The new normal: Embracing the digital workplace

Building happy, productive teams in a virtual environment

For decades, the typical workplace looked a lot like the movie Office Space. You know the stereotype: a 9-to-5 schedule, desk-bound employees, hierarchical teams and frustrating technology.

But all that is changing with the rise of remote work, virtual offices and distributed teams. In fact, it’s anticipated that 50% of the U.S. workforce will be remote by next year. This seismic shift in where we perform our jobs has led to new and more efficient ways of working. Say goodbye to the cubicle: the digital workplace is the new normal.

There are myriad definitions of the “digital workplace” out there (really—we Googled it). Ours is simple: In a digital workplace, collaboration and teamwork are facilitated by technology, rather than by a physical location.

An assortment of remote workers does not necessarily add up to a digital workplace. It’s not about where you work; it’s about how you work. The key is empowering employees with resources and data so they can collaborate effectively across all kinds of organizational and geographic divides.

Benefits of the digital workplace

Like any major evolution, embracing the digital workplace comes with some risk. In fact, digital transformation risk is the No. 1 concern for business leaders in 2019. But digital workplaces provide huge benefits to employees and companies, making the transition worthwhile. Here are just a few:

Job mobility. In a digital workplace, individuals work collaboratively across teams to support key organizational priorities. Greater exposure to other types of thinkers and experts within an organization enhances mobility by allowing employees to develop their skills and try out new roles, ultimately increasing productivity and engagement.

Flexibility. Employees who can choose where and when to work are 88% more engaged. Plus, flexible schedules help to close the corporate gender gap, improving your company’s diversity and chance of success.

Efficiency. Digital workplaces streamline administrative tasks, remove barriers to accessing data and resources, and increase the flow of critical information across the business. These benefits  allow employees to make data-driven decisions more swiftly and effectively than ever before. Efficient working conditions also lead to happier, more productive employees.

Higher return on your IT investments. Decentralized, specialized platforms that are simple  (and pleasant) to use allow employees to easily access cloud-based data and tools. This also frees up IT teams to focus on higher-level priorities, such as integrating tools for seamless workflows and innovating for the future, rather than troubleshooting clunky legacy software.

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Tips for teams working in a virtual environment

To succeed, leaders of digital workplaces need to understand that their biggest challenge is cultural. Employees are at risk of feeling dissatisfied and disengaged if they don’t have strong relationships at work. It’s not enough to provide employees with tools for productivity; they also need the tools to connect and collaborate with their peers.

Here are our tips for preventing isolation and building high-performing teams in a digital workplace.

Get personal

All employees should have a detailed online profile (complete with a photo!) to allow everyone to put faces to names. Profiles can also help you build inclusivity into your company culture, by giving employees a place to share their preferences and working styles. For example, one company created a detailed “user manual,” a compilation of employees’ working styles, to support its neurodiverse staff. This information also helps everyone learn empathetic communication skills.

Reimagine the 9 to 5

The ideal workday is one that accommodates the preferences and needs of its members, who don’t necessarily work the same hours. Some workers are distributed across time zones; others acknowledge that they do their best work outside of “normal” business times.

For asynchronous teams, core hours and clear expectations around response times are necessary. But they also benefit teams that mostly follow the same schedule. That’s because a hazard of the digital workplace is the expectation that you should always be available (your office is in your pocket, after all). Setting boundaries can help prevent burnout.

Establish rituals

Routines like weekly check-ins or end-of-day updates between team leaders and employees keep everyone connected, without clogging up hours with long, unnecessary meetings. These “anchor rituals” also give employees the attention they need to thrive, as well as building trust and providing a more consistent means of support when needed.

Beyond regular meetings, providing your employees with channels to easily give feedback or ask questions will also help them feel valued and respected.

Provide easy access to tools and data

Eighty percent of the global workforce already works away from a traditional desk, so your employees need to be able to access their tools from any device, any time. Limitations can impede productivity and also cause critical communication breakdowns.

A lack of application integration is one of the biggest IT frustrations for workers, so ensure that any software or platform you roll out can be accessed easily when and where your employees need it.   

Don’t forget the virtual watercooler

Feeling isolated is a major challenge for remote workers. In fact, a Buffer survey of remote workers found that loneliness was their biggest challenge. Provide outlets for your team members to connect on a personal level and build strong relationships.

Creating Slack channels for interests and hobbies can provide space for employees to get to know each other beyond work. That might be a #GOT channel for people who still aren’t over that Game of Thrones series finale, or an #office-dogs channel for pet photos. This is not only good for morale; strong friendships among colleagues predicts better performance too.

As the nature of work today grows ever more complex, digital workplaces bridge the divide between teams and tools and help organizations stay ahead. Are you ready to embrace the virtual workplace? Learn more in this primer on what digital transformation looks like for your business.

collaboration in the workplace image of people working together in different spaces
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