Digital Workplaces Missing Out on People Psychology

Employees who work in digital workplaces are not only more productive but also more motivated, have higher job satisfaction and report an overall better sense of well-being. That is what a global study, Digital Revolutionaries Unlock the Potential of the Digital Workplace, commissioned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Aruba subsidiary, concluded.

Companies that are less technologically advanced are at risk of falling behind the competition and not attracting top talent. Conversely, businesses must be vigilant as more digital-savvy employees are taking higher risks with data and info security.

The Road Forward

Recommendations by the study indicate three key thrusts: IT departments need to define a roadmap for their evolution into a digital workplace. Planning must extend beyond a head office, beyond geographical borders and across every internal and external stakeholder. Thirdly, security has to be rebuilt from the ground up to account for human error, bad actors and be adaptable to constant change and unknown touchpoints.

"No matter the industry, we're seeing a move toward human-centric places as enterprises strive to meet rapidly changing expectations of how people want to work," said Joseph White, director of Workplace Strategy, Design and Management, Herman Miller. "This depends upon combining advances in technology – which includes furnishings – with the cognitive sciences to help people engage with work in new ways. It will mean singular, premium experiences for not only individuals but also the opportunity for organizations to attract and retain the best talent."

To quote Francisco Acoba, managing director for Deloitte Strategy & Operations: "The very nature of the term ‘workplace' is being transformed, as companies begin to realize that effective space is experience-centric, and must accommodate work styles spanning generations and personality types. This ushers in new processes where IT solutions, building systems, and furnishings interact harmoniously with humans to create such spaces. Regardless of your enterprise's specific situation, when spaces become active participants in the user experience, it benefits the bottom line. After all, workers who feel comfortable in a space get their tasks done. Those who don't will eventually move on to a more inviting option."

What Are the Challenges?

Cybersecurity continues to be a challenge for employers, digital workplace implementation notwithstanding.

  • Although employees reported higher levels of cybersecurity awareness (56 percent think about security often or daily), they also admitted to taking more risks with company data and devices, with 73 percent admitting to risky behaviors such as sharing passwords and devices.
  • A quarter (25 percent) of employees have connected to potentially unsafe open Wi-Fi in the past 12 months, 20 percent said they use the same password across multiple applications and accounts, and 17 percent admitted to writing down passwords to remember them.

Aside from these risky security mindsets, other challenges stem from the perennial divide between IT and the rest of the organizational structure.

Said one senior IT manager (identity withheld) in a large Singapore library network: “The need for digital transformation seems to be a key priority, but the planning and implementation challenges I observe in many large organizations here are distracting top management from worrying about the ‘smart’ part of digital workplaces. More focus is squarely placed on getting the ERP and Digital Transformation (DX) infrastructure adequately priced. Meeting KPIs and keeping within budgets is the square focus. Human-centered design for temperature controls, lighting and self-help administration are somehow, not a critical point at the moment. The study may be a guiding light for companies yet to embark on DX, but for those that are already on the path to digital transformation, the study findings may throw a spanner in the works.”

The problem highlighted here spells further research possibilities. While the current study has focused on the impact of implementing digital workplaces, there remain unexplored areas on stubborn corporate culture and succession planning – overarching areas of governance that can make or break attempts to integrate DX and friendly digital workplaces across transnational boundaries.

Identifying Cultural Conundrums

Breaking down silos, increasing collaborative synergy, nurturing and maintaining talent, are the touted benefits of digital transformation. While integrating these initiatives into a digital workplace seems almost a given, the reality is that furnishings, ambient settings, and physical workflows are not necessarily a priority during the DX planning phase. Some common hurdles to transforming (not coping with) digital workspaces and places include:

  • The mindset that since DX breaks down organizational silos, workplace and workflow silos are justifiable for team identity and even egos.
  • Attachment to legacy practices that fall outside of DX purviews, and the inability to dissolve legacy power structures championing legacy practices
  • Weak change management capabilities in senior or even middle management, resulting in the mindset that “if you leave it alone, the problem will resolve itself."
  • Shortsighted budgeting that underestimates the long-term benefits of digital workplaces, for the sake of short-term wins in other “higher-priority” areas which may or may not be linked to DX.
  • Lack of management will to deploy external consultants for a thorough outside-in perspective about matching DX with digital working environments and conditions. The result is that talent does not stay long due to finding better conditions elsewhere, even with DX happily installed and churning smoothly.

When it comes to digitalization, a corporation’s culture in all its forms (involving staff productivity, recreation, benefits and working conditions) is just as crucial in being unfettered from organizational limitations of bureaucracy and budgets. The Aruba study has hopefully trawled the underlying social and management challenges from the woodwork and opened up new doors for disruptive research into workplace transformation psychology.