One of the key predictions for the coming year combines two of my favorite causes: employee experience and a digital work culture and transformation. We’re going to see how a company’s perceived lack of commitment to functioning across platforms starts to be a dealbreaker in terms of talent retention. I was struck by data in a recent MIT Sloan report that indicated we are bleeding talent for some interesting reasons — and one of those reasons is being lukewarm about adapting to a digital environment. It may not seem that critical to those firmly entrenched in the upper ranks, but candidates coming in on the entry or junior level won’t stick around if they can’t do their work across digital. That means all platforms, not just a handsome intraweb. In companies who are slow to adapting, over half of employees surveyed would make an exit strategy for themselves in less than three years. That’s twice the rate for employees at companies already digitally evolved (of whom 25% plan to leave in less than 3 years). That’s an enormous segment of talent, which presumably we’re invested a great deal of time and money into, to then lose. It also means we are well, well past the “adapting to digital” inflection point. And as I pointed out recently, upper-level leaders, including senior VPs and directors, also see a poor digital environment as reason to look around. In their case, 30% said that was reason enough to less within 12 months. That’s a major trend. On the positive, it’s going to be a great year for beefing up your digital work environment by partnering with an exploding array of super-capable third-party offerings, and seaming employer brand into these is part of the program, so to speak. We’re a lot smarter and more evolved about the need for that very pervasive sense of a customized employer identity than we were just a year or so ago. That’s good news.
In 2017, thinking about future of work tools, we will see the first chat interfaces, chatbots and smart agents being used to help people find what they need and also to nudge them towards things they might otherwise miss. Instead of single vendor or single platform digital workplace, we will see more mixed ‘load-outs’ (as gamers might say) or tool stacks, probably with an anchoring platform that connected multiple point solutions and apps for different people and teams. We will perhaps not see the first examples of algorithmic management in 2017, but we might see the first signs that it is coming, perhaps by combining process automation with lightweight machine learning.
In terms of behaviours and adoption, the rise of Slack and the imminent rise of Microsoft Teams is reaching an important tipping point where it becomes normal for teams to operate in a real-time collaboration mode, and I hope this means that it will start to feel strange to slip back into email and document exchange. I think this will be helped by new hires, who will increasingly baulk at the way email is used in corporate contexts.
2017 looks set to be an important year for digital strategy in firms, which will shift away from a single centralised approach “owned” by IT or CIO functions and instead operate in a more decentralised way. There is so much digital innovation going on in lines of business or at the edges of the organisation, that a good first step is to discover these digital capabilities, join them up and see what more the organisation can do with them. We are way past the time when innovation meant a shiny new app tacked onto the same tired old back end processes. Leading organisations will instead start to operate more like software by orchestrating their internal functions as services that can be combined and adapted into packages of functionality and experience for customers, and form the basis of firm-owned delivery platforms.
2017 will also be the year of the change agent, rather than the programme manager, in terms of how digital networks develop and operate. More and more firms will abandon attempts to change the whole organisation in one go, and instead focus on supporting the nascent firm of the future that is probably already chomping at the bit and seeking the freedom to work more effectively. Not everybody in an organisation will move at the same pace, so rather than spend time and resources trying to convert the laggards, it is better to set the early adopters free and invest in their success.
My biggest frustration in 2016, and something I think will start to change in 2017, has been the idea that senior leaders can and should understand how to steer digital strategy and seek to make all the key decisions. They can’t and they shouldn’t. Their job is to trust the experts who are probably several levels below in terms of seniority, and let them guide the change. It is fine for digital teams to persuade and pitch for budget, space and a mandate; but it is not a good use of anybody’s time for senior leaders to get into more of the detail around tools, technologies and the new working practices they support. Time to trust your people and create the space in which they can accelerate digital transformation. Right now, progress is too slow, with the result that established firms are falling too far behind.
2017 is shaping up to be one of the more interesting years on record for the digital workplace. While overall macro trends in work continue to evolve steadily – from the gig economy and jobs replaced by artificial intelligence to corporate social responsibility and the shift to smaller networked organizations – it is still emerging digital technology which remains the primary force in reshaping how we work today.
What’s clear is that we are still in the very early days of the next-generation of work, as a raft of new possibilities enabled by technology continue to flow into our organizations to transform nearly everything we do. The motivations for organizations to accept most of these changes are relatively straightforward: More efficiency, more satisfied customers, lower costs, more talent attraction, and higher innovation.
Yet it remains unclear if these technological changes are always in the best interest of individual workers or if they’ll result in a happier, more engaged workforce. Certainly, many of the current digital workplace advances allows us to be much more physically disconnected and perhaps psychologically removed as well. This directly leads us to my predictions for the future of work in 2017 :
1. Organizations will begin to more proactively assess the impact of new workplace technologies on employee engagement. Many organizations I encounter now are building increasingly distributed teams than in years past. This is possible because new communications and collaboration technology like telepresence and enterprise social networks are making it easier than ever before to be effective as part of dynamic created yet often far-flung teams. There is a real toll to workers in this model however, in global organizations in particular, where such teams can be spread across a half-dozen time zones, spreading work hours around the clock. Digital technology makes us ever-present, so companies will start to seriously evaluate how to balance the advantages of always-going virtual work pods (as my industry colleague Dave Gray calls them) against the physical and mental wear and tear on their knowledge workers. Other similar pros and cons of today’s digital workplace are just now being understood and addressed at a basic level by HR and IT teams as well.
2. Gig economy digital platforms will mature to address the shortfalls that have slowed their adoption. With freelancing now representing 35% of the workforce and $1 trillion in economic value in the United States alone, digital platforms have the potential to remove large amounts of friction, raise the bar both on the quality of hires as well as the freelancing experience itself, and in general facilitate a more efficient and reliable process for everyone. Yet the most recent data has shown that both general purpose platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr as well as more targeted labor platforms like Uber and Chegghave a hard time retaining labor, with over half of users abandoning the platforms within the first year according to JP Morgan Chase. One persistently challenging problem has been the relatively low rates of pay offered by the platforms. Others point to the need to democratize the ownership and governance of these collaborative economy platforms to build trust and buy-in. Both are probably the case, and making the services more accessible to the average business will be important as well.
3. Enterprise chat/messaging, cognitive collaboration, and conversational UXs (intelligent chatbots) will dominate the digital workplace industry conversation. While far from the only exciting topics in the digital workplace, they will have an outsized representation in the conversation given their sudden growth in general interest and/or likely organizational impact. Slack remains the poster child of the enterprise messaging revolution, the latter a word I don’t use lightly, as the firm recently passed 4 million daily active users from nothing a few short years ago. Slack has shown how much untapped room in the industry there remains for innovative, high quality digital collaboration experiences. The much rumored enterprise-class version of the platform hasn’t come out yet, but may in 2017 and has potential as another game-changer given the firm’s track record. Facebook Workplaceand Cisco Spark are also poised to make a significant impact in 2017. IBM’s much-anticipated new cognitive collaboration service, Watson Workspace, will also arrive next year to deliver collaboration assisted by the tech giant’s bet-the-business enterprise artificial intelligence capabilities. Conversational user experiences are also positioned – again, proven out by Slack – to enable human to machine collaboration in exciting and productive new ways.
4. The maturity of social business, realized through strategic large-scale collaboration platforms like enterprise social networks, will continue apace. While messaging is currently the hot topic in digital workplace, it doesn’t scale well in large organizations or enable more strategic and high value mass collaboration scenarios. Messaging is also missing the management theory and a description of the work practices for how to lead and operate a company using digital platforms. This is something that social business brings to the table: A combined and more comprehensive view of the human and technology changes that can create better, richer, more sustainable organizations. As a result this is where strategic enterprise investment will continue next year and the data backs this up: Social business is now estimated to become a $22 billion industry by 2019, growing at an annual compound rate of 26% up to then.
5. The resurgence of enterprise app integration will lead to a focus on more holistic and digital workplaces. Remarkably, Slack has also proven this aspect of the future digital workplace, with its hundreds of popular app integrations that make a Slack the hub of a much more contextual and integrated digital work environment. I have predicted for a while that we’ll have a multilayered digital workplace, but increasingly, it looks like it may be a far more organically connected digital work experience than we have reasonably expected before now. Major vendors are jumping on board, with the new Microsoft Teams incorporating apps from the outset and Facebook Workplace recently announcing a robust new apps platform that competes head-on with Slack.
6. The one umbrella vendor model for digital workplace will compete with more agnostic digital workplace hubs fiercely. While I believe the one vendor model for digital workplace is a horse that has left the barn a while ago, that hasn’t stopped organizations from standardizing on it for the core of their digital workplace capabilities. This umbrella model will be serious challenged in 2017, however, as upstarts prove a highly heterogeneous digital workplace is not only manageable, but desirable if the right enabling technology makes it simple, easy, productive, and convenient (see point #5 above.) I am now seeing turf battles breaking out in organizations as consumerized tools at a departmental and divisional level compete head on with the big vendor approach. The latter is typically championed by IT, which desires the cost and manageability advantages that a simpler, one-size-fits-all approach provides. The former are driven by those who want the best, more useful tools for the job. Those in charge of the digital workplace in their organizations will have their work cut out sorting through the resulting debates and decisions.
7. Large organizations will continue the trend towards becoming smaller, more networked organizations. This is a lead future of work prediction by the well-known professional services firm PwC, and one for which I believe the writing is on the wall: Large monolithic organizations are having a hard time competing with more nimble, digital native organizations that were built using today’s digital workplace possibilities. At the same time, many workers now prefer more diverse and flexible career experiences that are more relevant to the times. These are often fast growing new tech firms that often partner with existing traditional firms, beginning the process of creating more collaborative, hybrid organizations through a variety of vehicles. In fact, enterprises parenting with startups so that each benefits from the other’s strengths is a lead success pattern for digital transformation today.
8. A focus on building a new workplace culture to match digital possibilities will continue. As the pace of technology far exceeds most organizations’ ability to absorb using traditional means, I am seeing an appreciation for building a more entrepreneurial and learning culture in many organizations. Culture change is often far outside the purview of most digital workplace strategies, and that’s increasingly understood to be a major challenge, as you can’t change the tech without changing the people in a corresponding way to some degree. And as my industry colleague Euan Semple has long observed, change isn’t something you do to people, but with them. It will still be a small movement in 2017, but I think we’ll see much more forays into addressing the human dimension of the future of work next year.
2017 will see acceleration in all aspects of Industry 4.0 which will impact on the future of work.
Wearables, Internet of Things (IOT), Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will all make inroads into our working lives.
While some of these technologies have been around for over 20 years such as IOT (RFID), we will see more business applications, helping engineers with safety, train faster and provide maintenance on equipment faster.
In 2017, freelancers will be increasingly seeking ways to source new business that doesn’t involve handling transactions through the main online freelance hiring platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru. With Upwork recently raising their freelancer commissions in 2016 (from 10% to up to 20%), fewer freelancers will want to be giving away such a significant cut of their earnings, especially on smaller projects. Therefore, freelancers interested in keeping their rates competitive and/or avoiding these fees will need to dedicate more effort toward their own personal branding and marketing so they can find clients without having to depend on these directory platforms.
For clients hiring virtual freelancers, there may be a greater desire for turning to hiring platforms that offer greater quality control. Clients burn so much time searching for and screening talent, and although ratings on these platforms are helpful, they can also be misleading. So an opportunity exists in the market for platforms that offer only high quality buyers and sellers. For example, TopTal prescreens candidates, and claims they connect the “Top 3% of talent all over the world.” Freelance platforms have a way of saving clients and freelancers money, time, and frustration will excel, while those that don’t offer these quality controls may become less popular and more commoditized as a race to the bottom.
Finally, proximity of one’s team will become less important while structuring your teams and workflows so you can be liberated from your office desk will become more important. With so many affordable project, task management, and communications solutions becoming more and more accessible, the days of yearning for in-person physical team meetings will be replaced by the desire to save time and hassle by simply hopping on Skype or Facetime for meetings, managing projects with cloud-based tools like Asana or Trello, and communicating with platforms like Slack or HipChat.
2017 will be a turning point where organizations become more entrepreneurial. There has been movement in this direction for several years now. Culture changes are never fast and I predict that 2017 will be the tipping point for many organizations.
Several trends are leading in this direction. I have researched the digital work environment in organizations for 10 years. Approximately 300 organizations around the world have answered over 100 questions in annual online surveys since 2006.
A number of data points from 2016 a story of how both technology platforms and work practices are rapidly evolving to help people and organizations create and innovate. An entrepreneurial work culture can exist only if people trust each other, share both successes and failures, and work in an open, participatory spirit. These points are especially essential for senior leaders.
First let’s take a look at two digital technologies that enable creativity and facilitate experimenting and taking initiatives:
In 2016, over 80% of organizations have deployed social network platforms. This is up from 65% 18 months earlier. Social networks are horizontal communication and collaboration tools. They go across silos. People are able to take initiatives, create groups and work together directly and horizontally without needing to go through management.
In 2016, nearly 50% of organizations practice internal crowdsourcing compared to 40% only 18 months earlier. Organizations are realizing that innovation is not a dedicated job role for managers in the innovation department. They are seeing that workers throughout the organization, especially those on the edges, close to customers and in operational roles, given the opportunity, can produce new ideas and help push the innovation agenda.
However technology is only a small part. There are two work practice and mindsets that are required, and without which innovative technologies will stagnate:
Autonomy and self-management. In 2016, 48% of organizations say that “in general, people self-manage, self-direct their work”. The figure was 34% just 18 months ago.
Conducive leadership style. In 2016, 18% organizations said their senior managers practiced an “open and participatory” leadership style. The figure from 18 months was 10%.
So the overall movement is clear. Technology and transformation in work practices are changing work. The enterprise social network is nearly always the backbone for building an entrepreneurial work culture.
I talked recently with two companies that have directly linked their enterprise social networks to their business transformation programs. One, a global airline, says their enterprise social network is the “core system driving digital practices adoption”. Another, a European rail transport company with an enterprise-wide “digital for all” program says their enterprise social network is the “most transformative tool” in their program. Both organizations cite numerous examples of how people in their workforce have created groups, tackled problems and come up with innovative, practical solutions that have now been integrated into daily work.
We’ll see 3 trends continue in 2017: The distributed workforce and distributed teams will continue to grow, companies will work even harder to create great Employee Value Propositions to attract the best talent, and finally, companies will focus on organizational culture to retain that talent.
1) Growth of Distributed Workforce & Teams
The only thing evenly distributed across the globe is talent. Companies recognize that and they will increasingly recruit talent where they can find it, not where their offices or their HQ are headquartered. That also means that the importance of distributed work will continue to grow. Teams don’t need to be co-located anymore with today’s communication and collaboration tools. People can work from anywhere. What is still lacking in many companies, however, are organizational structures and management tools that have adapted to that reality.
2) Better Employee Value Propositions
The best talent is picky. With tools like Glassdoor it’s easier than ever before to compare potential employers. On the other hand, the competition for talent has increased even more with platforms like LinkedIn. As a result, employers will have to work even harder to create great Employee Value Propositions. Most companies are pretty good at creating Customer Value Propositions, while they are only learning to create and market Employee Value Propositions.
3) Increased Focus on Organizational Culture
Gallup polls over the last couple of years show that only 3 out of 10 employees are truly engaged at work. That is not sustainable. The success of Netflix’s publicly posted slidedeck on the company’s culture, as well as HubSpot’s Culture Code, show that corporate culture is a hot topic. Netflix’s deck was viewed over 14 million times and HubSpot’s over 2 million times. Companies around the word will have to work harder to create a great company culture if they want to retain their best talent. If they don’t, their best people will leave to competitors or they will leave to create their own start-up.
Big organizations have become entangled by bureaucracy and internal competition. As Euan Semple writes: “Sadly, in our brave new technologically enabled world, office politics would appear to survive the removal of the office…” Territorial thinking is the norm, network thinking the exception. How many times have you seen an executive say: “what my colleague does is great, I really want to contribute / do the same in my department”? Not very often, in my experience. We keep loving our ideas more than others’. We feel threatened by great initiatives popping up from other departments. Change is good as long as it impacts others, not ourselves, and we repeat the same mistake over and over of deciding things for people rather than involving them before decisions are made. Because we gotta go fast and deliver quickly.
This actually slows down organizations, suffocates their innovation capacities, sabotages their execution capabilities, and saps people’s morale. Let’s not be surprised if workers’ revolt erupts someday, along recently seen voters’ revolt pattern: people voting against their own interest, “just to get rid of an out-of-touch establishment”. “Welcome to the age of anger”, Penkaj Mishra writes. Why would corporations stay immune from this phenomenon? “Is corporate life shielded in the Era of the Unpredictable?” asks Leandro Herrero. As long as an all-white, all-men, same background, same social class, same consultant experience, well-off “elite” believes they have the answers for everyone else, and manages the business in a territorial fashion, with a focus on control and little interest in lower rank workers, we’re doomed. In a way, workers’ protest has already started, either literally – see the Market Basket revolt – or through skyrocketing disengagement and burnouts.
Note to Information Technology departments: it doesn’t matter what social collaboration technology you select (having forgotten to involve users, most of the time). Technology doesn’t make people collaborate. What does? A common purpose, an authentic interest in people, diversity embedded in everything the organization does, a network mindset, up and down the hierarchy, a new breed of leaders. Corporate sanity.
Cheer up, change agents. The corporate world still needs you very much in 2017.
- Big data will continue to grow as machine learning gets better at combing through data and acquires the ability to not only recommend content, but also anticipate user needs. In 2017, we’ll reach the point where AI will offer relevant information to you before you even realize you need it.
- In 2017, predictive analytics will get a lot better at uncovering pertinent content, experts and ideas, as well as begin to take on some decision-making duties across the enterprise. I expect network analysis of metadata (who-knows-what and who-knows-whom) will be used for difficult tasks like identifying the right people for ad hoc cross-functional teams, regardless of department or role.
- IoT will blend more seamlessly into our lives, so much so that we’ll hardly realize it’s there. In the workplace, companies will use sensors plugged into their collaboration hubs to exchange real-time data on everything from delivery delays to controlling the office environment based on people’s preferences and personal algorithms.
- 2016’s day-to-day tasks—such as document creation and keeping meetings on track, organizing inboxes and sorting message threads—will no longer be as time-intensive in 2017. We will see the voice-first renaissance that started in the home (think Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri) spilling over into workplace collaboration, assisting workers with their routine daily work.
- In the future of work, organizations must transform their workplaces to support remote workers and the growing gig economy; however, these distributed models increase pain points around fragmented communication. Collaboration Hubs will become mainstream in 2017 because they provide a superior experience for people tired of maintaining multiple logins and profiles across applications.
- The work graph will drastically improve in 2017 as collaboration hubs get better at integrating information from all the apps and tools that a company uses, making it accessible, searchable and memorable to all members of an organization, rather than specific individuals or teams.
- In 2016, many new players entered the enterprise collaboration space, and 2017 will be a year of consolidation. We’ll see organizations seek to improve the environment created by conversational apps that further silo information and head toward hub platforms that integrate across other useful solutions employees are already using.
Over the past year, year and a half, I’ve seen more and more organisations begin, in earnest, to invest in the digitalisation of their day-to-day business activities. Every day activities, such as meetings, taking notes, processing requests, sharing information and communicating, have moved into a normalised digital space.
This shift in digitalisation has seen many more organisations actively design and promote a dynamic work environment for employees. It’s no longer just the tech companies or the “cool” companies that are outfitting their workspaces with mobile friendly areas, creating collaborative workspaces, focus areas, 360 conference rooms or revitalising their work culture through “Working Out Loud” campaigns, design thinking workshops, mindful meetings and such. We are finally seeing an active coming together of People + Space + Technology to deliver a more immersive experience for the employee.
In 2017, we’ll see more companies investing in those immersive experiences – cross-industry organisations will be leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence to help simplify processes or take over mundane tasks, utilising augmented/mixed reality to create a more connected workforce extending the boundaries of what it means to be a flexible-constantly-connected team, exploring the use of 3D capabilities to speed up the visualisation of creation or help establish a more relevant connection with data. All with the purpose of creating a more immersive, a more connected and a more meaningful experience for the employee.
2017 will see organisations take a big leap to create the same type of immersive experiences they are creating for their consumers, for their employees – and through that process, see many of them establish a firm footing in the workplace of the future.
Based on my direct experience and rather expansive review of the research from Josh Bersin, the HCI (Human Capital Institute) and several of the HR transformation consultancies I liaise with, I would say the top HR trends for 2017 will carry on from 2016, but will have shifted in importance from an ‘interesting thought’ to a ‘business critical imperative.’
Those areas in particular are the following:
- The rate of business model, product and digital disruption will increase exponentially – leading to urgent reaction on the part of HR to hire in newly skilled talent (digital, analytics, data science, marketing tech and digitally savvy leadership), as well to as to stem the flow of significant attrition as Baby Boomers retire in droves, and Millennials shift roles like they were changing their clothes.
- Organisational structures will be revisited in a dramatic way – old hierarchical and silo’d structures being dismantled in favour of more agile, lean, nimble and cross-functional team structures emerging as the core unit of production and innovation.
- New human capital management skills will need to emerge urgently around digital workforce enablement, people analytics, organizational science & psychology, digital L&D, recruitment, on-boarding, performance management, collaboration, communication and productivity.
- Culture and employee engagement become concrete factors in increasing recruitment, attraction, reducing unwanted attrition, improving productivity and discretionary effort, and driving innovation, sales and delivery performance.
Where do I get this from? In a very recent webinar with Josh Bersin (Bersin by Deliottes), he outlined in advance of his 2017 survey findings, that 20th century organizational structures (classical hierarchies and top-down management and decision making) are dying out – giving rise to devolved decision making by cross functional teams who work in sprints of activity, are funded via micro-budgets and able to deliver at unheard of speeds. Digital transformation is not just shiny new technology – it’s a new way of organizing, engaging with customers and employees, and how we build networks of expertise and trust – through cooperation and collaboration – working faster, better, smarter than ever before.
Learning on-demand, just-in-time is another critical enablement feature – and there are all sorts of web-based tools and mobile first applications that can help employees access just what they need to know, when they need to know it. L&D has become a science of mental and psychological enablement – no longer a nice-to-have that makes people feel good about their company investing in them.
Learning and performance are closely linked together – and with the incredible expanse of knowledge that employees need to be successful – wherever and whenever they need to know it – is a mission critical advantage now. Organisations need to train one another, provide tools and access across the company, and empower people to succeed under any circumstance imaginable, at speed.
The final challenge I think is most urgent for HR is to look at how they are engaging their people – whilst at the same time providing open access to the best, most easily used tools on the market today. I know I feel engaged when my company provides me everything I need to win the day and to achieve my targets. Friday pizza and beer is lovely, and Christmas parties and summer picnics are a sweet thing to do – but they don’t get work done and they won’t be able to make me feel like a champion within my department or team. Great tools provided on-the-go do, and that makes me happy. It also creates a stickiness that supports my staying, and picking my company as the best place to work as it differentiates my experience from the rest.
If I’m a Millennial generation worker – I expect the same digitally native experience at work that I enjoy outside of work – and if that personalized experience that feeds every aspect of my conscious effort doesn’t exist – I will experience a dissonance that will eventually turn me off, make me feel disconnected, and eventually I’ll become a cynic, a working zombie, and one day wake up to the fact that my company just doesn’t get it, and doesn’t care anymore.
Finally, if HR is truly going to be a powerhouse provider of data insight and actionable decision-making to improve business results – they need to embrace people analytics fully. By taking data from systems across their enterprises (CRM, Finance, Customer Survey), and matching them up with HRIS, performance, pay and training information – the level of insight they can derive to provide clues and patterns that will support market superiority is immense.