What will workplace technology look like in 2019?

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What does the term ‘workplace’ mean to you? Do you picture a traditional office with cubicles and bulky PCs, or an open-plan area with bean bags and meeting spaces?

With digital transformation having changed how we work, communicate and collaborate, the latter will likely be more recognisable to most of us. Some people might not even picture an office at all, as the boundaries between work and home have become blurred.

Thanks to the rapid development of workplace technology, combined with flexible hours and remote working schemes becoming commonplace, employees can now freely work from anywhere, at any time. Dispersed workforces are now the norm and, throughout 2018, businesses have had to cater to employees’ growing expectations when it comes to the digital tools they have access to.

But what does 2019 hold? Here are the key workplace technology trends that we expect to see next year.

The generational divide will deepen

Millennials started to take over from Baby Boomers as the dominant workforce generation in 2018 – they are already the largest generation in the US labour force – creating a generational divide that is set to grow in 2019. We’re also on the cusp of ‘Generation Z’ entering the workforce. This age group is only just starting to draw attention, but businesses will have to start thinking about how to cater for different employee preferences and ways of working.

For example, making sure millennials are valued beyond simply driving revenue and that they’re constantly progressing and learning new skills will be key, as well as ensuring that they feel like they’re having an impact on their work environment. An intranet can solve both of these problems, providing a space for employees to share ideas and receive public recognition from senior management.

Using digital tools to measure employee satisfaction will also be vital. Businesses have to pay more than lip service to employee engagement and satisfaction through programs that can be powered by short, online surveys.

Businesses will have to realise that multimedia content is king. Tapping into videos, images and social media-like business solutions will keep younger employees engaged, as well as help to bridge the gap to senior management.

So many tools, so little time

One trend that will certainly continue in 2019 is the influx of digital tools on the market. The abundance of software available has led to companies investing in a range of different tools to meet the needs of the younger generation.

The challenge many businesses face is balancing collaboration and communication tools so there is a joined-up way of working, rather than a hodgepodge that can confuse employees and decrease productivity. There are many ways to share messages and content through instant messaging, but there is even more overlap with chat and enterprise social networks built within applications. Choice is good for employees, but companies need to make sure they are breaking down siloes to consolidate and streamline tools where possible.

An even more decentralised workplace

Studies have shown that mobile browsing overtook desktop browsing for the first time in in 2018, while our own research found that nearly a third (32 per cent) of people log in to company intranets remotely outside of core office hours. In response, many business tools are taking a mobile-first approach.

This means companies need to consider how employees will engage with the business via their devices – particularly those with a distributed workforce. They will have to take the time to identify the employees most likely to use mobile tools, uncover their key use cases and design the mobile experience to meet their needs. For example, businesses might decide to only allow remote access to certain types of content and restrict access to ‘finance’ unless the employee is in a corporate building.

Even crucial and crisis communications that would have been carried out face-to-face can now be done remotely. With the rise of live meetings, the face-to-face aspect no longer has to be physical.

Chatbots play a bigger role

Chatbots and digital assistants herald an exciting time in the workplace and, although they still need to be refined to become conversational, the technology will mature in 2019 and play a role in internal communications.

Chatbots will provide a user-friendly introduction to enterprise search, something that businesses have struggled with for decades. For example, the conversation will be able to change from “where can I find that?” to “what do you need? I’ll find it.” They can also quickly connect employees with the right people in the organisation based on context from the chatbot conversation.

This is an opportunity to expand the self-service model for employees, enabling them to access the information they need. Chatbots and digital assistants can also be used to automate activities previously done by humans, alleviating employees from repetitive tasks.

The challenge will be to appease any workforce concerns around technology “taking over” the human workforce. This is where having communication and succession plans in place will be vital. Will the employees that previously handled these automated tasks be moved to another part of the business? Are there training opportunities for those displaced by technology? Or is this a redundancy conversation?

Businesses will have to make sure they are prepared to respond to the automation challenge with a clear, concise communications plan that gives employees confidence, rather than fear and distrust.

A challenging year ahead

There are several employee engagement and communication challenges that businesses will face in 2019.  For example, defining how to measure and adjust employee productivity in a meaningful way is still an issue for many, as is cutting through the noise generated by a plethora of digital devices.

Businesses have to make sure they are targeting the right messages to the right people, and that they are keeping their employees in mind. Striking the right balance between what the employee considers valuable and what the business wants to communicate can be tricky, but will be essential to engaging an increasingly demanding generation of workers.

Simon Dance, CEO, Interact
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible