Designing the Digital Workplace of the Future

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Designing the Digital Workplace of the Future – A Strategic Imperative in Today’s Complex Business Environment

With the move to the digital workplace happening at a rapid pace – and office space per employee set to drop from 200 to between 50 and 100 square feet by 2015 – companies looking for a competitive advantage must start viewing the workplace itself as a strategic asset

Ramez Shehadi Danny Karam Booz Company
Booz Company executives Ramez Shehadi and Danny Karam. Globalization has completely altered the way in which businesses operate, creating a market dynamic that increases competition and demands much higher levels of efficiency, says Danny Karam. Photo-supplied

Every single day, members of a new generation are entering the workforce, and bringing with them their smartphones, tablets, and personal laptops. And, they fully expect to be able to use such powerful devices to do their work.

Some companies in the Middle East are working towards creating more efficient, collaborative spaces, such as Etisalat, Ooredoo, and Emirates NBD. Yet more organizations in the region need to make the most of today’s trends and can do so by following a more strategic approach to the way they design and organize the workplace. That means taking into account all the different stakeholders employees interact with—their co-workers, customers, vendors, suppliers, partners, even friends and family. Then, they need to make good use of a variety of emerging technologies that can enable employees to work together in teams, across geographies in real time.

After all, the business world is continuously evolving, and employees are required to work – collaboratively – around the clock to meet the needs of the increasingly global economic environment. In parallel, in recent years, new and innovative technologies have sped up the digitization of businesses across industries, allowing them to better monitor operations and get much closer to their customers. As a result, to make the most of these trends, companies today must adopt a more strategic approach to how they design and organize the workplace. In line with this premise, global management consulting firm Booz & Company has formulated a framework for how to create the digital workplace of the future – one that can boost productivity, improve employee morale, and attract the next generation of talent.

The business world is moving faster and faster, and becoming more global and mobile. Working together in teams has become standard operating procedure, and new digital technologies are being developed to help workers communicate, collaborate, and share resources. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Teknion, an office design firm, nearly 90 percent of companies plan to increase their investment in productivity-enabling technologies – such as voice activation and sophisticated videoconferencing – by 2015.
“The emergence of new, digital technologies has altered the very fabric of the business landscape,” said Ramez T. Shehadi, a Partner with Booz & Company, leading the firm’s Digitization platform. “Now, companies looking for a competitive edge must view the workplace itself as a strategic asset to boost performance, optimize costs, maximize customer contact, reduce time to market for new products and services, and attract and retain talent.”

He also added: “In order to do so, however, companies must understand the factors that are forcing the radical changes in the workplace, the challenges those factors have created for companies, and how they can overcome them to build a fully digital, truly strategic workplace.”

Trends Shaping Businesses Today
If companies are to successfully design the digital workplace, they must fully understand the trends that are so rapidly transforming how work gets done.

· Generation C
Across the globe, a cohort of people born after 1990 is fast entering the workforce. They are Generation C – fully tech-savvy individuals with an inherent understanding of digital technologies and the expectation of being connected to everyone and everything, anytime, anywhere. If companies hope to attract and retain these talented, dynamic, demanding workers, they will need to adapt their workplaces accordingly. For Generation C, productivity has a new meaning, and companies must promote the elements of the digital workplace needed to enhance it.

· New Ways of Operating
“Globalization has completely altered the way in which busi­nesses operate, creating a market dynamic that increases competition and demands much higher levels of efficiency”, said Danny Karam, Principal with Booz & Companyleading the firm’s Digital efforts in the ICT industry. “With organizations venturing beyond national bound­aries in the pursuit of business opportunities, working across geographies and time zones has cre­ated an “always-on,” 24/7 culture”, he added. “Employees are much more mobile, and companies are moving away from assigned offices and towards more open and technologically well-equipped workspaces that promote collaboration”.

· Digitization
Powerful and easy-to-use tech­nologies have wrought significant changes in how people live their lives, at work and at home – and are doing much to encourage employees to combine their work and home lives. These tools enable people to communicate, collaborate, and share resources, while increasing productivity and business agility by boosting the automation and flexibility of IT infrastructures.

Today’s ever-changing business world demands that employees interact with a wide variety of stakeholders, both inside and outside the traditional organization. And so, companies designing the digital workplace must keep in mind the many intricate relationships among employees, and between employees and customers, vendors, suppliers, and even the public at large.

· Teams: Employees need to work with one another to collaborate on day-to-day tasks, collectively brainstorm ideas, analyze infor­mation, present findings, share relevant files and documents, and track the progress of their respec­tive activities.

· Customers: Many employees regularly interact with consumers to collaborate on projects, handle requests or provide maintenance reports.

· Vendors and suppliers: Employees must work regularly with the vendors and suppliers that provide parts, resources, services, and other inputs to ensure progress and on-time delivery.

· Administrative staff: Employees regularly interact with the admin­istrative staff to submit expense reports, manage logistics, attend training sessions, and solve techni­cal problems.

· Family and friends: “The lines between personal and work lives have become increasingly blurred, and employees now demand the right to manage their personal lives from work,” explained Karam.

It is only by identifying these key interactions that companies can understand how best to design their workplaces.

Creating the workplace of the future requires five elements which make up the digital office framework: access devices, communications infrastructure, business applications, the workplace environment, and digital security.

Access Devices
Employees need considerable flexibility in choosing the most effective way to access business applications wherever they are working. Smartphones and tablets are becoming a necessity, so companies need to rethink their device strategies based on business needs.

Communications Infrastructure
Strong connectivity remains a crucial requirement in the digital workplace, both in the office and on the road; indeed, it is crucial that the communications technologies and business and collaboration applications driving business today function effec­tively. Corporate networks need to be equipped to handle simultaneous voice, video, and data communication, both in and outside the company network.

Business Applications
Giving employees seamless access to business applications – whether core utilities such as ERP, CRM, or business intelligence or collaboration and admin­istrative applications – regardless of location and time increases productivity and supports collaboration with other employees, partners, and customers. Such applications also help virtual teams work cohesively and interact effectively, giving them instant access to the critical information that they need.

The Workplace Environment
The design of the physical workplace has a strong influence on employees’ motivation, performance, productiv­ity, and collaboration; it also impacts an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. Collaboration, for example, can be significantly improved by providing video teleconferencing and interactive meeting room technology.

Digital Security
The convergence of cloud computing, social media, and mobile computing technologies has created real problems in maintaining data security at every company. Nevertheless, new technologies now allow information to be stored securely in the cloud and made available from various devices, while enabling offline data access and seamless peer-to-peer activities between devices. Private cloud environments have thus enabled many organizations to increase agility and reduce costs. Implementing the digital office frame­work begins with a careful assessment of the company’s current state of office technology, and the design of a blue­print for what the future state should look like. The blueprint should take into account both the new technology architecture involved and the rethinking of the physical workplace. Once this is complete, a series of pilot programs will enable companies to evaluate how the technologies perform under real work­ing conditions, and those that prove themselves can then be implemented at full scale.

“Still, it is important that the process not stop at imple­mentation,” said Shehadi. “The technologies that will make up how work gets done in the future will likely be in constant flux, so companies must examine their workplaces, learn what is working and what isn’t, and regularly upgrade to main­tain their competitive lead.”

To conclude, companies in every industry are facing real challenges in offering employees the best of the new technologies that they need. However, those that can see the strategic value of the working environment, and can get in front of the movement to the truly digital workplace, will have a clear advantage in productivity, innovation, and collaboration. That, in turn, will enable them to attract the talent they will need to stay competitive and to align with the social and business transformations taking place around the world.

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