Digital Work Environment Trends in 2021

In what direction is the intranet and digital work environment going? The world has been wrestling in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic for a year and a half and a large proportion of knowledge workers have been working more or less remotely during this time. Although the pandemic and remote work are not directly responsible for the development of the digital work environment, it has accelerated a change in both mindsets and practices. We picked five themes which can be seen in the current time.

North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.

26 August 2021

Camilla Heikkilä

1. Putting employee experience first when selecting digital tools

Let’s not reinvent the wheel, but change perspectives. Instead of looking at just one tool at a time, we should look at the whole environment, specifically from the employee’s perspective. What does an employee need to be able to do their job well, even in a remote work environment? A good employee experience may require that different employees have different tools available, even for the same or similar tasks. Although many organizations, especially in Finland, have started using Teams during the pandemic, indications of a Teams hangover can be seen. Teams does not improve everyone's (remote) work experience and we have to rethink how to make it easier to do the job. The toolkit expands as the tools are viewed through the eyes of employees.

2. Reaching the cap between different employees

The long-running trend of giving all employees access to at least the organization's intranet is accelerating. The equipment and connections provided by the employer are no longer (necessarily) required. With cloud environments and mobile support, information can also be accessed from the employee’s home computer or personal phone. In this way, non-knowledge workers also have access to instructions and current information, and the role of the supervisor being the gatekeeper is reduced. The trend intensifies as the number of face-to-face meetings in the organization decreases. While the user group for internal instructions and information in the organization is diversifying, employee experience is also emphasized. Which type of toolset best serves the entire organization?

3. Personal desktop re-emergence

As the range of online working tools grows, managing them becomes more challenging. The personal desktop, which was familiar from years ago, is topical again. Many organizations are dreaming of an intranet that is not just a springboard to other systems, but a compiling desktop that brings in feeds from other tools. One clear example of a personal desktop is the Viva Connections concept launched by Microsoft in late 2020, which for example, is building Teams to be a “super-user interface” for intranet, teams, calendars, documentaries, and discussions.

On the intranet side, the re-emergence of the personal desktop is reflected in the requirements for integration. Instead of forcing the user to switch from one system to another, the content is brought to the user - personalized, of course. One wants to bring other content from other systems into the intranet and the platform should adapt to this.

4. Digitally social

Internal social media and social intranet are both familiar concepts and the majority of organizations have long had some form of digital discussion channel or content commenting functionality. However, the use of social functionalities may have been minor and has largely focused on the sharing of professional knowledge. It hasn´t been necessary to actively participate in discussions on the intranet or comment on the news.

However, due to remote working, social interaction with colleagues and the exchange of tacit information no longer happens by accident at the coffee machine. Now you have to work hard for it. Therefore, enabling social interaction digitally is becoming increasingly important. More is now required from social functionalities, and the opportunity to comment is no longer enough. Nevertheless, the most important thing is to inspire employees to stay in touch with colleagues through internal channels. Various creative solutions have been developed for this need, such as gaming.

5. Intranet according to our company brand

Finland is a Microsoft country and O365 is a clear market leader. Microsoft products like the modern SharePoint Online intranet are known to be barely customizable and the look and feel of Teams is the same, no matter what organization uses it. However, there are desires to create a brand-like digital work environment. So far, most are sacrificing their company brand to use Microsoft, but the future is likely to be different.

Simply naming your intranet is no longer enough. As employees are working remotely more and more, the role of the digital work environment is to be the digital office of an organization. Thus, its branding becomes increasingly important. The digital work environment should reflect the organization in which the employee works, not the organization that provides the tool. Especially in those organizations where the share of non-knowledge workers is high, communication tools tailored to one's brand are desired. If the employees don’t use Teams or SharePoint, how would they understand to look for information about sick leave or how  the business is doing?

The need to create a brand-like digital office opens the door to a variety of intranet products that offer good (and easy) opportunities for branding tools. Indeed, a slight increase in the market share of highly productized systems can be seen. Pioneering organizations, in particular, want to invest in their digital employer brand and choose solutions that better support this than O365.

If you were reading carefully you might have already picked up the connection between these five trends. These trends are not solitary islands but interconnected. It remains to be seen how many will eventually follow the trends and how many will still hold on to the purse strings. As is known, the trendiest solution is not the most affordable. However, the reward can be an equal workplace where employees are satisfied, committed and everything works smoothly despite working remotely.

(This article has been translated from the Finnish original. Read the original article.)

Camilla Heikkilä

Camilla Heikkilä is a specialist in web communications and digital services.

Camilla has a broad experience in communications, particularly in web communications and knowledge of digital services and service design.

Camilla has experience in web concept design, project management, usability testing, content strategies and training users. Camilla has specialized in content design and can help organizations crystallize the content into a working web service, where the users’ needs are taken into account.

Camilla has worked nearly 15 years in communications in different NGOs and with the government. During her career she has had numerous of responsibilities in web project of different sizes.

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