Future of digital workplace depends on better IT practices, experts say

With mobile devices becoming cheaper and more integrated within our daily lives, managers coming to value flexible working, and the rise of the secure cloud, more and more offices are turning into veritable digital workplaces.

ITProPortal joined experts including futurist David Smith, IDC research director Alys Woodward, and head of information for the International Criminal Court Jones Lukose Ongalo for a hearty Adobe-hosted roundtable to discuss the realities and challenges presented by the gradual move to the digital workplace.

Adobe, whose brand-new Acrobat XI software was designed to address a demand for more flexible collaboration tools, hopes to be at the forefront of that shift by offering technology that information workers can use to collaborate digitally and with ease. Accordingly, the company commissioned an IDC study to look into the habits and primary concerns of European employees in the digital workplace. The study, titled the Adobe Knowledge Worker Survey, explored the realities of so-called knowledge workers across Western Europe and the UK to pinpoint the areas that are most relevant and those that need the most improvement to make the digital workplace a more viable, productive, and successful reality in the future.

Unsurprisingly, IDC’s research found that bring your own device (BYOD) and a significant adoption of the use of mobile devices for business are both major trends in the digital workplace. More specifically, some 49 per cent of workers are using smartphones for business, while 14 per cent use tablets as a part of their work day - many of whom are using their own devices.

That’s part of what David Smith described as a new approach to work and an overall shift in mobile productivity. “We don’t go to work but we work on the go,” said Smith.

Meanwhile, Alys Woodward of IDC described the shift as symptomatic of a desire to integrate a "broader, richer mix" of tools into the process of digital work and digital collaboration, in part the result of more affordable and widely available technology.

Jones Lukose Ongalo of the ICC agreed, describing his organisation’s adoption of an all-digital e-court strategy to speed up the judicial process. For the court, all documents except live testimony are produced digitally, with digital versions being accepted as originals - that includes the processes of evidence production, presentation to the court, and dissemination to the public.

There are many challenges, “but in order to be relevant, we have to be active in the information world,” said Ongalo.

Among those challenges, mentioned by Smith, Woodward, and Ongalo, is a tension between workers and the IT departments who oversee their technology. For one, IT staff often underestimate the extent to which workers are using mobile devices for business, IDC’s study found. While IT workers believe that a third of employees are using smartphones for work, the real figure is closer to half.

The unfortunate result of this disconnect is a slew of unaddressed, or inadequately addressed, technology problems leading to a lot of time wasted due to subpar document collaboration and management tools and difficulties integrating multiple devices. According to IDC, worker inefficiencies stemming from poor digital collaboration result in 19.5 per cent of time wasted - altogether costing employers 14,492 euros (£11,582) annually per worker.

But the digital workplace is an inevitable part of our future, everyone agreed. And some steps must be taken to ensure that employees are more productive and IT staff are less burdened as we shirk conventional working more and more. Among other things, this will mean ensuring a broad device and app portfolio to meet employees’ needs, allowing them to access the information they want from anywhere, and offering streamlined collaboration and document management tools and guidelines.

Moreover, a cultural revolution must take place in the workplace. Rather than viewing the digitalisation of the office as a purely tech-centric proposition, organisations must introduce trust between and with employees and have confidence that workers will use opportunities for virtual working as appropriately, efficiently, and securely as possible.