How digital workplaces can level the playing field for SMBs
By Yaj Malik August 30, 2016
- Technology cannot and should not be an added chore
- Workers should not need to invest much time to learn to use their tools
THE concept of a modern day digital workplace is going through some revolutionary thinking. Recent technology and behavioural trends such as bring your own device (BYOD), the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual teams are driving a dramatic transformation in the workplace.
Increasingly, we are seeing a transition from individualised, physical workspaces to a digital ecosystem with no physical boundaries.
It is understandable that both employers and workers alike are having reservations about what the future holds for workspace design.
For employees, especially millennials who grew up familiar with computers, mobile devices and the Internet, it seems natural that a modern-day workplace needs to provide for seamless digital lifestyles that blurs the line between their personal lives and professional work spheres.
At the same time, employers who are eager to attract and keep millennial talent are concerned with providing them with a workplace that is conducive for creative thinking, collaboration, and open communication as well as efficiency and productivity.
This is crucial too as millennials currently make up more than half of the global workforce, according to a recent survey by Deloitte (PDF).
The pressure to keep up with preferences and workstyles of the millennial workers can be challenging for employers. Technological trends evolve at Internet speed these days, and workstyles – well, they can be a very subjective thing.
Small and medium business (SMB) owners and leaders in smaller firms especially, may feel that they do not have the resources to keep up with the technological curve. Often faced with lean manpower as well as limited budget and resources, these business decision-makers also have to weigh different business priorities.
Some businesses may choose to forgo the digital workplace altogether, much to their detriment.
Let’s look at shares some digital workplace trends that SMB leaders will want to take note of, and why the digital workplace is an opportunity that they would not want to miss.
Mobile-first work environments
First, the digital workplace may not be such a bad idea for SMBs. Recently, a global study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for Aruba found that ‘mobile-first’ working environments lead to a direct increase in employee engagement.
The same study (PDF) also established links between the support for mobile technology and employees’ productivity, creativity, satisfaction and loyalty levels.
Generally, millennial workers expect the same convenience at work that they experience in their personal digitally enhanced lives. They want to be able to access their work files just as easily as they get to their Twitter feeds. They want to be able to pay a company supplier in a straightforward manner, just like how they can check their bank account balance these days, and not waste time.
This has contributed to the consumerisation of IT, which represents the movement of IT being introduced in the consumer market before spreading to business and government organisations – mostly because employees are using the prevalent ‘consumer’ technologies and devices at home and then introducing them in the workplace.
This has thrown up a plethora of trends like the mentioned BYOD, and these days, even BYOA or bring your own app.
Ideally, SMBs need to have a workplace that is simplified and built around the forces shaping consumer technologies – social, mobile, apps and the cloud.
Simply put, millennial workers expect to be connected easily and conveniently, and they want to be able to work anytime from pretty much anywhere.
Allow for virtual teamwork
Creativity and collaboration are key to the modern workplace. The digital workplace needs to be able to provide room for individuality and creativity, and at the same time, provide a platform for cooperation and collaboration.
Here, collaboration increasingly refers to co-working virtually.
Employers have to offer means for discussions and teamwork in the virtual space. Digital tools these days allow for not just discussions and conferencing, but also cyber-working spaces where team members collaborate in real time, co-create or edit content, share files and information, etc.
The key is to use technological tools to our advantage, and allow people to work smarter and be more productive.
Technology cannot and should not be an added chore where workers need to invest too much time to learn to use or adapt to.
Security in the digital workplace
There are many studies out there that points an accusing finger at millennials, calling them a generation of workers who are casual about data privacy and security – a generation who are so used to sharing personal information and images on social media that they do not think much about it.
Stereotyping or not, my advice to SMBs is to focus on putting in place necessary security protocols and tools, and adapting to the workstyles of the millennials.
This means that cybersecurity solutions for the digital workplace need to be able to co-exist and adapt to the workplace behaviours of millennials (or any generation of workers).
Cybersecurity solutions that are catered to the millennial mindset offers agility, flexibility, mobility, and a personal touch. These qualities improve life for all of us, regardless of our age or generation.
One example is a profile- or role-based access control to company networks. Profile- or role-based login allows IT to configure different levels of security controls for workers with different work roles.
An employee in finance department who compiles the company’s quarter sales performance figures will have different levels of security access to the company’s network from that of a staff in frontline sales for instance.
Change as opportunity
Finally, more generalisations regarding millennials:
- Mobile is the platform of choice for the millennial generation.
- They have less tolerance for poor user experiences, meaning that the importance of creating great online experiences is higher than ever.
- They prefer to be in control, so favour website self-service solutions over assisted service; give millennials the power to resolve their own problems.
- They will talk about your brand on social media, so engage them in the conversation and learn from it.
Most importantly, SMBs need to see the transformation to a digital workspace as an opportunity. We all know that there is a large amount of data being generated and collected each day – data that will be driving tomorrow’s business environment and economy.
Smaller businesses need to, if they have not already, put themselves into this data-revolution to stay competitive and relevant.
The millennial worker-friendly, digital workplace offers SMBs access and connectivity to a data-driven business environment – an environment where market changes come fast, and decision-making needs to be faster.
It opens businesses up to an environment where consumers are connected and well informed, and workers need to be able to engage them from across multiple channels – whether it is in the physical or virtual world.
It is a future business environment that allows for SMBs to engage larger competitors on a more level digital playing field.
Yaj Malik is the executive vice president and managing director of Sage Asia.
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