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Digital Workplaces: how businesses are adapting to remote working

Dale JonesThoughts

As COVID-19 swept across international waters and across the globe, it brought with it a multitude of challenges for businesses. Amongst the most impactful was an enforced rethink on what is defined as the workplace, with remote working suddenly transitioning from a hipster upstart company perk to a nationwide norm as governments across the world advised companies to allow staff to work from home.

Perhaps a ‘hipster upstart company perk’ is harsh, but a 2018 report by Buffer shines an unfavourable light on the previous perceptions of remote working amongst organisations of a decent size. Most prevalent amongst businesses of only 25 employees or under, only 15% of remote-working businesses who responded to their survey had over 1000 employees, suggesting remote working to be an unmanageable option for most larger companies.

So when Covid-19 hit, forcing enterprises to effectively shut up shop and ask staff to adapt to new workplaces that were for the vast majority entirely unfamiliar, it was quite a big ask of employees.

More broadly though, in solving the problem of ‘where do our team work from’ and as is often the case in business, organisations suddenly found themselves with a raft of new challenges to overcome as a result of the change.

Fulfilling Potential

Enterprise organisations will likely be familiar with being sold the dream of a ‘virtual workplace’, a utopia enabled by a tsunami of virtual and augmented reality solutions.

But the stark reality is that such an all-doing suite of solutions would demand a deluge of resources; the time to plan, design and develop complementary virtual communication tools, the cost of creating those solutions and the combination of both to train teams in their use.

And indeed, there’s a debate as to whether the desire is yet even there for companies to improve internal communications, productivity and efficiency through virtual technologies.

A 2020 study suggests organisations are generally more excited by customer-facing augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) use cases - those that can help to improve customer experiences and perhaps build a more direct, measurable and swift return on investment.

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Compounded by the abrupt and enforced nature of increased remote working, the ‘digital workplace’ then is in all reality composed of, or certainly at least enabled by, almost entirely mobile and web solutions.

That will be of no surprise to those who have watched the summer ‘Zoom boom’ for example. Since and throughout early 2020, the video and web conferencing platform enjoyed a sharp rise in subscribers, share price and revenue as increased use amongst businesses placed it amongst the forefront of the tools that have helped to enable digital workplaces.

Of course, Zoom was already a well established option in the field and it will come as no surprise that tools developed over years and designed to assist in improving areas such as communication, collaboration and productivity are thriving in the current circumstances. The likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams and Citrix have all seen encouraging results largely in part to the pandemic.

Though already prevalent in many sectors and organisations, for many businesses this will be the first time such tools have become pivotal to the way in which their company operates, and for those companies they have effectively been forced into seriously analysing their use of such systems for the first time.

It is at this point where organisations are beginning to come to the realisation that for all their undoubted positives and seemingly universal popularity, blanket platforms of a near entirely rigid product offering like those above can guide business towards improvements in areas of productivity, collaboration, communication and connectivity, but cannot possibly help them to fulfil their entire potential.

An understanding of that can be seen from the service providers, too. Pressed by access to more data on user behaviours and needs than ever before, Slack has been going big on automation and integrations, Zoom are ploughing in features to make meetings more interactive while Microsoft Teams has been concentrating on aspects like file sharing and accommodating larger clients.

It is of no surprise then, that as more organisations go remote the broad user needs from the tools that enable digital working are developing.

But in reality, the only way to guarantee a digital working tool that works for your business, whether there to allow for messaging, boost productivity, maintain collaboration, improve communication, empower self-service, enable crowd-sourcing, increase connectivity, add mobility or as a combination of any of these, is to develop a custom-built solution that is built solely with your business, its operations and culture in mind

Creating digital workplace solutions:

To that end, hedgehog lab are experienced partners having brought successful platforms to organisations that are not only looking to create a digital workplace - but are reliant upon them.

C40 Cities is a climate leadership group comprising more than 90 of the world’s biggest cities, with their platform at the core of enabling the tackling of climate change.

The success of their work is dependent upon each city’s ability to share data and advice - but their previous platform for doing so was unintuitive, clunky and failed to generate the creation of a knowledge pool that cities could utilise to implement climate change.

Experienced in working with complex data sets and experts in user-focused design, hedgehog lab set about rethinking how cities report and share their data on behalf of C40 and the over 650m people their data represents.

An accessible web app was built, including the ability to easily add further cities into the network and data set and considerate of the wide range of different teams and cultures that would interact with the platform.

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With platform usability and data manipulation at the core of the platform, reporting was heavily simplified, helping to make user interactions with the platform quick and easy as well as shareable so as to encourage further interaction between some of the world’s largest cities.

An elegant front-end decomplexifies the complicated calculations being carried out in the background, while a clearer, more straightforward user journey helped teams across the world use the platform instinctively.

In all, the platform helped a global organisation to offer its users and teams based across the planet a tool that truly enables a digital workplace. By placing user needs and user experience at the core of the product’s design, C40 has been able to roll out a platform that is easy to use, effective and efficient, allowing the organisation to work towards fulfilling potential it previously couldn’t and help make genuine change in the world.