Workplace 2020: The New Year Promises a New Look

Despite advances in technology and the rise of a new generation of workers, the way we work hasn’t changed much since the days of Henry Ford. Most companies still organize work around big hubs (an office building, a call center, a manufacturing plant), often in large and costly metropolitan areas, and then do their best to hire and retain talent with competitors across the street. But all that’s about to change.

Emboldened by the tightest labor market the world has ever seen, employees are demanding a simpler, smarter, more flexible way to work. And in 2020, they’ll get it. To compete, companies will be forced to:

  • Embrace new distributed work models that allow them to tap the best talent in even the most remote locations.
  • Balance full-time employees with a rising freelance — or “gig” — workforce that have modern skills that are most in demand.
  • Adopt more intelligent workplace technology that can simplify tasks and inform and guide workers to perform at their best.

Just like the assembly line revolutionized manufacturing, several key trends will transform the way work gets done in four radical ways:

1) Flexible work models will come into their own. For centuries, businesses have run the traditional playbook: build a big office or call center and hire people around it. But the model is broken. Within the next year, McKinsey and company estimates there will be a shortage of 95 million medium- to high-skilled workers around the globe. And as more companies reengineer their businesses to drive digital transformation, they’re finding many of their employees don’t have the skills needed to execute their plans.

To overcome these challenges, companies need to consider more flexible work models that expand the talent pool and bring skilled yet remote or disenfranchised workers (e.g., stay at home parents, retiring boomers, adult children forced to move home to care for an ailing parent) into the workforce.

According to the results of a recent study conducted by the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr) with support from Citrix, if provided with the opportunity, 69 percent of people who are currently unemployed or economically inactive indicated that they would be encouraged to start working if given the opportunity to work flexibly, while 95 percent of those who are currently employed say they would work from home 2.4 days per week, on average. And between 60 percent and 70 percent of respondents indicated they would do so from other locations, including local coffee shops and shared workspaces, at least one day per week.

Empowered by digital workspaces, companies can reach out and engage this untapped talent pool and “Uberfy” work, allowing them to work two days a week or a few hours a day whenever and wherever they happen to be.

Amazon is, pun intended, a prime example of this. They no longer operate out of a single hub. They have innovation centers all over the country. eBay is another pioneer in this area. The company has torn down the walls of its physical call centers and enabled a virtual workforce made up of gig workers using digital workspace solutions that allow them to work anywhere, anytime.

2) Employees will revolt against the tyranny of enterprise technology. For centuries, technology has been at the forefront of unlocking new waves of productivity. That is until recently. The rapid proliferation of mobile devices, apps, and chat channels has made work ridiculously complex.

Studies show that the typical employee gets interrupted from work and forced to switch context between apps, e-mail, and chat channels more than 400 times each day, or about every 40 seconds. To make matters worse, employees spend more than 20% of their time searching for information between all these apps and channels. And much of the rest of their day is spent reacting to app-directed menial tasks like approving expense reports and purchase orders. By some estimates, we spend just 15% of our time on actual mindful, value-added work. For those keeping count, that means most employees have only 1.2 hours of uninterrupted, productive time per day. Not surprising, this disruption economy is frustrating and disenfranchising employees. And by some estimates, it’s costing business $7 trillion a year in added costs, turnover, lost productivity.

Employees have, in essence, become task rabbits. And they’re fed up. They want the same simplicity at work that they have in their personal lives. In 2020, companies will leverage intelligent workspaces to deliver it, automatically serving up access to all of the applications and insights people need to do their jobs in a unified and personal way that organizes, optimizes and guides work and eliminates distractions and noise so employees can focus on what they do — and do it best.

3) Employees will engage with workplace technology in totally new ways. Keyboards and mice will go the way of the way of the dinosaur as virtual and voice assistants, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), and wearables make their way from the home to the office and create new, more efficient ways to engage with work. Employees won’t drag their laptops everywhere with them. They’ll pull up the apps and insights they need from any device connected to their digital workspace that will give them secure and reliable access to work wherever and whenever they need it. And they won’t consume their days searching for information or launching apps.

Intelligent digital workspaces will understand a user’s needs and push key insights and tasks to them in real-time on any devices they need and prefer to use, including tablets, smart phones, and even wearables. When a worker needs an answer or complete a task, they’ll ask their virtual assistant to go retrieve it. Less time searching and reacting. More time and space to be creative, innovative, and do mindful work. Likewise, work will have no boundaries. 5G will provide ubiquitous Internet access and work will no longer be confined by walls or tethered to wi-fi hotspots. And as distributed workforces become the norm rather than the exception, augmented workplaces and meeting spaces will be commonplace. If a team can’t physically be in the room for meetings, AR and VR technologies will make it seem as if they are.

4) The augmented worker will come into its own. Business is a process driven by processes. Unfortunately, most of them are forced on employees and have nothing to do with their core jobs. Submitting purchase orders. Requesting time off. Approving expenses. Such tasks are certainly necessary. But technology has made them overly complicated and time consuming to complete. As a result, employees are distracted and unable to focus on the work they really need to get done.

Technology will finally pull its weight and automatically perform menial tasks so that employees can focus on strategic, value-creating work. Virtual assistants will automatically approve expenses under a certain threshold. When a deal is closed, employees won’t need to log into four different systems and go six clicks deep to change the status. Intelligent capabilities and micro flows embedded in digital workspaces will reach across multiple applications and automatically move it to the system of record.

2020 is the Year of the Rat. And it’s not ironic. In Chinese culture, the rat represents a new beginning and is viewed as a sign of wealth and surplus. In 2020, work will change more dramatically than it has since the days of Mr. Ford. Flexible models and digital technologies will lead the way in the transformation. And companies that embrace them will create smarter, more flexible ways to work that engage their employees, unlock innovation and deliver a wealth of opportunities.

Tim Minahan is the executive vice president, business strategy and chief marketing officer at Citrix, a leading provider of digital workspace solutions.

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