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How digital workspaces are changing the way we work

The way we work is changing, and the way we manage our IT tools needs to change with it

Illustration of a man sitting on a cloud using a laptop.

Today we can access a trove of Netflix shows and movies from not only our computers, but also from our televisions and phones. We now balk at five-to-eight day shipping when Amazon offers everything from one-day to express and evening-express shipping. There is no doubt our world is one that expects things on-demand, and this also applies to the workplace. 

People expect the IT resources they need for work to be available on any device, at any time. And with the sudden transition to remote working, they also need to be able to access important resources from any location. 

This model is causing a rapid transformation in IT as major technology providers migrate their services to the cloud, which has IT benefits such as greater efficiency, reduced costs, and the rapid scalability. According to the 2017 State of the Cloud report from Rightscale, 32% of workloads run in public cloud and 43% in private cloud. 

As cloud service adoption grows, so do the options employees have for accessing their work. There are many benefits to this level of flexibility, to the larger business as well as the individual employee - especially now. Workers can work from any location and on any device with an internet connection, allowing them to stay connected and productive outside of the traditional office environment. 

But this new way of employees accessing their work has created a host of problems for users, managers, and IT teams alike, and has an impact on everything from the economy to robotic automation.

The rise of the digital workspace

The digital workspace is the next evolution of this on-demand principle, bringing the disparate SaaS applications, web apps and mobile tools used by employees throughout the business together into a single, centralised, easy-to-manage cloud platform.

By unifying all of a businesses cloud tools, IT departments can take advantage of a 'Single Pane Of Glass' approach to management and administration, ensuring that performance remains smooth, integration between apps is sensible and seamless and data governance and compliance is easily enforced.

Security issues are also an area in which cloud workspaces can be useful for IT departments. Individual SaaS applications often come with individual security and compliance policies, data management and access management. This can result in multiple security perimeters and styles, which can be difficult, if not impossible for IT to fully manage.

The recent boom in clever SaaS tools can also result in employees adopting non-sanctioned applications or plugins, which in turn create a security headache and can lead to cloud sprawl, where excess workloads cause additional storage costs and security threats.

It brings benefits for employees, too - adoption of digital workspaces means they can use single sign-on, using one set of login credentials to access all the services they need at work, rather than having to keep track of multiple usernames and passwords (or re-using the same one).

As mobility continues to evolve the way we work, companies need to address all the associated complexities and risks head-on. Although cloud-based tools can offer a slew of business benefits, IT departments need to ensure that they avoid cloud sprawl, and keep their digital tools as unified and streamlined as possible.

The cultural change

The evolution of the digital workspace is not only a technological occurrence, but also a cultural one.

Digital workspaces deliver unique advantages to both organisations and employees, blurring the lines between personal and work time. Thanks to mobile technology and altering attitudes towards remote working, employees can increasingly work whenever and wherever suits them. Additionally, with no physical office presence necessary, the best talent can be sourced from any corner of the globe.

For some, the work never stops. In theory, businesses should thrive. But can the modern generation's desire for flexibility, collaboration and openness actually be counterproductive?

The digital workplace certainly introduces fresh challenges, for both employers and employees. The rigidity of the traditional nine-to-five ensured work was left in the office once 5 pm passed, but being constantly connected can destabilise the work/life balance. And paired with the almost constant use of technology in recreational time as well as during work hours, employees are more vulnerable to stress and burnout.

As organisations tread the delicate work/life balance line, they must remain conscious of employee rights and well-being, even if this affects productivity gains generated by digital working. Keeping employees happy will benefit both them and the wider organisation. Leaders must ensure that the ability to work around the clock does not create unrealistic expectations and cause burnout. Opening lines of communication between leaders and employees about such issues is a positive first step.

The wider socio-economic impact

Likeminded digital workspace initiatives are feeding a trend whereby expertise is redistributed from major settlements previously renown for their financial and technological innovation, towards secondary cities and rural areas. 

Here, digital nomads, defined as those who utilise technology - mainly hardware, an abundance of cloud applications, and a high-speed internet connection -  to work outside of the traditional office space, are upping sticks and outing major cities where previously they had little choice but to reside. What's lost by these economies as their skilled workers depart, is gained by secondary cities, boosting local economies.

Digital workspaces are also responsible for the creation of a 'flex economy', a phenomenon which revolves around the creation of flexible workspaces, otherwise known as co-working spaces. A study conducted by Regus found that communities fitted with a flexible workspace experienced sparks in job creation, and attributed the trend to large enterprises adopting flexible working policies.

The prevalence of digital workspaces should continue to spread both expertise and wealth through the echelons of society and settlement, bolstering local economies and perhaps one day dismantling the famous financial and technological centres scattered around the globe.

The robot's role

Digital workspaces are paving the way for a new element of diversity to enter the workforce: automation. Already playing a key role in forward-thinking enterprises, the future workforce will undoubtedly consist of automated robots and humans working collaboratively, and discovering how the two can co-exist is the key to launching your business into the digital age. Automation isn’t something to be feared, it’s something to be capitalised upon.

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) refers to a group of technologies that are able to automate predictable, routine tasks. Think the populating of data fields on digital forms, for example. The data fields constantly remain in a fixed position, allowing a robotic program to populate the boxes in a fraction of the time of a human employee, and with zero errors. 

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There are two ways to look at this process: employees are liberated from mundane back-office tasks, allowing them to focus on more engaging tasks that produce higher business value and do wonders for their wellbeing; or employees are rendered obsolete and are at risk of redundancy. 

Whichever outlook prevails, the introduction of automation to the digital workspace is fundamentally altering the way we work. Demand for technical skill sets is undoubtedly rising, leading to the creation of new job roles such as digital marketers, data science, and so on. Conversely, demand for less technical skills like data input will decrease, with these trends overseeing an IT skills shift that shows no signs of slowing.

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