The digital workplace of 2027 will be human-centric

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The future of work will require a human-centric digital employee experience, because digital is becoming a bigger part of our work and home lives than ever, Gartner analysts said during a keynote address at Gartner’s Digital Workplace Summit Tuesday.

Seventy percent of CIOs expect the same or more employees will be working from home in the future, and now is the time to invest in “state-of-the-art digital experiences to connect people to one another and to the organizational culture,’’ said Tori Paulman, senior director analyst at Gartner.

Paulman added that IT is no longer solely responsible for the overall experience and that technology is just one component of it.

The session was designed to help leaders “plot a route to a more human-centric digital workplace of 2027,’’ Paulman said.

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Gartner research shows that 28% of organizations set aside no time for employees to learn how to use technologies for work, and of those that do, the majority set aside less than two hours per month, according to Paulman.

Areas to build key digital skills

To help people be ready for the digital workplace of the future, leaders must help people develop digital skills in four key areas that enable people to collaborate more effectively as work continues to be done in a hybrid model.

The first is building effective collaboration intelligence for context-specific interactions or utilizing visual collaboration, tooling and meetings so people can innovate together. The second is context intelligence to enable people to work effectively with content to reduce content duplication and support synchronous and asynchronous content creation — skills that enable people to become more data literate.

Data intelligence will help people be able to locate, combine, intersect, visualize and analyze data to make better decisions. The fourth area is process intelligence skills that enable people to do tracking and automate planning, resourcing and approval workflows.

“Helping people build these skills is the human-centric approach,’’ Paulman said. Gartner surveys show that only 20% of employees come to IT for help with solving their business problems.

The goal is to help people become self-sufficient. If leaders don’t do this, there will be greater friction “because we will keep on deploying technology that is promised [and] ultimately fails to deliver on that promise, and in many cases, actually compounds the problem with increasing distraction and information sprawl,’’ said Michael Woodbridge, a managing vice president at Gartner, who also spoke during the session.

Woodbridge advocated for “democratizing expertise” to help people work smarter and provide more fulfillment at work.

Actions to kickstart the route to a human-centric digital employee experience

To let the organization know what is possible with technology, Woodbridge advised that IT invest in proof of concepts and do demonstrations with the systems they already have in place.

He also suggested that people not be “shy in generating [their] own press … write a company-wide email analysis [illustrating] how a specific business user or department is using technology to solve a specific problem.”

Another action is to find people who can translate what technology can do in a language business people will understand.

This requires finding “people with drive and ambition,’’ Woodbridge said. “But also find people with the patience and empathy, because getting everybody on board is going to be tricky.”

Further, incentivize “digital side hustles” and find people who can navigate complex digital process skills, Woodbridge said.

Gartner has seen an 81% increase in funding for digital workplace programs, according to Woodbridge. These were driven by a “radical change in the way work was done.”

As people return to the office or stay hybrid, these investments will likely start to dry up if the investments can’t be justified, he noted.

How to attract and retain talent

In order to attract and retain the best talent in an inherently flexible labor market, “the organization must have a compelling employee value proposition,’’ Woodbridge said.

Nine percent of workers cite technology as a compelling employee value proposition and so do 26% of tech workers, he said.

“We must run a thread of digital connectivity through the goals of the individual, the team, and the organization,’’ Paulman said. “And this creates equal opportunity and visibility. We must create a workplace that is differentiated, supporting an equitable and distributed employee experience of the future.”

Leaders must also help employees to establish and strengthen the ties to a community that is relevant to their work and their personal lives. This requires supporting employees’ desire to become increasingly technical, while also providing empathetic, formal training to people who need to progress in their roles, Paulman said.

A vision for the workplace of 2027

There needs to be a roadmap that takes stock of the “piecemeal activities that are underway” and that has a broader strategy focusing on these areas, Woodbridge said. Leaders need to stop trying to measure the value of the workplace investment in purely productivity terms because “it’s just not going to work — instead, focus on alignment with business goals,” he said.

Paulman agreed, saying that “the MVP of the digital workplace of 2027 is going to be focused on the needs of the business,” as well as the ability to deliver on two strategic imperatives, digital business transformation and the recruiting, retaining and reskilling of a workforce during unprecedented talent conditions.

“To succeed under these circumstances, organizations are going to need digital savviness and human-centered skills,’’ Paulman said.

This is a huge challenge for executive leadership especially when only 23% of CEOs are digital-savvy and support transformation. Paulson added that it’s not only the CEO: The average boardroom is only 20% digitally savvy.

“And don’t tell them I said this, but only 45% of CIOs describe themselves as digitally savvy. And many, if not most, organizations have been failing to share their digital transformation goals.”

Paulman urged leaders to recognize that they are at “a pivotal intersection for a leap of faith to the next change… Remember, you must deliver for the employee and for the organization as a whole.”

Esther Shein

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