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We demand on-demand everything at home so why should the office be any different?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock)

Imagine this: On the way home from the office, when you’re on the train, you set your heater at home to a cosy 22 degrees via an app on your phone. Your groceries for the night have been delivered earlier that day and all you have to do is put them together. Tonight is green chicken curry. When you get home, you ask your stereo to play some tunes. Based on your previous listening, it chooses an Italian mix for a Wednesday. Whilst you cook, the lawnmower casually cuts the grass outside. On your way to bed, you turn the lights off in the living room with a clap of the hands.

Now imagine that the next day when you get into the office, the printer is still out-of-order. Something to do with the wi-fi. Again. You’re running around the building to look for a last-minute meeting room. When you get there, that’s the one where the heating is broken. Sound familiar?

Whilst all the gadgets in the first scenario may not live in your house, they all exist and are readily available on the market. And perhaps the second scenario isn’t the meeting room – it could be anything from struggling to book flex desks to requesting maintenance from your commercial landlord – but I would hazard a guess that we’ve all felt our employer slipping behind when it comes to workplace technology.

The fact is that whilst we are so used to on-demand everything in our private life, the workplace is a completely different story. A story that’s a decade behind. As a result, employees are constantly transcending between two technological epochs; one where AI is talked about as commonly as ramen and another where CDs still have value.

Why are companies falling behind?

The majority of businesses have failed to keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation in their primary activities. It’s no secret that Industry 4.0 is changing the game for businesses across the board who are busy automating, connecting and digitising. When it comes to secondary or supportive business functions – like the physical workplace, it’s amenities and the services it offers – a lot of companies haven’t even gotten started.

The wait-and-see approach may at first seem an inexpensive way forward. Many decision-makers don’t want to replace technology that is still working or are fearful to adopt new technology only to replace it two years down the road. Approaching transformation like this will only put you further behind in the long run.

Likewise, the mobile revolution has empowered employees to take control of their own technology. With the ability to use their own phones and laptops for workplace activities, employees are now free to work from wherever they want. Instead of keeping up with the pace, this has given some employers the feeling they can loosen the reins on technology a bit, hoping employees will pick up the slack themselves.

Twiddling thumbs is passing the baton

Now I know what a lot of decision-makers reading this are thinking. “It’s damn expensive to upgrade the office technology every couple of years”. And they’re right; it is, but inaction is more expensive.

Investing in technology attracts the right talent. With the Millennial era in full throttle and with the advancing march of Gen Z, if you want your company to be an innovator in its primary business activities, you have to have a digitally-forward workforce. Attracting a digitally-forward workforce requires them to be equipped to do their job properly and this in turn goes beyond just having a computer provided.

It’s booking meeting rooms with ease. It’s controlling their environment’s temperature and light. It’s the ability to book a parking space in advance. Sending emails back and forth all day is not going to cut it for this generation. They require seamless integration of digital features into their working lives.

The cycle itself may become self-perpetuating. The less you invest in developing your company’s technology stack, the less digitally forward talent you will attract who will in turn slow down the digital transformation at your business.

The benefits of embracing a digital workplace

In the past, when companies went through a cycle of workplace tech, they would focus on desktop computers and printers. Perhaps the projector and the coffee machine as well. The rest of the office might get a paint job or a designer might decorate the break room's interior. Today however, forward-thinking modern offices are digitally connected. Lights can be turned on, desks can be booked, rooms can be reserved and doors can be opened through one centralised system.

Such transformation must represent life outside the office. The benefits of having a seamless digital experience when walking into the office is increasingly important for encouraging innovation. Beyond the fact that it attracts top talent to companies, a seamless digital experience frees up time from working on various low-level tasks and tedious digital processes.

“Technology in the workplace often presents users with a disjointed, frustrating experience. Going beyond portals to build a unified engagement platform that allows workers to interact seamlessly with the organisation can increase both engagement and productivity,” states one Deloitte study.

In the long run, digital transformation in the workplace is inevitable. The only question is whether your company is going to be around long enough to see it through. Due to the disconnect between the office and our private lives, employees will simply move on for greener pastures.

If it’s easier to order a bowl of miso ramen to your office than reserve a meeting room, then it’s time to start bridging the technical divide.

Iain Thompson, CCO and Co-founder, Office App