediction is that organizations know that uncertainty, fragility and adaptability in the world of work is here for the long term. Therefore, our digital workplaces really need to be robust and capable to withstand whatever is going to come next. So that’s the super prediction for 2022. Yeah. There have been some years where things have been a little bit more, I don’t know, esoteric or philosophical or strategic, but I think that’s where organizational focus will be in 2022.
[00:32:06.950] – Nancy Goebel
And I can’t help but make a tie in to the Nature of Work book. And that is to say that when you think about the twelve elements that are within the nature of workbook, it would be helpful to literally take a page from it to say, navigating. This window of time where there is a lot of uncertainty can be best grounded by asking lots of questions. And when I think about how the Nature of Work book is structured, it put forth ideas, challenges, but then it tackles them by introducing a thoughtful set of questions. And the most powerful tool we have right now is not a roadmap, but actually natural inquisitiveness as a way of uncovering the path we need to take during this time of uncertainty.
[00:33:06.160] – Paul Miller
Yeah, that’s true. I think people are looking I mean, I’ve heard this from one organization working in the physical workspace yesterday, which is that people don’t want, if you like consultants, external experts, to come in and tell them, give them the solutions, they want them to help. They want to be assisted, facilitated, to think through the process. So if we’re looking at how do we deal with issues of hybrid working, don’t tell us do this, help us think through for our particular organization, in our particular regions, in our particular sector, with this particular demographic, how we deal with these issues. And I think that’s a healthy thing, really?
[00:34:00.070] – Nancy Goebel
Absolutely. And so I’m conscious that our time together for this conversation is coming to its final moments. So my favorite question is always to ask you, what have we missed? And that could be a final reflection. The question, what will inspire you next? Anything goes.
[00:34:22.750] – Paul Miller
Well, I suppose the main thing is use the predictions as a way of helping your self and your organization think through the changes that we face and also don’t think that what we’re going through. What we’re going through, none of us have lived through a pandemic before. On the other hand, everybody’s lived through periods of intense change and what we’re experiencing is iterations of change. But within the world of work, you do have skills and capabilities to remember what you did in 2008. Think about things you’ve done when other things are mergers and acquisitions and try and apply some of the principles that serve you through those changes and use the predictions as a way of helping you think through the issues and challenges and opportunities that you’re facing at the moment.
[00:35:27.860] – Nancy Goebel
That’s a great way to cap off this discussion, Paul. Of course, you know, I always leave these conversations feeling energized and inspired, so it’s really fitting to bring you back into the studio to have a conversation early in the new year and help set a tone for things that people should be thinking about. And just a big thank you for coming back into the Digital Workplace Impact podcast studio today.
[00:35:59.390] – Paul Miller
It’s been a pleasure, Nancy and it was a pleasure developing the predictions with you.
[00:36:06.930] – Nancy Goebel
Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry not only through membership but also benchmarking and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
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Book a free one-to-one consultation to discuss the current status of your digital workplace. Each consultation is followed up with a bundle of useful resources to help get you started.